Breezy, nicely-played romantic screwball comedy. Newcomer to the M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) market, 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives, has released Love is News, the 1937 comedy from 20th starring Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, Don Ameche, and lots of fun supporting players. Now...to be honest, I'm a little perplexed at the choice of Love is News as one of the first offerings from Fox's Cinema Archives since it was already released in 2008's Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection...and bundled up with its remake, 1947's That Wonderful Urge, no less. In my book, the whole purpose of these M.O.D. services is to get titles out that are hard-to-find, so....Still, if there's someone out there who just wants this Ty Power title alone, this good-looking (but bonus-less) transfer fits the bill.
Crackerjack smartass and big-city newspaper reporter Steve Leyton (Tyrone Power) wants his new boss at the New York Daily Express to fire him...that's because his new city editor is old rival Martin J. Canavan (Don Ameche), a hard-driving, thrice-married newspaper man who wants to bury the hatchet with his old "friend." Steve tells Martin where he can put his offer, but soon changes his mind when confronted with his replacement: owlish shavetail Egbert Eggleston (Elisha Cook, Jr.). No way is Steve giving his press card to that simp, so Steve's off to the airport on his next assignment: get anything on visiting tin can heiress "Tony" Gateson (Loretta Young)―something Steve has done in the past, with varying degrees of accuracy. When Tony figures out that Steve, posing as a cop, has scammed her into revealing more details about her recent break-up with foppish French Count Andre de Guyon (George Sanders), she decides on a delicious course of revenge: she tells the other newspapermen waiting for a scoop that she's newly engaged...to Steve. Now Steve is hounded by colleagues like Eddie Johnson (Walter Catlett) who want the straight dope on what's going on, with Steve getting a taste of his own medicine as he finds a life lived in the public eye isn't all what it's cracked up to be. Will Steve finally convince the world he's not in love with Tony...before he winds up pixilated by the gorgeous heiress?
As screwball comedies go, Love is News is rarely if ever brought up when the greats like Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth are listed, but sticking to the one criteria that should take precedence over any other genre considerations―i.e.: does it make you laugh―Love is News succeeds. I'm not sure what else you need to consider when taking stock of Love is News. Quibbling about the storyline's improbabilities misses the whole point of screwball romance; it's supposed to be coincidental. We're supposed to know it's all silly happenstance―that's where the fun of the genre lies. Complaining about the "stock" set-ups (mistaken identities, a series of comical misunderstandings in a small town populated by eccentrics) and character dynamics (rich, screwy heiress, competing "frenemies" who alternately cajole, beg and scheme against each other) again misses the point of frankly any genre exercise: enjoyment through recognition of repetition. Love is News doesn't suffer because it echoes more famous works like The Front Page; such associations only prime the viewer to more fully enjoy those reoccurring motifs and structures.
So crossing "originality" off the list for Love is News, and not worrying about where it might place with other examples of the genre, leaves the movie itself: the direction, the writing, and the performances―all of which are more than competent. Director Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Valley of Decision) may not have anything close to an "auteur" reputation that would help "rehabilitate" a work like Love is News the way box office failure Bringing Up Baby was "saved" by later critics because Howard Hawks directed it. However, he does have a smooth, anonymous style that keeps the laughs coming in regular intervals (Garnet knows comedy; he started out as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach). I'm no expert on Garnett, and if I hadn't seen his name on the title cards, I probably wouldn't have been able to pick Love is News out as one of his works...but that doesn't mean his efforts here are somehow "lesser" (he's skilled enough to wrap up the movie with a rather striking trucking shot of Young pursuing Power through a street that gradually fills with more people). He's working out a screwball comedy here that winds up making the viewer laugh―who cares if you can't pick out his directorial "signature" (I'm so down on the whole auteur crap lately...)? Besides...Daryl Zanuck probably had more to do with how Love is News ultimately looked and played than Garnett.
Love is News' screenplay moves along at an agreeable clip, with scripters Harry Tugend (Captain January, A Southern Yankee, Who's Minding the Store?) and frequent collaborator Jack Yellen (Pigskin Parade, You Can't Have Everything, Little Miss Broadway) coming up with some clever gags ("Well, if it ain't Mrs. Astor's horse...or vice versa,") and some naughty double entendres (when Power and Ameche argue over who last left a, um..."showgirl" at her hotel the night before, Ameche concedes, stating, "The customer is always right," and when Walter Catlett finishes his all-day game of "boilermaker checkers," he stands up and warns he needs "to make some room," unbuckling his pants...just to loosen them). No screenplay, no matter how funny, though, can work without talented performers, and Love is News has more than its fair share. Perhaps Love is News' funniest moment is George Sanders' "introduction," where Young flips a pack of 3 x 5 black and white stills of her ex-fiancÚ, animation-style, as we see the hilariously snotty, vain Sanders appear to smooth back his hair in a gloriously funny, affected style. Unfortunately, nothing he subsequently does on screen is nearly as funny (Sanders can only be English, not French), nor is adept comedian Stepin Fetchit used very well here, either (it's not that his act is offensive...it's offensive that this normally hilarious performer isn't particularly good this time out). Catlett, so funny in Bringing Up Baby, adds a welcome sardonic acid to the proceedings, while Slim Summerville gets some mileage out of his obstinate small-town judge who isn't going to let the city slickers get the best of him.
As for our lead trio, Ameche scored consistently with his broader role, playing frazzled and blustering quite well against Power's more slick, smooth comedy. Ameche and Power's first scene together calls for them to start laughing at a shared memory, and to keep laughing, stronger and louder, as the memory takes hold. You've seen that scene played hundreds of times before in other movies, but it's a hard one to pull off (an actor can seem strained rather than genuinely funny). Power and especially Ameche pull it off beautifully, though, getting the viewer laughing by the end of the scene, too (it's just too bad the screenplay's third act didn't get Ameche's character more directly involved in the Power/Young dynamic). I've never been a big fan of Young, particularly her later work...but I have to say she is luminously beautiful here, and quite unexpectedly sexy and playful, as well (watch her clown around with Power when he's on the phone, saying, "Hi," to him and bothering him...and us). When she banters with Power, she holds her own verbally, as well as almost matching him in the looks department; it's a performance that may very well have changed my opinion of her. As for Power, this was his first truly starring role (he gets first credit in the titles) after only a brief time in Hollywood, and he's typically smooth and polished, yet with an impish, playful sense of humor here that's infectious. He gets just the right tone down for bantering with Ameche and Young, while his slapstick is first-rate, as well (if you can get laughs with the old wheeze about banging your head into pulled-out dresser drawers...you're a comedian. Period). Since Love is News plays on so many now-familiar aspects of romantic screwball farce, you can't exactly say it's startlingly original in any way, shape, or form...but it is quite funny. And what better recommendation could you have for a comedy?
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.