Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Nothing Sacred 1937

Directed by William A. Wellman

USA In English
75 minutes 35mm


David O. Selznick


Ben Hecht. Based on the story Letter to the Editor by James H. Street


W. Howard Greene


James E. Newcom


Oscar Levant


Carole Lombard (Hazel Flagg)
Fredric March (Wally Cook)
Charles Winninger (Dr Enoch Downer)
Walter Connolly (Oliver Stone)
Sig Rumann (Dr Emile Egglehoffer)
Frank Fay (Master of ceremonies)
Troy Brown (Ernest Walker)
Maxie Rosenbloom (Max)
Margaret Hamilton (Drug store lady)
Olin Howland (Baggage man)


The crackling cynicism of script-writer Ben Hecht gave 30s Hollywood comedies a scathing energy that is still liberating in its recklessness. In Nothing Sacred Hecht and co-writer Charles Macarthur satirise the public’s insatiable appetite for the suffering of others, and the media’s knack for feeding it. The dazzling and funny Carole Lombard plays a small-town girl who becomes the toast of New York when it is reported that she’s dying of radium poisoning. — BG 

"…But the movie still works, pouring a satisfied scorn on all it beholds. It satirizes New York and Vermont and sees a world inhabited by only suckers and con-artists – there is no ordinary existence. Hecht’s opening titles talk of New York ‘where the Slickers and Know-It-Alls peddle gold bricks to each other… and where Truth, crushed to earth, rises again more phony than a glass eye’. But once Wally Cook reaches Vermont, he finds lean-faced and mean-minded people fearful of being spoken to, the superb arbitrariness of a blond-haired kid who launches himself at the New Yorker and bites him in the back of his thigh, and Carole Lombard’s Hazel – eminently healthy but swooning for New York. Wally asks her, ‘You’ve lived up here all your life?’ and she groans ‘Twice that long’. 

Knowing duplicity – let us call it acting or show business – is the only proper state of mind once exposed to Hecht’s merry contempt. He admires the film’s lovers because they have so few illusions yet never give up their brightness. The actors are remarkably relaxed and natural: Lombard survives the insipid color [insipid no longer] and March ignores the secondary nature of his part. Both actors took it for granted that they deserved a small fortune for the work and remained too intelligent to act smart or grand. Such playing is uniquely American in the 1930s… 

Wellman’s direction is more astute and witty than it was in A Star is Born; the self-observing tough guy warmed to the caustic attitude of Hecht’s script. The wrestling sequence, for example, brings out the event’s flashy brutality, as well as the innocent sentimentality of its patrons... So many people in Nothing Sacred are such daft, expert fakes that the audience enjoys hurrying along with them. It is a boisterous and invigorating film, rueful about sincerity yet full of life and enthusiasm… Life may be a set of frauds, but showmanship keeps it smart." — David Thomson, Showman, The Life of David O. Selznick