My guess is that very few people reading this even know the name Lee Tracy — and if they do, it’s probably from his turn as the prototypical fast-talking reporter hero in Doctor X (also from 1932). But for a brief period, Tracy was a major star. He came to the movies from Broadway — where he originated the role of Hildy Johnson in The Front Page in 1928. (His Doctor X character is essentially the same role.) In fact, he came to typify the wisecracking, cheerfully amoral tone of the pre-code era — and it was Blessed Event that really sealed the deal. Here Tracy plays Alvin Roberts, a thinly-veiled (and decidedly more exciting) version of gossip columnist Walter Winchell. While Tracy’s characters were almost always on shaky ground both ethically and morally, Alvin Roberts takes things a step further. He’s pretty much an absolute louse, and it’s mostly Tracy’s personality that keeps him even a little bit likable — that and the fact that most everyone else is about on his level — and the film moves too fast and is too funny to pause and reflect much on his shortcomings as a human being. The title refers to the coy term in Alvin’s (and Winchell’s) column for pregnancy — no one is ever merely pregnant, but rather “expecting a blessed event” (sometimes only three of four months after marriage). The plot revolves around Alvin’s brushes with lawsuits, gangsters, an extremely effeminate crooner (Dick Powell in his film debut) and his own ego. It’s all brash and fast and cynically funny.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Blessed Event Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.