A Twentieth Century production from Darryl F. Zanuck before the eventual Fox merger. As usual, that means a very Warner Bros. pre-Code era feel.
Lee Tracy is saddled with newspaper's lonely hearts advice column, so it's only a matter of time until his fiance, played by Sally Blane, sends a letter. Tracy in usual form as hard drinking newspaperman, but laughs seem a bit forced this time.
Zanuck keeps on ripping them from the headlines with an early focus on an earthquake rattling California, not too many months after the March quake damaged the area and claimed 115 lives. The out-of-town papers declare California finished, while the locals quickly claim business as usual.
Tracy tries to break his contract when placed on advice to the lovelorn column, and failing that is determined to write a column so hot that it gets him canned. It almost works, the managing editor (Paul Harvey) signing off on his contract, until the publishers arrive (one of them is Charles Lane), thrilled by the rise in circulation and new advertisers.
Tracy is stuck with the column and, keeping up the bluster, becomes a huge hit. He's raking in extra dough putting the Miss Lonelyhearts name on products such as a love advice book, perfume, and finally a brassiere.
Meanwhile, Blane is upset by Tracy's refusal to quit the paper and come work at her father's garage. He keeps putting her off with stories that eventually lead to her father hiring someone else, a big blonde fellow named Adolf, who Blane falls for (and we never see). This results in black eyes for Tracy and his loyal secretary, played by Sterling Holloway, as well as several ominous Adolf jokes, 1933 flavor.
Back at the office, discount drugstore owner C. Henry Gordon brings new opportunity. He slips Tracy $1,100 to tag a little beauty products promo at the end of each column and, oh, give the right answers to a forthcoming letter from his mistress. Tracy seems as though he's going to reject him, but then realizes how the extra cash will allow him to buy a bigger rock for Blane's finger, and maybe help win her back.
Around this time Blane's letter to Miss Lonelyhearts arrives, leaving Tracy to advise her to pick the drunk over the mechanic.
Advice to the Lovelorn then suddenly takes a tragic turn and the tone of the movie completely changes for a few minutes. Isabel Jewell appears, playing Gordon's mistress, and does a pretty good impersonation of Mayo Methot in The Mind Reader, minus the elevator dive.
Blane discovers that Tracy is Miss Lonelyhearts during the scene with Jewell, but nothing comes of that at all.
After 45 minutes of laughs Tracy goes into battle against Gordon's company, which is selling watered-down medications at cut-rate prices. Turns out C. Henry was a bootlegger who turned to knock off drugs after Prohibition left him otherwise unemployed.
Gordon and some thugs come after Tracy at his apartment where he turns into his old manic self again, the comedy creeps back out, and the G men save his bacon.
Sterling Holloway's spitball technique, hilarious. Nice part for the popular supporting actor.
Average/middling Lee Tracy.
Directed by Alfred L. Werker.
My IMDb rating: 6/10.