Back to a pre-code assignment from blogger pal Kristina over at the Speakeasy. It’s time for our monthly challenge when we give each other a title we haven’t yet seen to help broaden our movie going experiences. Kristina loves the pre-code era of Hollywood and has given me an MGM title featuring one of the most famous actresses of the early days of talking motion pictures, Jean Harlow.
It’s practically art imitating life for this Harlow role as she is essentially playing a thinly veiled persona of Harlow the commodity while trying to maintain her sanity and still be herself behind all the glitter and fame. Screwball style.
Harlow as Lola Burns is the toast of Hollywood and the desire of most men as her face is splashed across the covers of Photoplay and other movie magazines. There’s even a glimpse of her taking on heavyweight champ Primo Carnera. When the publicity agent for Harlow’s studio Monarch Films Inc. continually gets her featured in one news article after another she begins to rebel, tired of the constant limelight.
With Lee Tracy as a rather unscrupulous publicity hound who can blame her. He just won’t let up on his scheming and when Harlow swears off her next picture he’s resorting to any means possible to keep her under the studio’s thumb.
Harlow is besieged with scalawags all about. Her father is played by Frank Morgan who hasn’t held a bottle he couldn’t empty in one gulp. Her no-count brother is played by Ted Healy, unfortunately minus his Three Stooges. These two leaches fit right in with Tracy and his never ending attempts to hold court over Harlow.
The film includes some real life in-jokes with Harlow (known as Baby to Clark Gable) who has to do some retakes for the famous Red Dust bath in a barrel scene. Harlow and Gable lit up the screen in this this 1932 release from Victor Fleming. Fleming it turned out also directed this comedy take on Harlow’s off screen troubles. Troubles that include rabid fans and one that today we would lock up as a confirmed stalker.
Poor Jean is going to go through a rapid succession of crazed scenes including a call to Motherhood which doesn’t work out to well. Her attempts to secure a child at the local adoption agency are hampered due to an ex-lover and the annoying presence of the always scheming Tracy.
Harlow then flees to a hotel getaway and luckily runs right into heartthrob Franchot Tone. It’s love at first sight and even Tracy who shows up with his usual self serving intentions can’t sway Harlow from the smooth romantic lines coming from her new beau.
“Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair! ”
Things may not go to smoothly for poor Jean when Tone’s wealthy father played by C. Aubrey Smith isn’t exactly enamored of a movie star’s lifestyle. Troubles are only compounded when Jean’s drunken father Morgan turns up doing his best at putting on airs of his own to no success.
All the while we have the annoying Tracy and his plotting schemes going on behind poor Jean’s back to lure her back to the limelight of tinsel town.
This is generally a light hearted romp though I suspect there’s some truth hidden in here as to Harlow’s real life which sadly was all too short. It’s not a stretch to see that Lola Burns is really a mirror image of what Harlow’s day to day life may have been like around the studio and the mobs of fans awaiting her at every turn.
Apparently this story was at one time linked to Clara Bow. The “It Girl.” The script even retains a line where Jean refers to being fed up with being just another “It Girl”.
Hoping to spot a scene that probably wouldn’t make the cut after 1934 when the new “code” was ushered into cinema you’ll see a bare shouldered Jean being attended to with her make up artists. It’s more than obvious during the scene that she isn’t wearing a bra either. Sinful!
Thankfully Mr. Hays would prevent such outright acts of impropriety in movie houses across the nation shortly thereafter.
Miss Harlow once again shines on camera and it’s easy to see how she captivated audiences during the early thirties. Beautiful and sassy. A great combination during any era.
Lee Tracy as the press agent hasn’t aged well. It’s a rather annoying character that just grates on the nerves. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so hard on him if had of been a fast talking Gable or a young Cary Grant assigned to the role. Also filling out the cast is a loud and quick tempered Pat O’Brien as a director/ex-lover of Jean’s and Una Merkel as her go getter around the house and studio.
There are plenty of Gable references within the script by John Lee Mahin. Mahin had also penned the popular Red Dust which was one of six films Harlow teamed up with Gable in. China Seas and her final film Saratoga among them.
A good time to be had here where the focus is clearly centered on the Queen of platinum blondes.
Be sure to head over and have a rowdy time and a pint of beer with a couple of good old boys at Kristina’s Speakeasy where she’s been challenged to watch a movie with one of her favorite actors and mine that had somehow slipped past her. I’m not sure what’s more sinful. Kristina not already seeing this engaging comedy or Harlow’s bare shoulders on camera!