Bombshell

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Jean Harlow in top, pre-censorship form in a satire of Hollywood manipulativeness (LM3)

Dec 12, 2004 (Updated Dec 15, 2004)
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Pros:Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy and other hangers-on

Cons:insufficienly liberated view of women (though far worse was soon de rigeur in Hollywood)

The Bottom Line: Jean Harlow copes with far more than anyone should have to.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

I can't imagine anyone preferring the melodramas with Jean Harlow to her comedies. "Bombshell" is the best of them, and the vehicle that anyone who is curious about the legend of the platinum-blonde actress who made many movies before dying at age 26 should examine. The young star, who was, by all accounts, hard-working without any diva temperament, was cast as a platinum-blonde movie superstar, Lola Burn, in "Bombshell."

As in real life, the star had many hangers-on. The reel life provides more family members for Lola to support than Harlow had, and an uncharismatic romantic interest (Franchot Tone) not unlike her real-life romantic failures. As draining are the emotional blackmail of her slacker relatives and jealous suitor and sheepdogs are, what really bothers Lola is the scurrilous publicity about her as wild and wanton. The tabloids are fed with lies by the studio's own publicist, "Space" Hanlon, played somewhere beyond to the hilt of deviousness and manipulation by Lee Tracy. (To call him "unscrupulous" would so understate the case as to be a compliment.)

Rather than a plot, there are a series of affronts and invasions of her attempts to have a life by "Space." The most elaborately set-up are Lola's attempt to adopt a child, which turns into a media circus, and the romance "Space" engineers to propel her back to work after she runs away to an Arizona dude ranch. Those who live off Lola's earnings are determined to keep her from the roles of wife and mother.

As her shiftless, alcoholic father, Frank Morgan is funny, but the real frisson is the series of "Space"/Lola duels. Lola has some good lines, but not the kind of zingers Anita Loos supplied her in Red-headed Woman and Hold Your Man (the screenplay of "Bombshell" was credited to John Lee Mahin (Red Dust, Scarface, Wizard of Oz) and Jules Furthman (Shanghai Express, To Have and Have Not); oddly, no director was credited, though it was directed by Victor Fleming at a much swifter pace than his famous 1939 work "Gone with the Wind" an "The Wizard of Oz" (in which Frank Morgan played the title role) or "the leaden "Tortilla Flat" (in which Morgan got an Oscar nomination) were).

As in her other post-moll roles, Harlow('s Lola) seems to have the wit and toughness to survive in a man's world, despite lack of education or advantages such as a supportive family (rather than one eager to be supported by her earnings). She knows all the retorts, at least to the kind of questions and lines men on the make aim at her. That is, she did not convey the vagueness about what she wanted and about what others wanted of her that Marilyn Monroe did two decades later. Nonetheless, there was a vulnerability under Harlow's knowing, wise-cracking surface. Her longings were exploited by characters portrayed by Clark Gable in a series of six movies (and, perhaps, most outrageously, by Spencer Tracy playing her fiance in "Libeled Lady'). Her dutifulness and attempts to live and love (instead of providing tabloids titillating stories) were exploited by pretty much everyone in "Bombshell." Harlow makes it easy to sympathize with the very successful movie star, and heroically rolls with the punches (many of them sucker punches), making this early fast-talking, risque (pre-Code) screwball comedy touching as well as very funny, even with so inadequate a romantic hero or foil as Franchot Tone was. (Tone was somewhat more adequate in his next teaming with Harlow (in gold-digger mode), "The Girl from Missouri," and had less sappy lines in that. Tone was no Gable, no William Powell, even when not saddled with lines like "Your hair is like a field of daisies; I'd like to run barefoot through your hair.")

The movie has a chilling parody of a "happy ending"--at least I hope it was meant as parody!

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For other Lean & Mean III entries, see /http://www.epinions.com/content_4149256324.





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