Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Bombshell (1933)

Having seen HOLD YOUR MAN (1933) and RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932) last night at UCLA, I decided to make it a Jean Harlow weekend and watched another of her movies this evening.

Tonight's movie, BOMBSHELL, will be shown at UCLA on August 26th as part of the series "Harlow Before the Code." (I'll be out of town that day, so there won't be an opportunity for me to see that one on a bigger screen.) Harlow plays Lola Burns, a movie star supporting a mooching brother (Ted Healy) and father (Frank Morgan), not to mention a large staff (including Una Merkel, Louise Beaver, and Leonard Carey) and three huge sheepdogs. Lola must also contend with the studio's ace publicity man, Space (Lee Tracy), who constantly interferes in her personal life.

The story reminded me of Irene Dunne's later JOY OF LIVING (1938), another film about an actress supporting her unappreciative family. Harlow's quite funny in this comedy, and occasionally touching as well, particularly when she temporarily decides she's interested in marriage and motherhood.

The film has a number of amusing sequences, especially those showing Lola at work at the studio; the scenes with a peek into the moviemaking process are bliss for any classic film fan.

One of the fun inside jokes is that Lola is the star of RED DUST (1932), which of course actually starred Jean Harlow. One of the scenes involves Lola filming retakes of the RED DUST character's famous bath in a rain barrel. Pat O'Brien plays the movie director, a character supposedly based on the director of both RED DUST and BOMBSHELL, Victor Fleming.

Although the film is enjoyable, ultimately it goes on a little long and gets a little loud. Morgan and Healy are tiresome, and by film's end Tracy has also worn out his welcome. The chaos which breaks out while Lola's home is being inspected by an adoption agency is almost sad; all the people Lola supports not only kill her chances of adopting, they smash her fishbowl. It was supposed to be funny, but that sequence didn't work for me. Thanks to Harlow's performance, I just felt sad for Lola.

Franchot Tone shows up over an hour into the movie, as a Bostonian courting Lola with overdone dialogue. That entire sequence seems unreal, with Tone quite funny while telling Lola he wants to "run barefoot through your hair," but the strangeness of these scenes is also a bit confusing. The truth isn't revealed until close to the end of the movie. Tone's proper parents are played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith and Mary Forbes.

Tone and Harlow, incidentally, were frequent costars, also appearing together in THE GIRL FROM MISSOURI (1934), RECKLESS (1935), and SUZY (1936).

The cast also includes Isabel Jewell, Ivan Lebedeff, Mary Carr, Ethel Griffies, and June Brewster. Clips from "Lola's" films include brief shots of Gable and Harlow in HOLD YOUR MAN.

Cameraman Hal Rosson, who also shot HOLD YOUR MAN and RED-HEADED WOMAN, wed Harlow in 1933, but the marriage was over by 1935. Chester Lyons also did uncredited cinematography on the film.

The costumes were by Adrian. The film's running time is 96 minutes. The movie has sometimes been shown in the U.S. under the title BLONDE BOMBSHELL, which was the title in the United Kingdom.

BOMBSHELL has been released on VHS. It has not had a DVD release.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Update: This film is now available in a remastered DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


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