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Lola Burns is Hollywood's greatest Blonde BOMBSHELL - but
her life is a chaotic wreck thanks to eccentric relatives,
staff and studio publicity director Space Hanlon.
Jean Harlow & Lee Tracy are wonderfully matched in this pre-Code Comedy, one of the funniest films of the 1930's, and another proof - if one was needed - that Hollywood had an endless appetite for self-ridicule. With her platinum hair and couturier's parade of billowy fashions, Harlow is still essentially playing a parody of her own unhappy private life. Her constant high-decibel groans of complaint as to her celebrity's misuse at the hands of those closest to her have the ring of veracity. And no one gives her greater grief than Tracy, who is determined to wring every last drop of publicity out of her, even if his meddling in her personal life drives her insane. Immovable object meets irresistible force. Result: laughter.
A most impressive gathering of character actors appear in the supporting cast: sturdy Pat O'Brien as Harlow's director pal; delightful Frank Morgan as her dyspeptic father; Ted Healy as her shiftless brother; Una Merkel as her conniving secretary; and Louise Beavers as Harlow's plain talking maid.
Franchot Tone adds a touch of class to the proceedings as a sophisticated fellow who takes a shine to Harlow; Mary Forbes & marvelous old Sir C. Aubrey Smith are his wealthy parents. Ivan Lebedeff gives some laughs as a penniless marquis who is happy to live off of Harlow's money.
Movie mavens will recognize boxing champ Primo Carnera in the opening montage; Greta Meyer as Harlow's masseuse; Gus Arnheim as the Coconut Grove band leader; Ethel Griffies as one of the orphanage representatives; and Billy Dooley as the lunatic who claims Harlow is his wife - all uncredited.
Although the action takes place in the imaginary Monarch Studios, all the real stars & films mentioned are pure MGM.
This was one of five films Lee Tracy made for MGM in 1933 (CLEAR ALL WIRES!, THE NUISANCE, TURN BACK THE CLOCK, DINNER AT EIGHT, BOMBSHELL), and arguably the best role of his career. It was certainly the culmination of nearly all the other roles he'd had over the past couple of years in various studios, where he'd perfected the depiction of shyster lawyers, unscrupulous talent agents, snoopy reporters & disreputable gossip columnists. There is certainly no telling how far he might have gone with MGM, but his career literally went south in 1934 after a few moments of drunken indiscretion. While in Mexico for location shooting for VIVA VILLA!, Tracy stepped out onto his hotel balcony and urinated on a passing military parade. He was immediately arrested and deported from the country. Embarrassed & furious, Louis B. Mayer fired him instantly from MGM. With only the smaller studios willing to hire him, Tracy's film career largely slipped into obscurity. Years later, no longer young, he did some television work. He had a short comeback, of sorts, in 1964, when he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for THE BEST MAN. This was to be his cinematic swan song; old and tired, he no longer resembled the hot shot who delighted audiences in the early 1930's. Lee Tracy died in 1968 of cancer, at the age of 70.
Hysterical comedy with Jean Harlow playing Lola Burns--an actress being
driven crazy by her dysfunctional family and her overzealous publicity man
VERY quick, very risque (this was pre-Code) and very funny spoof/satire on Hollywood, the studios and the stars. One liners fly fast and furious and the film almost never stops for breath.
Harlow is just incredible--she's sexy, funny and one hell of an actress! She carries the whole picture on her shoulders. She's matched by Tracy who plays the role of a slimy publicity man to perfection. Frank Morgan and Franchot Tone offer great comedic support also (especially Tone with his "romantic" lines).
Basically this is a true classic comedy. It deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. It's also a chance to see Harlow in her prime--she was an incredible actress who died tragically at a very young age.
This is an absolute must-see. Don't miss it!
I often wonder if Lee Tracy would be more fondly-remembered by a larger percentage of the public had he been fortunate enough to hang around long enough to appear in films with musical scores. He was pretty much done by 1934, however, so the precious handful of Tracy vehicles we DO have are blessed/cursed by the prevailing conditions of early talkies. Nowadays, fans - especially younger ones - tend to either dismiss them as mildewed antiques that might as well have been made on Mars, or (just as bad) view them with smug condescension as dear, quaint little antiques....like flivvers or biplanes. Nearly every major starring vehicle Tracy made lacks background music, outside of the occasional musical number. Not a strong selling point for the DVD generation, who seemingly can't appreciate a film without a matching SAP, variable do-it-yourself camera angles, and a 'making-of' featurette padding the running time. Thus Lee Tracy - one of our great comic actors, whose presence in a movie automatically enlivens and enriches it - remains an answer to a trivia question nobody asked. In light of the foregoing, take a tip from this corner and preset your VCR the next time TCM schedules any of his films, like BOMBSHELL. Properly regarded as Jean Harlow's best vehicle, this lightning-paced, down-and-dirty sarcastic comedy of Hollywood in the early 30s is one of Tracy's best as well. (Actually, the whole cast, which includes Frank Morgan, Una Merkel and Pat O'Brian, is exemplary.) Tracy is incredible: scheming, scamming, wheedling, utterly insincere and unprincipled, yet never for a moment does he lose the audience's sympathy. His gift was to make you root for the shameless con man despite yourself, and in BOMBSHELL, the entire production is amped up to his speed of delivery. Every second of this movie is breathlessly paced, rudely funny, cynically observant and near-unbelievably satisfying. (If it moved any quicker, it might spontaneously combust.) Forget the (very) slight antique properties that might hamper this film (such as that lack of background music I mentioned) and concentrate on its strengths...one of which, by dint of its Pre-Code status, is a remarkably unapologetic unsentimentality, a virtue which would be swept away by the Hays Office broom in 1934 along with Tracy's career, not to re-emerge on the nation's screens until the rise of the writer-director in the early 40s (men such as Sturges, Huston and Wilder). If you don't love BOMBSHELL on first viewing, you're not as smart as you think you are. Keep an eye out for Tracy's other films (BLESSED EVENT, THE HALF NAKED TRUTH, THE NUISANCE, ADVICE TO THE LOVELORN, DINNER AT EIGHT, etc) and get a close-up look at one of our country's greatest, and most neglected, comedians for yourself.
Jean Harlow shines as a movie sex starlet who's tired of all the negative publicity drummed up by her studio's publicist (Tracy) to promote her career. she wants to adopt a baby and play "respectable" roles, but society's mavens continually reject her (this "picture girl") and everything she tries to do for herself is thwarted by Tracy, who (more or less) secretly loves her. Very funny and well directed by Fleming, not slapstick as some claim, but more like Hawks/Sturges/Wilder style "screwball."
Count me in. This slam-bang, snap-crackle-pop picture is a doozy, never
pausing for breath as it zips along its nifty, irreverent way, superbly
cast so as to let everyone do what he/she does best.
As if its entertainment value were not enough, it has something to say, so cleverly that it mocks itself along with a half-dozen other victims. Where the movie business is concerned, nothing is what it seems to be - except when it is. At the center of it all are a press agent to whom lies come so naturally that he would require a moment of intense concentration before he could utter a word of truth - if he wanted to; and a colossal star, neither educated nor bright, a small-town girl who, without half-trying, becomes what every woman yearns to become - except that she yearns to be something else.
Jean Harlow was considerably more than a glamor girl. Limited (as many studio players were) to one type of screen persona, she brought it off with success in both comedy and drama, perfecting the mannerisms, gestures and nuances. Lee Tracy, born to play the kind of role he was given here (and elsewhere), is without peer as the fast-talking, shifty-eyed conniver, a rascal beholden to no ethical sense but his own. Their supporting cast - with a special nod to Frank Morgan's tipsy, dithering poseur - is uniformly excellent. Don't miss this one.
Jean Harlow is the "Bombshell" of the 1933 film also starring Franchot
Tone, Frank Morgan, Lee Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Una Merkel, Isabel Jewell,
Louise Beavers, Ted Healy, and C. Aubrey Smith. Harlow plays a star,
Lola Burns, who has a career very similar to Jean Harlow's - in fact,
she starred in "Red Dust" with Clark Gable! She's the "It" girl where
Harlow was the "If" girl.
From the first time we meet Lola, it's obvious that she is overwhelmed by the pressures of her home life, which in turn puts pressure on her career duties. Her drunken father (Morgan) acts as her business manager but her bills aren't paid and she doesn't have any money; she constantly has to bail her brother out of trouble; there's a newspaper man who prints one lie after another about her; one of the people in her household wears her clothes and steals from her; she has three huge dogs; her brother shows up with a tramp; the assistant director on "Red Dust," Jim Brogan (Pat O'Brien) is in love with her and goes crazy when he sees Hugo, the Marqis de Pisa de Pisa on the set (and it's in his storyline that strong prejudice against immigrants is shown); and her agent (Lee Tracy) is a puppeteer in a sick puppet show - Lola's life.
Lola wants out. She decides that she wants to adopt a child and falls in love with a baby at an orphanage but the home visit is a total disaster. Disgusted with her life and all the leaches around her, she takes off, seeking peace and quiet. It's in peaceful surroundings that she meets the wealthy Gifford Middleton. It's love at first sight. Just when she's meeting Gifford's parents, her father and brother appear.
This is a very funny comedy and also very touching, as Lola's sweet personality and desire for a stable family is evident. She swears to Gifford that she's through with show business but becomes concerned when told there hasn't been anything about her in the papers lately. She's young and has no idea what she really wants. Her agent plays off of this and uses it to his own advantage. To most people, she's a blond gravy train.
All of the actors are terrific. Franchot Tone is hilarious, totally and deliberately WAY over the top saying lines such as the one in the summary box. Harlow is surrounded with the best character actors - Lee Tracy, who despite a scandal in 1934 managed to enjoy a nearly 40-year career is great as Lola's fast-talking scam artist agent; Frank Morgan plays his usual role of a weak man, but not a bad one; Louise Beavers brings spark to the role of a maid; Pat O'Brien is in top form as the volatile Brogan.
But it's Harlow's film, and she keeps up with the frantic pace of the film beautifully. Funny and vulnerable, she's hilarious when she pretends she's upper class, as she's often done in her films - no one has ever pulled that off quite like she has. Certainly one of the most lovable and charismatic actresses ever on screen. It's unbelievable that she didn't have a chance to live a full life. "Bombshell" is one of her best films among a lot of wonderful ones.
For some reason I never saw this movie till last week, even though someone I
know recommended it highly.
Well I'm an idiot, cause I LOVE this hysterical movie and I should have had it committed to memory by now!
Jean Harlow..its easy to see why she was adored. The camera worships her..how could it not. What a shame she was taken so young, but I guess we can be glad she was ever in movies at all.
The movie is a riot. There is a gag so hilarious that I am amazed it has not been copied in anything else I've ever seen. It has to do with a press agent, a nightclub fight and the late edition. Just priceless.
10/10. Please, no remakes. I'll give up six of my vices if I can get a guarantee there will be no remakes.
After watching this I saw "Dinner at Eight", also starring Harlow and Lee Tracy. This is better than that, and that's a classic. THIS is better, just ask anyone.
More than any other film in the Harlow canon, this one is a testament to her impressive comedic talent, and her knack for rapid-fire delivery and dialogue. Gifts which made her literally unmatched in the 1930's among comedic actresses ("Dinner at Eight" director George Cukor considered her without equal). Like her final film "Saratoga," this is another film which is hard to view with detachment, as it bares many similarities with her real life right down to parasitic parents and an exploitive studio. The way Harlow gestures, her body movements, and pitch control, is something that most actors are not able to acquire until many years of stage and screen performance, and even then, it might still elude them. Harlow did this at age 22 with no stage experience. The script by John Lee Mahin is classic, and is hands down, one of the most devastating satires ever produced on the studio system. Victor Fleming's direction (who also directed Harlow in "Red Dust" and "Reckless"), though not exactly of "Gone with the Wind" caliber, is adequate. The real show, however, entirely belongs to Harlow. Period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an interesting change of pace comedy for Jean Harlow. She is
not playing a lower class shop girl or even a prostitute like in THE
GIRL FROM MISSOURI or RED DUST, nor a slumming upper class girl (as in
THE PUBLIC ENEMY). Instead she is playing a very popular film star with
a very sexy body and screen personae - gee, it sounds like she is
playing Jean Harlow. According to the thread the character she is
playing ("Lola Burns") was supposed to be based on Clara Bow (certainly
the two names are similar in sound). But it could be based on Harlow's
attempts (tragically repeatedly doomed) to have a happy normal life but
finding her screen personae interfering.
Still, even if one starts thinking of Harlow's marriage to Paul Bern or her romance with William Powell, the film is engrossing and humorous enough to make you push aside the tragedy of the life of Harlean Carpenter. Lola is, like all movie stars, a prisoner of the studio's determination to get all the public attention publicity can garner from it's merchandise (it's stars). In particular Lola finds herself at the mercy of the studio's head publicity man "Space Hanlon" (Lee Tracy). Tracy is always coming up with goofy stunts, or twisting events that involve Lola in her attempts at normality (like adopting a baby, or dating a "normal" man (Franchot Tone) into another mess. The studio only cares that she personifies sexual allure - so Hanlon keeps making that the key to his publicity: he even arranges a fight between several men on the set of her latest film (one is director Pat O'Brien) supposedly over Lola's love.
Lola is not against sex and love - the quote in the "Summary line" is Lola's when her maid wakes her at the start of the film, and she's just had a promising sex dream. She really needs a confidante - but everyone around her takes advantage of her. Her father (Frank Morgan) is an alcoholic, cadging old scoundrel (who keeps reminding her - to her growing disgust - of her owing him obedience as her loving father). Her sibling (Ted Healey) is also an alcoholic, constantly having sexual affairs that she has to get him out of. Her maid actually steals from the household accounts (Lola is aware of this - she is not stupid). And all constantly are as demanding on her as her studio.
Ironically there is one person who would be her confidante and more - but he knows she'll reject him. It's Space, who loves her. In fact, some of the stunts he sets up is to get rid of possible rivals. Eventually, can he get her to recognize this? Ah that is the final point of the film.
Harlow was a gifted comic actress, knowing how to use her image for fun (such as Wallace Beery's unfaithful wife in DINNER AT EIGHT). But I suspect because of her own problems in Hollywood and real life she put more of herself in this film than in any other. I can't say it was her best performance (I tend to like RED DUST and CHINA SEAS a little more) but it was somehow her most real performance, and the film benefits as a result.
"Bombshell" does for the Hollywood of the 1930s what "The Player" does
for the Hollywood of the 1990s. It's quite interesting to see how well
established the Hollywood System was already in the early 1930s when
this film was made. Already at that time the film world was centered on
stars, studios, and a sycophantic support network that was focused on a
false facades and phoniness. There are plenty of hilarious scenes in
"Bombshell" sending up the studio system in a way that I found quite
surprising given the year (1933) that this film was produced. It seems
to present a sensibility - sarcastic, witty, honest - that I don't
usually associate with the Golden Age of Hollywood. So many jokes about
alcohol and drunkenness! "Bombshell" makes "The Thin Man" seem like an
advertisement for AA by comparison.
Good supporting cast - nice to see Frank Morgan (aka the Wizard of Oz) as the inebriated father of star Jean Harlow. Lee Tracy is completely convincing as the smooth-talking oily agent who harbors a secret passion for his client. But what really makes "Bombshell" work - and which explains why I rate it at 8 out is 10 - is the tremendously self-effacing performance of Jean Harlow. She's just terrific!
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