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Friday, September 28, 2012

BOMBSHELL (1933)

Everybody talks a mile-a-minute in this behind-the-scenes Hollywood comedy about a big sexy star (Jean Harlow in her prime) and the studio P.R. guy who keeps her constantly in the news (Lee Tracy). Harlow doesn’t get much credit for acting chops, she’s a rank amateur in some early roles, but not here. Under the strong hand of Victor Fleming, who had coaxed an earlier bombshell, Clara Bow, to her best work*, Harlow builds on the sweet, funny tart Fleming helped her create in RED DUST/’32. Changing voices & emotional gears for every occasion, spewing out tour-de-force speeches in one-takes, Fleming exults in her confidence, letting her take down family, staff & studio in a single-shot second act curtain speech that can still bring down the house. Even when the comic doings go wide of the mark, there’s usually enough speed, noise & pseudo-sentiment to carry us along. And when Franchot Tone shows up in the third act as a posh gent who woos Harlow with upper-crust tosh & charm**, true comic bliss breaks out, setting us up for a triple-reverse ending that can still fake you out. (**John Lee Mahin & Norman Krasna each worked on the script, but the quotable stuff shows the hand of the great Jules Furthman.) NOTE: Our poster is taken from an ad for a bio by gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who is lightly skewered in the pic. And below, a shot from the set with Harlow & its handsome-as-a-movie-star director.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Pat O’Brien’s supporting role as director/romantic interest must have lost scenes to the cutting room floor since he drops out in the pic’s second half. Still, there’s enough left to compare the styles of the two original FRONT PAGE Hildy Johnsons, B’way’s Tracy & O’Brien from Lewis Milestone’s 1931 movie.

READ ALL ABOUT IT/DOUBLE-BILL: Hard to believe that the director of THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND didn’t get a proper bio until Michael Sragow’s celebratory VICTOR FLEMING in 2008. *See Fleming getting the best out of Clara Bow in MANTRAP/’26, finally out in fine shape (hurrah!) on a 2011 DVD set, TREASURES 5, from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

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