M-G-M moved fast after the huge response to Victor Fleming’s RED DUST/’32, quickly following up with this more modest, but equally irresistible Jean Harlow/Clark Gable vehicle. Scripter Anita Loos loads on Pre-Code attitude right from the start (the ‘meet-cute’ occurs in a bathtub) and then manages an even tougher trick, swerving from racy comedy into sentimental melodrama without seeming to change gears. The story is really tied to Gable’s redemption thru love as a two-bit con-man who surprises himself by falling hard for Harlow, his partner in petty crime. Then, just when he’s planning to make ‘an honest woman’ out of her, his lucky streak runs out. Sam Wood’s helming has unexpected zip, and there’s plenty of moxie in the supporting players, street mugs for Gable and, later, tough, funny broads when Harlow goes to prison. Heck, even dull Stuart Erwin shines as Harlow’s butter-and-egg man. But this one’s mainly the Jean Harlow/Clark Gable show. With youthful sheen & an endearingly cheap haircut, Gable is both period charmer & a contemporary knock-out. Harlow, at least for modern audiences, is so stylized, she’s something of an acquired taste. Don’t fret, when Loos writes the dialogue, it’s acquired in about five minutes.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Watch enough of these ‘30 pics and you’ll discover that one of the few racially integrated ‘work’ settings were prisons. For some reason, in the male facilities, the black convicts were still stereotyped (sympathetically treated, but patronized ‘Darkies’) while female black convicts, as seen here, are played in a manner much closer to their white counterparts. But you can still test your racial sensitivity during a rousing prison rendition of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, where they edit in gag shots of an Asian & a Jewish inmate lustily joining in.