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Sunday, February 23, 2014

SARATOGA (1937)

This big, formulaic romantic comedy from M-G-M is largely remembered for being the last film Jean Harlow made. She died during production and the last three reels have to make do with a stand-in, some bad voice-over and a very large hat. Alas, even when the real girl is on screen, the Production Code has just about sucked the life out of those zingers Anita Loos always wrote for Harlow. (Instead, we get nervous whispers about repressed sexual urges.) Worse, she’s stuck with a terribly, terribly couth Mid-Atlantic accent as part of the plot. Still, the basic idea comes over as Harlow fends off a natural inclination toward raffish bookmaker Clark Gable as she tries to stay true to her new fiancĂ©, rich Wall Streeter Walter Pidgeon. Fat chance, especially since Harlow’s betting on the horses to buy back the family stud farm for G’pa Lionel Barrymore. Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that the film feels cobbled together, but it’s still worth a look. Less for Harlow than for Gable, who gives one of his last loosey-goosey perfs, positively extruding sexiness. And Ms. Loos gives Clark a great tag line for just about everyone, ‘I love you kid.’ Special fun when he mixes it up with Hattie McDaniel a couple of years before they continued their unconventional love-match in GONE WITH THE WIND. They also share a song, trading verses to Cliff Edwards ukelele accompaniment.

DOUBLE-BILL: Spencer Tracy’s little known NOW I’LL TELL/’34, fictionalized stuff about infamous conman/gambler Arnold Rothstein, spends a ton of time in Saratoga, but this fascinating pic has never made it to video. Instead, try the '30s horsetrack atmosphere in Frank Capra’s undervalued BROADWAY BILL, also ‘34.

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