Tag Archives: Jean Harlow

MGM’s Idea of Stardom in 1933: The Opening Montage of Bombshell (Victor Fleming, USA, 1933)

Bombshell has an opening montage that is very instructive in how studios and audiences perceived the life and function of a film star. We see Jean Harlow as Lola Burns in film magazines, in newspapers, awarding prizes, being the subject of scandal, in advertisements selling hosiery, and on film-screens — bigger than life — with an audience enraptured as she’s embraced by Gable; celebrity, scandal, glamour, the personal and the social, significance and signification, already all rolled into one. One of the many interesting things about the montage is that we see men reading Modern Screen, Photoplay, Silver Screen and other movie magazines as avidly as women, which, even whilst keeping in mind that Lola Burns/Jean Harlow is meant to be a sex-symbol, is not exactly what one expects. We see audiences enraptured by the image, copying Lola’s stockings and perfumes, her name in lights and finally a hypnotic reunion in the dark where audiences identify, desire and long to that image provided by Burns/Harlow; and of course Harlow does seem to burn up the screen with joy, and wit and life as it all unfolds: A glorious beginning to an entertaining film.

 

Warners has a less showy version of stardom in 1933 with James Cagney playing a character clearly influenced by George Raft in Lady Killer (Roy del Ruth, 1933):

José Arroyo

Robert Benchley Steals a Movie in Five Minutes

           China Seas is big-budget, all-star orientalist tosh with exciting action sequences, well-directed by Tay Garnett. I don’t know that it’s much worth seeing today unless you love Jean Harlow (which I do) or want to see how movie star like Gable can sleepwalk through a performance and still be appealing or are curious as to just how bad Rosalind Russell was at playing English aristocrats early in her career. What I most loved about the movie was the way Robert Benchley was deployed as a kind of punctuation mark in the narrative. He’s got no role really. He’s just brought in to punch up the tired narrative, lift the tenor and add a laugh, all of which he succeeds magnificently in doing. It’s a lesson to performers in how to steal a movie in five minutes and to screenwriters in how a movie is not all story and meaning and how in the words of the immortal Lubitsch, one shouldn’t ‘sneeze at a laugh’; though one is at all times willing to drink to it.

The clip below is the entirety of his role, a collection of all his scenes in the film in chronological order; bits, lines and gags; all totalling just over five minutes; and, aside from a few cracks between Jean Harlow and Hattie McDaniel, the only scenes from the movie one is tempted to see again.

José Arroyo