Friday, September 12, 2014


Sometime a couple of years ago, possibly during Jean Harlow's turn as TCM's Star of the Month in her centenary month of March 2011, I sat down to watch her film Bombshell. I found the characters so irritating that I said the heck with it after a half hour or so. Bombshell came on again last month when Lee Tracy was being honored in Summer Under the Stars, so I figured I'd suck it up and finally watch the movie in full and see if my first impression might have been wrong. No; the characters were still intensely irritating for the most part. Bombshell is on the TCM schedule again this afternoon at 4:45 PM as part of the Friday pre-Code marathon, so you can give it a look and judge for yourself.

Jean Harlow plays the least annoying by far of the main characters. She's the title bombshell, a platinum blonde actress named Lola Burns. She's made it big in Hollywood, enough so that all the gossip magazines want a piece of her and her family has been able to come out to California to live with her. Her family members, combined with her own personal life, have combined to keep her constantly in the 1930s equivalent of TMZ, although of course it was print only back then since there was no TV. Dad (Frank Morgan) and her brother Junior (Ted Healy, here without the Stooges) are layabouts who seem to be living off Lola's money, and getting into some trouble at times. Meanwhile, Lola's love life involves an ex in the form of director Jim Brogan (Pat O'Brien) and current love the Marquis (Ivan Lebedeff).

So, you can see why Lola would be in the tabloids all the time. She hates it, but the studio publicist/firefighter, Space Hanlon (Lee Tracy) tries to tell Lola it's a good thing. After all, if you're not in the public eye, your fans are going to stop thinking about you, and pretty soon you're not going to have any fans. But it's not just the idea that any publicity is good publicity: Space is deliberately creating many of these situations to make certain Lola's name will be in the news. The first time Lola realizes this, she decides that she'd like to change her image by adopting a baby. Space, for his part, thinks this change of image would be bad for the studio, so he does what he can to sabotage it, and when Lola discovers the sabotage, she runs away from Hollywood entirely.

Lola goes to a desert resort, and while horesback riding, she meets nice Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone). He's wealthy and from a good family (parents played by Mary Forbes and C. Aubrey Smith). Gifford would like to marry Lola, but first he's got to meet her family, which of course poses a bit of a dilemma for Lola. And to make matters more complicated, Space figured out where Lola ran off to, and has showed up himself. Surely he's got to be there for the possibility of publicity. Or is this finally the time Lola can trust him?

The big problem I have with Bombshell, as I stated at the beginning of the post, is that most of the characters are unappealing. Harlow's Lola Burns is the most sympathetic, but she plays the role frenetically. To be fair, I think the script and director (Victor Fleming) must have called for it, because everybody's frenetic. It still makes Lola mildly unappealing. Space is a complete jerk, although I suppose some people will just say he's doing his job. The question is what sort of moral reprobate would take this dishonest publicity job in the first place. Lola's dad and brother are also selfish jerks, and you wonder why Lola doesn't kik at least the brother out of the house. O'Brien isn't too bad as the director ex, although his character isn't given much to work with. He and Lebedeff's marquis both disappear halfway through the movie. C. Aubrey Smith is a bit of a bright spot, although he shows up too late. And then the ending made me want to scream at the TV.

A lot of people like Bombshell, however. So you can watch today and judge for yourself, or get a copy of the movie on DVD from the Warner Archvie.

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