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BOMBSHELL (director: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: John Lee Mahin/Jules Furthman/from the play by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Margaret Booth; cast: Jean Harlow (Lola Burns), Lee Tracy (E. J. “Space” Hanlon) Frank Morgan (Pop Burns), Franchot Tone (Gifford Middleton), Pat O’Brien (Jim Brogan), Una Merkel (Miss Mac), Ivan Lebedeff (Marquis Hugo), Ted Healy (Junior Burns), Louise Beavers (Maid), Billy Dooley (Man Claiming to Be Lola’s Husband), C. Aubrey Smith (Mr. Wendell Middleton); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1933)
“Harlow gives a star quality comedy turn that’s spoiled only by too much speechifying on her part.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Victor Fleming (“Red Dust”/”The Wizard of Oz”/”Gone With the Wind”) directs a wonderful “inside” Hollywood comedy about a pampered film star named Lola Burns, modeled after the guileless Clara Bow and played superbly by Jean Harlow, the “bombshell” of the title. Her loud-mouth, unscrupulous and meddling publicity agent Space Hanlon is well played by Lee Tracy, as are all the other parasites who live off her, including those men eager to romance her and her nervy boorish family. Her sponging dad, Pop Burns, is played by Frank Morgan. The film is also not far removed from Harlow’s own real-life experiences. Harlow shows her flair for comedy through her rapid-fire delivery and deliciously brings out the film’s biting edginess – exposing how the studios exploit talent and of all the hangers-on who leech off the wealthy star.

Lola’s day begins at 6 a.m.. It gets off to a bad start as the servants take advantage of her and don’t have breakfast ready, a magazine reporter conducts an interview that her father hogs with unnecessary comments and her live-in relatives have borrowed all her cars so she has to call the studio for a ride. She’s also handed new dialogue for a retake because the Hays Office wants a rewrite on her previous film Red Dust. At the set, she lashes out at publicity maven Space Hanlon for getting her in the papers with untrue scandalous stories and then learns her former flame Jim Brogan (Pat O’Brien), now divorced, will direct her new picture. Brogan seems anxious to begin the affair again. The jealous Brogan complains about her being distracted by the Marquis Hugo (Ivan Lebedeff), Lola’s current lover, being on the set and cooing at Lola.

Trying to settle down from her frantic life and change her loose woman rep, Lola decides to adopt an orphan baby. But her plan is spoiled as her drunk brother (Ted Healy) and jealous suitors Jim and the Marquis have a spat while the ladies from the orphanage are interviewing Lola. She realizes Space invited them without her knowledge, as she also overhears him telling the reporters about the incident. At last, an upset Lola tells off her uncaring alcoholic father, her irresponsible brother, her haughty dishonest secretary (Una Merkel) and the obnoxious Space, and vanishes from Hollywood.

Lola pops up at a desert hotel, where she’s accosted by a lunatic claiming to be her husband but is rescued by the effete Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone) who is seemingly unaware of her star status. They spend the night together and he plies her with florid flattery and asks her hand in marriage and brings her home to meet his “blue blood” Boston family. But this film does not come with a fairy-tale Grace Kelly type of happy ending as of all people, Space is looked upon as the best man in Lola’s life because he actually loves her despite acting like a jerk.

This hysterical farce, about the star’s life sabotaged by her unethical publicist, is based on an unproduced play by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane, and is ingenuously written by John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman. Harlow gives a star quality comedy turn that’s spoiled only by too much speechifying on her part, an unsatisfying sardonic ending and that the film’s middle part sags. The telling of inside jokes is helped further that director Fleming previously dated Clara Bow. Pat O’Brien plays the Fleming-like director.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”