Jean Harlow Month on TCM
March 5, 2011

On TCM, this month’s star is Jean Harlow, and it’s about time! I’m still stunned that so few of her movies are available on DVD.

The only significant release is this 4-movie Legends collection, which contains two of her best — the all-star comedies Libeled Lady (airing March 15) and Dinner at Eight (airing March 29) — one adventure with Clark Gable (but not the best-known one), and one forgettable romance, Wife vs. Secretary, also with Gable. That one’s interesting for showing her dedication to her job over her love life, but I found it slow-going and hard to finish. (Find out for yourself on March 22.)

Anyway, Harlow Month begins on Tuesday, March 8, with another of her best, this time a non-ensemble piece: Red-Headed Woman. Harlow plays a secretary aiming to sleep with the boss, break up his marriage, and get into society. Since it came out in 1932 (pre-Code), she struggles and suffers but isn’t ultimately punished for any of this. (Compare with The Girl From Missouri, which airs March 29. This second movie, which has a very similar plot, came out in 1934, after the Code was imposed, which means everyone thinks she’s doing the same thing but it’s clear that she’s not fooling around, she’s just a victim of gossip.)

Also airing Tuesday night: Suzy, a war romance that finds Harlow torn between Cary Grant and Franchot Tone; Riffraff, a union drama with Spencer Tracy; and Three Wise Girls, which I’ve never seen, which makes it a treat. It’s one of those “girls try to make it in the big city while avoiding married men” stories; it also stars Mae Clarke, the woman best known these days for having a grapefruit shoved in her face, and Marie Prevost, fabled in Nick Lowe song for disgusting reasons.

Continue watching on Tuesdays in March for more great Harlow films. All of her biggest are airing — Bombshell, Reckless, Red Dust, Platinum Blonde — plus lots more.

7 Responses  
Johnny Bacardi writes:  

Mae Clarke is also known in many circles as the first Elizabeth in 1931’s Frankenstein

Grant writes:  

Great article! I’m a major Harlow fan. My white pit is named Harlow, my chihuahua is named China Doll after Jeans China Seas character. And my wife took all my Harlow photographs and lobby cards and decorated a room in our house with them.

One of her movies that TCM is showing is Beast Of The City, a violent, pre code crime drama with Walter Huston. It’s her first film for MGM and it’s pretty good, even if it is more of a Huston vehicle than a Harlow showcase.

Red Headed Woman is a really fun, sexy movie. The scene where her boss slaps her is not to be missed. I also want to praise Bombshell. This isn’t just a fun variation of Harlows actuall life, but it’s also a very funny, frenetic, witty look at life as a movie star, right down to her having a stalker.

I didn’t know about that dvd collection. But I wish that, instead of China Seas (which isn’t a bad film) and Wife vs Secretary, they had included “Hold Your Man” and “Red Dust”. Red Dust, for my money, is the best movie Harlow ever made (and one of the most beautifully photographed films of the 30s). It was remade years later as “Mogambo” with Gable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner.

Also, there are two really great bios on harlow. One by David Stenn called Bombshell, the other by Eve Golden called “Platinum Girl”. The latter focuses more on her career (and had a better picture section), the former is more about her personal life and relationships, so they’re both good to have if difficult to find.

I think your analysis of Wife vs Secretary and Girl From Missouri is right on. Three Wise Girls is a pretty solid little drama. Not prime Harlow, but entertaining.

Great stuff!

Johanna writes:  

Thanks for adding in those additional notes. I don’t care much myself for the crime or adventure movies with Harlow — I much prefer the comedies and romances, but that’s just my taste in those old films. I agree with your comment on Bombshell; I also like Reckless, although there’s a bit of tackiness in the studio setting her up in that role.

The DVD collection is made up of movies that had already been released separately, so it looks like they just ordered a double-sided repressing to make up the set.

Johnny, I hadn’t realized that was her! I know her from the first Waterloo Bridge, which is heartbreaking.

Nick writes:  

“Red Headed Woman” I’ve seen because it’s in the first Forbidden Hollywood DVD collection (along with Waterloo Bridge). I remember being very surprised that it contained one scene of brief nudity. I was expecting it to be racy, being pre-code, but I wasn’t expecting that.

This also reminds me that I really should get around to watching the DVD of “Hell’s Angels” that I got ages ago.

Grant writes:  

It’s worth mentioning that this Thurday on TCM they’re showing a marathon of films directed by Gregory La Cava.

La Cava is probably best known to most people as director of the classic screwball comedy My Man Godfrey and the comedy drama Stage Door (great comedy with a staggering cast of very talented women and a must see).

Those two classics won’t be part of the marathon, but of the 9 films they’re showing, I can vouch for four of them; Laugh And Get Rich (1931)with the great Edna Mae Oliver, Smart Woman (1931) with Mary Astor, What Every Woman Knows (1934) with Helen Hayes, a very funny movie, and She Married Her Boss (1935) with Claudette Colbert. All four are fun, very entertaining romantic comedies worth checking out.

Johanna writes:  

Nick, oh, great reminder! The Forbidden Hollywood Collection is a great DVD set and a wonderful introduction to pre-Code movies from the Golden Age of film.

Grant, thanks for those additional mentions. I admit, I haven’t gotten any further in the week in planning my TCM viewing than Tuesday, but I’ll watch for those.

This Week on TCM: Short Thoughts » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

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