This year would have been Jean Harlow’s 100th birthday (in March), so fans were hoping for some recognition in terms of a nice centennial DVD set. (The only significant release of her films on DVD previously was a TCM Greatest Classic Legends collection, but that was a repackaging of four movies previously available separately. While fine films, they weren’t her best-known or most significant to her career personally. And really, isn’t “Greatest Classic Legends” multiply redundant?) Now, Warner Archive has announced a Jean Harlow 100th Anniversary Collection that fulfills most, but not all, fan requests.
It’s the first Warner Archive box set, which is quite a step forward for the made-on-demand DVD store. It can be preordered now (at $49.95 US), becoming available after October 25. The set contains seven movies, the first three of which are remastered:
- Bombshell (1933) — An early look behind-the-scenes of Hollywood, with Harlow playing a character much like herself. She wants to quit movies, but her deadbeat family and go-getter press agent won’t let her.
- The Girl From Missouri (1934) — Similar in plot to Red-Headed Woman (see below) but made after the Code, so much emphasis is placed on how Harlow looks like a tramp but she’s still a “good girl”.
- Reckless (1935) — Inspired by a real-life scandal involving a torch singer, this movie also had unpleasant similarities to the suicide of Harlow’s second husband. She stars with William Powell, whom she was also involved with.
- Riffraff (1935) — I don’t care for this one, too downbeat. Co-stars Spencer Tracy.
- Suzy (1936) — Co-starring Cary Grant and Franchot Tone in a love triangle of people torn apart by World War I and mistaken reports of a spouse’s death.
- Personal Property (1937) — Timely, as the story of a widow at risk of having everything repossessed, and I appreciate co-star Robert Taylor, but not really the right role for Harlow.
- Saratoga (1937) — Harlow’s final movie, with frequent co-star Clark Gable. She died during filming and several of her scenes were played by a double.
And these special features (unusual for a Warner Archive release):
- Portfolio of seven 5” x 7” MGM studio portraits of Miss Harlow
- Trailers for six films, including newly discovered trailers for Bombshell, The Girl From Missouri, and Personal Property
- Rare, never before heard Reckless pre-recording sessions including Jean Harlow’s unused vocals captured live on the MGM stage
- Lux Radio Theater presentation “Madame Sans-Gene” with Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor (Audio Only)
- Two radio “air trailers”
The significant films of hers that aren’t included are available elsewhere. Red-Headed Woman, an early shocker that helped make her career, is part of the first TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection. Platinum Blonde is more Loretta Young’s movie than Harlow, and it had a DVD release from Sony. Both Libeled Lady (a personal favorite) and Dinner at Eight (an outstanding ensemble piece) are on the previously mentioned TCM Greatest Legends set.
It’s a shame that there won’t be any commentaries or specials. There was an interesting review of Jean Harlow’s life hosted by Sharon Stone called The Blonde Bombshell that would have been a nice extra, but it’s already on the Dinner at Eight disc. Still, on a set dedicated to a particular star, it’s always a good idea to include some kind of overview of why they’re well-known, their strengths and work, and so on.
Regardless, I’m glad to see so many of Harlow’s classic films available, and in one package. I’m a big fan of her work, and I find her movies very watchable (and re-watchable, a concern when I’m considering a DVD purchase). This sounds like a great package. The selection is good, and the price is right — actually, a great deal, considering Warner Archive films normally start at $20 a piece. I recommend this.