Finally! A Meaningful Jean Harlow DVD Collection
October 13, 2011

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.

Jean Harlow Anniversary Collection

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.

15 Responses  
Tonio writes:  

Hi, can anyone tell me how/where to buy the collection from Germany? It isn’t possible at the Warner Brothers Shop (wbshop.com). Thanks a lot, Tonio

Johanna writes:  

Sometimes Amazon has listings for the Warner Archive projects. Other than that, I don’t know, sorry.

Tonio writes:  

Thanks a lot, “Heaven Can Wait”??? They don’t have it yet, but I’ll go on checkin’…

Mark K writes:  

I’m disappointed in this set. Attatching Red Headed Woman to a precode box set I can understand. Dinner at Eight not being included I can understand. And I’ll even give them the benifit of the doubt on Libeled Lady even though the wisdom of that call is marginal at best. But to leave out Red Dust, Hold Your Man and Wife vs Secretary is downright unforgivable (unless of course there is a second Harlow set planned which is doubtful). Particularly Red Dust which is really considered to be Harlow at the pinnacle of her career. And there is so much more they could have put in with regards to extras. I’ve seen plenty of newsreel footage of Harlow and heard several radio interviews that would have been great to have in this set.

The Sharon Stone thing would have been excellent if they had gotten someone other than Sharon Stone to narrate. While she seems the obvious choice she sounds like she took a handfull of xanex. The most lifeless and dull narration I think I’ve ever heard.

I liked Personal Property. I agree that when compared to her other roles it seems like she was miscast. But I look at her role in that movie as the direction that Harlow was heading had she kept going. In the two superb bios by Eve Golden and David Stenn (which, if you can find them I highly recommend), Harlow was trying to break out of the roles typically given to her. Looked at in that light, Personal Property seems like a nice direction for her.

And I agree with you on Riff Raff. A great cast but that movie is relentlessly annoying. Tracy is such a tool in that that you kind of hope Harlow sticks it out with the other guy.

Johanna writes:  

Thanks for joining in — I’d love to have more old movie discussion here.

Of the three you mention, I’d like to see Hold Your Man included, because that is a great film with her and Gable, but I never saw the appeal of Red Dust. (Maybe you can explain it to me?) I know that has her famous “bathing in the water scene”, but is there more to it than that? Wife vs. Secretary, meanwhile, was already on DVD, and imo, it isn’t that great a role for her, although seeing her as a virtuous workaholic is temporarily entertaining.

I’ll have to look for one of those bios, thanks.

Mark writes:  

The thing with Red Dust is that it’s considered by film buffs to be the most beautifully photographed of Harlows films. Outside of a George Hurrell photograph of Harlow it just doesn’t get any better than Rossons cinematography. I mean, Harlow just glows in it. It’s also the first of the Harlow/Gable teamings and considered to be the best of those teamings. The project was hand picked by Thalberg and husband Bern (who died before he could see it) specifically for Harlow. That water barrel scene was shot the day after Bern died. It’s just a great collision of MGM talent on every level. A good example of trying to recapture that and failing would be China Seas. Harlow, in spite of second billing, doesn’t really have a lot of screen time and when she does she doesn’t have anything interesting to say. At least compared to Beery and Gable. That’s a film that I’m perfectly fine not having in the collection even though she looks beautiful in it as “China Doll, the girl who drives men mad”.

I agree that Wife vs Secretary isn’t Harlows best. But, like Personal Property, it’s a role that is different from typical Harlow roles and shows a hint of diversity. Plus, we get to see Harlow act with Jimmy Stewart. That has to count for something.

Honestly, there are very few Harlow films that are exceptional or even mediocre. The appeal of a Harlow film is Harlow. She’s got that thing that makes me want to watch her in spite of the film.

And I agree about the lack of commentary.

A great extra would have been to have the music video of No Doubt’s “It’s My Life”.

this was interesting, wikipedia has Fay Wray saying that Harlow was originally cast in the Ann Darrow role in King Kong but MGM wouldn’t loan her out, which is the reason for Wray wearing the platinum blonde wig. Although neither Stenn or Golden bios mention that at all.

Tonio writes:  

Hi Johanna, and sorry, I can’t explain it to you because I love them both, “Hold Your Man“ and “Red Dust“. Maybe HYM is more the classical melodrama only pretending to be light comedy in the first half. But I find both Gable and Harlow perfectly attractive even though “the feet remain on the ground“ (thus explaining why that Hays-Code-rule is perfectly silly…). They are made for each other; they don’t even need a third person such as Mary Astor in Red Dust. Well, HYM seems to split the community with its abrupt changing from comedy into melodrama etc. / As far as the biographies are concerned, I am from Germany, and I should read some of the US biographies in English. The only one I have read in English is Irving Shulman’s Book – which is really disgusting pornography, see my review on Amazon. A close friend of mine is the only German Harlow biographer, Bettina Uhlich, who has been in the U.S. for research and is herself a friend of Eve Golden and Darrell Rooney who have written Harlow biographies. It’s not only her who recommends Eve Golden’s Book, so maybe you should read that one – and so should I. Greetings from Germany, Tonio

Tonio writes:  

@Mark: “Honestly, there are very few Harlow films that are exceptional or even mediocre. The appeal of a Harlow film is Harlow.”

I totally agree, and here’s what I have written in my review: “Some of them are rather weak movies, but even in those, Harlow is not only of a radiant and unique beauty, but offers a remarkably elaborated and distinguished performance which is worth watching. In other words, even a bad Harlow movie gives us the opportunity to see Harlow as a real actress and not only as a sex bomb. Every Harlow movie has some magic moments, and the magician is one of the most underrated actresses ever.”

As far as Red Dust is concerned, yes, I also totally agree, it IS fascinating and a defiance of the French auteur-theory according to which only the director is a movie’s “author”. No, “Red Dust” is a perfect teamwork, as you have described it. But as I feel it, “Hold Your Man” manages not only to copy it, but to turn the sexual attraction between Gable and Harlow into a radical and thus convincing melodrama. Converning photography, I’d agree that “Harlow’s Halo” is of unique beauty in “Red Dust” and a little exaggerated in “Hold Your Man”, but to me, there isn’t a too big difference. Greetings from Germany, Tonio

Johanna writes:  

I clearly need to watch Red Dust again, now that I know more about what to look for. This is why we should have commentaries! It’s so helpful to have a knowledgeable source pointing you to key elements.

And wow, I can’t believe it’s not available on DVD.

Tonio, I find the auteur theory suspicious in many ways. I don’t think you can have THAT many people working on a film and still claim a sole authorship.

Stephen6 writes:  

I have to agree with the other comments about Red Dust. In fact, it is such a benchmark in cinematography that it’s featured in the superb documentary “Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography” (a scene from the making of Red Dust is also featured on the cover to the dvd).


I think the reason that the films Dinner at Eight, China Seas, Wife vs Secretary and Libeled Lady aren’t on this particular collection is because those four films are on a TCM Jean Harlow four film disc. Here is the link…


Jim Kosmicki writes:  

i did pre-order this – thanks for the preview, as Warner Archive hasn’t sent me an email talking about this one at all yet. I used the link from your blog to order, so hopefully that gets you some referral fees.

i love old films and don’t really know Harlow, so I’m excited to get this set and see what the buzz is about. And if Red Dust is available to Warner Archive and has that kind of cinematography reputation, they probably are planning on it being a solo release. $20 for one movie is better for their bottom line than 7 movies for $50.

Johanna writes:  

That’s a good point, Jim, or maybe even a regular retail release. And thanks for using the link! I hope you enjoy the films.

M Konada writes:  

I think with Red Dust it’s more likely that it will be part of a Gable collection. Especially since the Gable film Mogombo is a near exact remake of Red Dust with Ava Gardner in the Harlow role and Grace Kelly in the Mary Astor role. I can see it turning up on one of those TCM four in one packs with say a Gable “jungle theme” with…Red Dust, Mogambo, Soldier of Fortune and perhaps Strange Cargo.

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