BOMBSHELL. MGM, 1933. Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Frank Morgan, Pat O’Brien, Franchot Tone, Una Merkel, Ted Healy, Ivan Lebedeff, C. Aubrey Smith, Isabel Jewell. Screenplay by John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman; photography by Harold Rosson and Chester Lyons. Director: Victor Fleming. Shown at Cinecon 46, Hollywood CA, September 2010.

   There’s not an admirable character among the characters in this steamroller satire of a star (Harlow) victimized by her family, studio and everybody she comes into contact with.

   Lee Tracy as her lover and publicist, with not an honest bone in his body or an apparent ounce of concern for Harlow’s well-being, and Frank Morgan as her alcoholic father are the most blatant exploiters of the vulnerable actress, but every other actor in the film, with the possible exception of Pat O’Brien, plays a role that ensures complicity in the studio’s manipulation of every aspect of her life for the maximum return on her box-office potential.

   It was apparently an open secret at the time of the film’s release that Harlow’s role was based on the tragic career of Clara Bow, a talented and enormously popular actress whose not so private peccadilloes contributed to ending her career.

   Both Harlow and Bow exuded a sexuality that propelled their careers into the stratosphere, with Bow’s meteoric career a victim to sound, Harlow’s to a medical problem that her mother, a devotee of Christian Science, refused to have treated.

   Bombshell was probably intended to be a satiric comedy, but the dark undertones of the constant breaching of Harlow’s character’s privacy that undermines any sense of self-worth, has a sour, almost vicious cast, that I found offensive.


Editorial Comment:   Bombshell is scheduled to be shown on TCM next Tuesday night (March 15th) at 9:30.