A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bombshell (Victor Fleming, 1933)

This giddy screwball comedy is one of the earliest examples of the genre, with a screenplay by John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman that's wall-to-wall wisecracks and frantic antics. It also has more sexual innuendo than later examples of the genre, since it was released a year before the Production Code began to be enforced by the notoriously blue-nosed Joseph Breen. There's even a joke about the censors in the script, in which the movie star played by Jean Harlow is being called on for retakes on Red Dust (1932), because of objections from the Hays Office, the code's precursors. (Mahin wrote the screenplay for Red Dust and Fleming directed it.) The cast is peerless: Harlow plays Lola Burns, a star said to be modeled on Clara Bow, and Lee Tracy is her hyperactive press agent "Space" Hanlon. Tracy has a way of exploding into rooms that reminds me of Kramer on Seinfeld. Fleming was probably not the ideal director for this fast-paced nonsense, which deserves a looser, lighter touch like that of Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks, but he gives his cast freedom and they're equal to the challenge. Watch the ensemble, for example, demonstrate perfect comic timing in some of the scenes that Fleming films in long takes. Even Franchot Tone, one of the more forgettable leading men of the 1930s, demonstrates unexpected comic skill in the scene in which, as the phony Boston socialite Gifford Middleton, he woos Lola with lines like "I'd like to run barefoot through your hair." Also on hand is Louise Beavers, playing a maid of course, in an exchange that wouldn't get by Breen a year later: When Harlow asks what happened to the negligee she gave her, Beavers replies that "it got all tore up night before last." Harlow observes, "Your day off is sure brutal on your lingerie."

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