Thursday, March 2, 2023

Jean Harlow is a Hilarious ‘Bombshell’ 1933


Lee Tracy as a pugnacious PR man & Jean Harlow as the dervish movie diva,
in 1933's screwball comedy "Bombshell."

Bombshell was one of the first movies that Jean Harlow showed she had a flair for comedy, with Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust as the intro the year before. MGM’s Bombshell, from 1933, is a still-funny comedy, with Hollywood getting skewered even then.

Director Victor Fleming and screenwriters John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman were inspired by the scandalous life and media frenzy surrounding “It” girl Clara Bow. Fleming was once engaged to Bow and familiar with her life story. But Bombshell also spoofs Jean Harlow's own life and career, from her own family of hangers-on, the sex bomb reputation versus the real Harlow, and some zingers even aimed at MGM. It's a smart, clever movie still and you realize how things don't really change all that much in showbiz. Look at today's stars who are more famous for their scandal ridden “personal” lives than any particular talent.

Jean Harlow as movie star Lola Burns & Lee Tracy as PR flack "Space" Hanlon
make a terrific team in MGM's "Bombshell."

Jean Harlow was a live wire in Bombshell, with a natural sense of humor, and a good-hearted screen persona. As Lola Burns, I love how her character puts on studio-trained ladylike airs, but in the next scene she's yowling at her ingrate family, scoundrel press agent, and problematic boyfriends. Yet, Jean never goes overboard, and keeps it real. Harlow was a working class Carole Lombard, once Jean got to lighten up her femme fatale image, and played the sex bomb and her scripts for laughs. The movie blurs the on-screen Lola Burns with real-life Jean Harlow by having Burns do re-takes for Red Dust and showing Harlow with Gable in Hold Your Man.

Jean Harlow as Lola Burns in MGM's Hollywood satire, 1933's "Bombshell."

Lee Tracy is personifies the fast-talking wise-cracker, studio PR hound “Space Hanlon.” Tracy practically trademarked this archetype when he became a Broadway smash as “Hildy” Johnson in the original The Front Page. He is hilarious, changing his tune on a dime, with a “Can you believe I’m getting away with this?” attitude. There's something very appealing about him. He’s impishly baby-faced, yet looks like he’s seen a few late nights, and not from colic. You totally believe Jean falling for him. One also forgets how handsome Pat O' Brien was in his young days, no-nonsense as always, as the director who is sweet on Lola. Oh so handsome Franchot Tone amusingly spoofs his cultivated gentleman image as the suitor who seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Lee Tracy reminds me a little of Michael Keaton in this photo. Tracy's a motor mouth
 riot as "Space" Hanlon to Jean Harlow's movie "Bombshell."

Frank Morgan's a hoot as Jean's irrepressible father, a lovable blowhard always in need of cash for booze and horses. Louise Beavers gets off some pre-code one-liners as Jean's good-hearted maid.

Frank Morgan's one of many scene-stealers to Jean Harlow's exasperated "Bombshell!"

There are some sly zingers about Hollywood and the whole dog and pony show of presenting stars to the press and gossip columnists in the best light, and hoping they don’t dig too deep beneath the shiny surface.

But this is ultimately a great vehicle for Jean Harlow, stylishly done in high spirits, right from the opening credits by MGM's top studio director Victor Fleming, to the stars still battling it out at the finale. 

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Check it out & join!

"Bombshell" director Victor Fleming with star Jean Harlow.




  1. Bombshell is a great Jean Harlow film, one that illustrates what her off-screen life really may have been like. I was obsessed with Harlow as a young impressionable movie fan in the early 60s and sorely disappointed at the lousy bio-films that were made of her life way back then. She was luminous on screen and it is sad that she died so young and only made (beautifully photographed) black & white movies. We never could see her platinum hair and luscious skin tones plus those fabulous clothes in living color, nor did we truly witness her development as a first-rate comedian which she was becoming when she died aged 26. Lucille Ball, who played the Harlow part in the remake of Libeled Lady, called Easy To Wed, seems to be channeling Harlow in that movie as well as some other funny films she did before her TV show, and may have learned a little from Harlow how to be funny and glamorous. Lee Tracy is wonderful in this film and it's too bad his career didn't take off after this and Dinner at Eight. Thanks for reminding us of this tinsel town treasure. Cheers~

    1. Hi Victor, Harlow also reminded me of early Lucy, and I wondered if Ball was inspired by her when playing comic "broads" about the same time. I could see Jean growing even further as an actress during the war years. As for Lee Tracy, I think drinking was a big issue for him, and getting in trouble when he drank. I think he is delightful, and I loved his turn as an ex president ala Harry Truman in The Best Man. Cheers, Rick

  2. Hi Rick! A few years ago, I sent away for several of Harlow's films and had my own Jean Harlow Film Festival. Bombshell was one of them. This is a terrific movie, and one of the lady's funniest performances. I'm also a big fan of Lee Tracy. These fast-paced movies with fast-talking characters are the best!!

    1. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised. Thought the movie would be very creaky, but it was smart and snappy, and Jean & Lee were terrific! Cheers, Rick