Movie Information

In Brief: A bitingly satiric — but good-natured — look at a 1930s sex-symbol movie star (Jean Harlow), her dysfunctional household, her love-life and her trials with the studio publicist (Lee Tracy). Fast-paced, funny, risque in the pre-code manner and quite possibly Jean Harlow's best vehicle.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Victor Fleming
Starring: Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Franchot Tone, Una Merkel
Rated: NR

While Victor Fleming’s Bombshell (1933) is by no means a sequel to his 1932 Red Dust (which the Asheville Film Society ran on March 5), the two films are inextricably connected: In the first movie, we see Jean Harlow’s movie star character Lola Burns doing retakes for Bombshell. The line between life and fiction in this Hollywood satire is very thin indeed. In fact, aspects of the film — particularly those things about Lola and her screwy dysfunctional household — are based on Fleming’s own experiences with his former movie-star girlfriend, Clara Bow (whose movie career had just burned out). It’s all funny and on-target, but most of the satire is — as you might expect — not too unkind in nature, though the depiction of her leeching family and entourage is fairly blunt. The fact that the movie was made the year before the production code clamped down definitely plays in its favor.

There’s not all that much plot to speak of here. The film mostly chronicles Lola’s dizzy life — something made even dizzier by her own attachments to spur of the moment ideas (like adopting a baby) — and her particularly antagonistic relationship with her press agent Space Hanlon (Lee Tracy), who likes nothing better than publicizing intimate details of her love life — whether true or not. It’s their relationship that’s at the core of the movie — and, yes, that means exactly what you think it does, so there are no prizes for guessing where all this is going to end up. In a lot of ways, Bombshell offers the basic template for the screwball comedy — though that’s usually an accolade afforded 1934’s Twentieth Century. Maybe the Hollywood satire aspect confuses the issue, but there’s no confusion over the fact that this is one very funny movie — and that Harlow and Lee Tracy were an inspired pairing.

The Asheville Film Society will screen Bombshell Tuesday, March 12 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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