Redemption: "Harlow" (1965)

Redemption: "Harlow" (1965)

A movie review in which I hold nothing back
54
views

Just one look at Tura Satana's bustier-than-life go-go dancer Varla relegates the 1965 film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to the lowly status of a sexploitation movie; from the start, it is unable to regard the entire package as anything but a novelty. In spite of, or perhaps because of its notorious critical failure, it has often been reexamined by critics and, over time, has garnered high praise from feminists and film critics alike.

Life's funny like that sometimes.

Like the works of Edgar Allan Poe or Vincent Van Gogh, a movie is sometimes unfairly labeled as "bad," and shunted aside for the next week's new release. It gets filed away as a dud and for every Faster, Pussycat!, there are dozens of rhinestones-in-the-rough which are forgotten about. It is my hope to dust off these cinematic-crapfests and try to salvage them in my own fledgling series I've so cleverly named "Redemption".

Last week, I reviewed a film which, in its own misguided way, attempted to shed light on the corrupting influence of Hollywood. Continuing in that oddly specific vein of 1960s Hollywood movies about Hollywood, this week's offender is Harlow, a highly-fictionalized and unflattering recounting of the life of Jean Harlow.

That is Jean Harlow, the original "blonde bombshell," one of the biggest movie stars of the 1930s, and, before her tragic death in 1937 at the age of 26, one of the world's most iconic sex symbols. Her story, while short, is rife with possibility, possibility which the film squanders scene after scene.

The opening of the film is stunningly raw while managing to somehow simultaneously be opulent. It offers insight into the fictional "Majestic Studios," as hundreds upon hundreds of extras file in reporting for another day of decidedly unglamorous work. The cinematography, without a word, manages to demystifying those "halcyon" days of Old Hollywood and is replete with an almost overwhelmingly Baz Luhrmann-esque quality, setting the stage for what is sure to be a engrossingly sordid story. Harlow (played by the exceptionally talented Carroll Baker, who once again plays a woman with "the body of a woman but the emotions of a child" [and did it far better in 1956's Baby Doll]) is picked out of a lineup and, after failing to submit to the casting couch, is unceremoniously dropped from the film, returning home to her milquetoast mother (Angela Lansbury) and her unemployed lothario stepfather (Raf Vallone). What follows, as with any biopic, is a meteoric rise to fame wrought with devious hangers-on, handsy executives, and a surprisingly, unrealistically supportive (and non-lascivious) agent, played to perfection by Red Buttons.

The film is a largely self-contradictory mess which spins in circles until it finally collapses in a stinking heap and is, quite honestly, an insult to the legacy of Jean Harlow. It is reductive in the extreme, and the fact that the names of films, major figures, and studios are all fictionalized gives the impression of a half-baked film; acquiring the life rights must have been a struggle. And while there are a number of truly riveting scenes (the opening, a tense family meeting regarding her signing her first contract, Red Buttons explaining what he sees in his new client to his suspicious wife), the movie is dragged down by a nonstop parade of tawdry sex, discussions of sex, yearning for sex, thinking of sex; it's as if the producers and writers knew nothing of her life other than the fact that she was a sex symbol who died far too young. Jean Harlow may be a hallowed name in the pantheon of cinematic sexpots, but according to this film, every moment of her life, onscreen and off, was centered entirely around it. Sex is a part of life but, much like this paragraph, it quickly becomes exhausting and any stirrings of lust on the part of the audience turn quickly to anger and annoyance.


In addition to the one-track mind of the scriptwriters, there is a distinct lack of emotional complexity which makes it nearly impossible for the viewer to empathize with Baker's characterization. Her toughness and cynicism in the face of the monolithic, omnipotent Hollywood machine, while rife with possibility, is betrayed by her overt codependence on the men in her life and eventually surpasses self-assuredness and becomes grating. Baker seemed to excel in these roles of infantilized, hypersexualized woman, but the toughness which the role necessitates does not mesh well with her cloying, wide-eyed innocence. Because of the seemingly-irreconcilable aspects of her personality, and the palpable lack of depth to the tragically-fated movie queen, it is never made clear how or why Harlow created a legacy for herself. Her acting ability is constantly called into question (though the American Film Institute ranked her the 22nd greatest American actress of all time) and, because none of the titles of her films are used, this movie exists in a kind of cultural vacuum, isolated from her works and her impact.

The dialogue vacillates between coarse and schmaltzy ("Imitation is the sincerest form of failure. You be you, an original Jean Harlow." - gag) and takes on melodramatic proportions that surpass drama and become full-fledged, kabuki-style, unintentional comedy. The writers apparently attempted to atone for what they knew must have been a lackluster effort because there are numerous instances of Harlow's comparing heated arguments and hackneyed rejoinders to a Hollywood film, registering as some kind of admission of defeat by the writers. After one excruciatingly long argument regarding her new husband's impotence, his suicide strikes one as a laughably extreme (and unrealistic) reaction. One almost feels compelled to step through the screen and offer Paul Bern (Harlow's husband, a nonfictional name for a change) a handful of Cialis and a pat on the shoulder to get the ball rolling again.

The editing is exceptionally bad, with jarring transitions robbing potentially poignant scenes of an opportunity to land and have a real kind of impact upon the audience. Because I must give credit where credit is due, however, there are a handful of juxtapositions of scenes that work well, most exceptionally the scene in which her agent exclaims that her's is a face America must see, immediately followed by her getting a pie in the face.

Final Verdict: Her sexual magnetism and comic ability were what made Jean Harlow one of the biggest film stars of her day and a lasting cultural figure. Unfortunately, this film, while beautifully capturing the sinfully excessive grandeur of pre-Code Hollywood, squashes whatever warmth and empathy the real Harlow relayed on the screen. This laughably simplistic film is the cinematic equivalent of a third grader giving an impromptu book report (or, for those of you as slavishly devoted to pop culture as I am, Jenna Maroney's ill-fated Janis Joplin biopic ["Jackie Jormp-Jomp] on "30 Rock"). It is a shallow, spiteful film which takes the compelling story of a young woman who died in the prime of her life and presents her, untruthfully and unconvincingly, as the shrill, selfish physical embodiment of sex, empathy and likability be damned. It is a vapid waste of potential and a cruel, unnecessary jab at the life and legacy of Jean Harlow made in the worst of taste. And while there is no greater fan of a lurid, showbiz-centered film than I, Harlow is moreso an act of malice than a fun exercise in tastelessness. Redemption Denied.

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
66488
views

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.

966
views

Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.


I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.


I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.


As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

Related Content

Facebook Comments