|Mike Connors and Carroll Baker|
HARLOW (1965). Director: Alex Segal.
"All the best things in life have to be done alone" -- "Marie Dressler" in Harlow II
In 1965 there were two "dueling" biopics about the star Jean Harlow, who died tragically young at 26, but neither of these films give the actress her due. Right off the bat, it seems like unfair competition, as Harlow I is a technicolor, widescreen epic with the highly publicized Carroll Baker [The Carpetbaggers] in the lead. Harlow II stars the perhaps lesser light Carol Lynley [The Shuttered Room], and was essentially a black and white television production (shot in Electrovision) and blown up to theatrical proportions. The chief difference, among many, is that Baker plays the role so that Harlow comes off as fresh and appealing, while Lynley is in "big bitch" mode throughout most of the movie, making one wonder why anyone would want to work with her. Harlow's mother is played in the first film by a marvelous Angela Lansbury, and Ginger Rogers is also quite good as the mother in Harlow II. In both films Harlow has a shiftless Italian stepfather, Marino. Raf Vallone [A View from the Bridge] is excellent as the character in the first film, while Barry Sullivan, despite not being Italian, manages to score in the second film as well. Both movies are rather slanderous (by 1960's standards as well as 1930's) in the character of first/second husband Paul Bern, who appears at least to be impotent and, it is suggested, homosexual. In the first film Peter Lawford barely registers, while a superb Hurd Hatfield [The Picture of Dorian Gray] gives the best performance in either picture as the same character. Bern had a common law wife who is never seen in the first film, and is played quite well by Audrey Totter in the second; she tells Harlow's mother that although she is Bern's mistress, they have never had physical contact. In both pictures Harlow is so dejected/depressed by the Paul Bern business that she turns herself into a "slut." Harlow I is based on a bio by Irving Shulman that was found by subsequent biographers to be heavily fictionalized. Unfortunately, Shulman's version of Harlow and her circle seems to be the unofficial basis for the second film as well.
|Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow|
As for the leading ladies, both give competent if second-rate performances (especially in the case of Baker), with both failing to capture the essence of Harlow -- her voice, her attitude, that surly, sexy, lovable demeanor that made her so famous. The ladies do the best they can, but as both versions say over and over again, there's only one Jean Harlow. [Both movies fail to get across that Harlow was a good actress.] An unintentionally comical scene occurs at the end of Harlow I when the doctor administering to a very ill Harlow exhibits as much compassion to her mother as a sociopathic iceberg. Oddly, the doctor in the second film is similarly cold, if not quite so stone-faced. In Harlow I Baker/Harlow disgustedly smears cold cream all over her image in her mirror, a scene that also occurs in the earlier Queen Bee with Crawford.
Verdict: Two smutty movies that don't have that much to do with the real Harlow. Both versions: **1/2 out of 4.