Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Jean Harlow and Clark Gable
SARATOGA (1937). Director: Jack Conway.

Margaret Hamilton to Frank Morgan: "You have no idea what my face looked like before I used your cream."

Frank Morgan to Margaret Hamilton: "I can imagine."

Race track gambler Duke Bradley (Clark Gable) thinks that Carol Clayton (Jean Harlow), the daughter of his friend, Frank Jonathan Hale), is a bit snooty. Carol is engaged to the rich "sucker" Hartley Madison (Walter Pidgeon), but she finds herself drawn to the cruder Duke even as she engages in verbal fisticuffs with him. Will Carol and Duke admit their feelings for one another? This is the slight premise of Saratoga, which also has some bits of business about bidding on horses, switching jockeys at the last minute, and betting on the climactic race, most of which is a little confusing and even a bit on the dull side. This is a shame, because each and every cast member is working at the top of his or her game, and that not only includes the already-named, but Una Merkel as Duke's racing pal; Frank Morgan as her befuddled and jealous husband, who markets cold cream as "Harriet Hale;" Hattie McDaniel as Carol's saucy and lovable maid/companion; Frankie Darro as an obnoxious jockey; and George Zucco (doing a rare turn at comedy) as a slightly strange doctor. Margaret Hamilton also scores in a small role as one of Morgan's unsatisfied customers, and Lionel Barrymore is fine, as usual, working in his befuddled, cranky, old-timer mode.The acting in this is just wonderful and there are some memorable scenes, such as a near-silent one in which Duke communicates to Carol that her father has died. There's a very enjoyable train scene with the various principals taking turns at singing a chorus, their acting skills and personality making up for untrained voices. Despite several genuinely amusing moments, the film has an air of sadness because Harlow died tragically young while making this picture, and her scenes had to be finished with a dubbed double seen only from the back or behind binoculars. The film has an amiable nature, even though the Walter Pidgeon character is treated especially shabby, and Carol doesn't come off like the most likable of creatures.

Verdict: So many fine actors and so many good things in it that it's too bad this really isn't all that memorable. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

I remember liking this when I saw it as a kid, Gable and Harlow were always great together (love them in Red Dust and China Seas, especially, as well as Wife Vs Secretary and this one). I remember being fascinated that this was her last picture and that a double had to finish it, but couldn't see where the double was used, Harlow really had finished all her big scenes...but the picture does kind of end apruptly, doesn't it, at the racetrack? She didn't look at all sick or tired to me, either in this movie, so she must have taken ill very suddenly.

William said...

I agree with you. Even though books and articles say how bad she looked in "Saratoga," I don't see it myself. Of course make up could have helped, but she hardly appears to be a dying woman. 26! What an awful tragedy. It would be interesting to contemplate what her future would have been.

There is a racetrack scene late in the picture where "Harlow" virtually plays the entire scene with her back to the camera so then it's obvious it was the double.

As usual, Chris, thanks so much for your always interesting comments!

Neil A Russell said...

Chris mentioned "Red Dust" that's one of my favorites with Harlow.
I'd have to also recommend "Libeled Lady" but I think everyone has seen that one a million times, it's got the star power of all of Jean's films with Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.
It was a great loss for her to pass at such a tender age, it would be interesting to see what impact on the screen a more mature Harlow would have made

William said...

Harlow had genuine talent, so as she aged she might have been offered some very strong leading roles that different from her usual image, and eventually emerged as a character actress. Harlow playing Monroe's mother? Who knows?