Harlow (1965)

Shot in just eight days via a process usually reserved for television, this biopic unexpectedly benefits from the immediacy of a live television production. Unfortunately, by filming everything in one take, Carol Lynley’s acting abilities, or lack thereof, are woefully exposed.

 

Not that Jean Harlow was an accomplished actress herself, but she did have a spark that is sorely lacking in Lynley’s portrayal.  Attempts to convey the actress' playfulness largely fall flat, but at least there is an attempt! Similarly, scenes of Harlow interacting with film crew display an affection for the subject that was absent in Carroll Baker's Harlow, which was released the same year.

 

The seasoned performers that make up the rest of the cast, including Ginger Rogers in her last film role, fare much better in overcoming the constraints of the film’s low-budget. On the opposite end of the scale are the 'actors' impersonating Laurel and Hardy and Al Jolson. Thankfully their cringeworthy efforts, Hardy constantly complaining about being hungry and Jolson exclaiming Mammy at the drop of a hat, are over with in the first few minutes.

 

Though it may be damning it with faint praise, this biopic, despite being made with 1/5th the budget of that year's other Harlow, still manages to be twice as good as its competitor.

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The fictional character of William Mansfield, portrayed by Efrem Zimbalist Jr, is an amalgamation of William Powell (Harlow's last love) and Clark Gable (Harlow's last co-star), yet for some reason sounds like Ronald Colman.

 

Jean Harlow did not take acting lessons from Marie Ouspenskaya.

 

Biopic features scene where Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler meet and talk of looking forward to being in each other's movie. After Jean learns the movie contains another bath scene, she storms off to confront Producer Paul Bern, who convinces her to remain with the movie. Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler did act together in Dinner at Eight, which was based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The play debuted on October 22, 1932, more than one month after Paul Bern's death on September 5, 1932.

Though this biopic features fictional scenes from Harlow's first and last starring roles, the closest it comes to recreating a scene is her small role in Laurel and Hardy's Double Whoopee.

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