Blu-ray Review: Harlow

Released in 1964, Harlow: An Intimate Biography, co-written by Irving Shulman and Jean Harlow’s one-time agent Arthur Landau, hit the best seller lists and became one of the hottest books of the year. Critically panned and the subject of several lawsuits—including one from Jean Harlow’s own elderly father—was a decidedly salacious, heavily fictionalized account of Harlow’s life, designed to sell as many books as possible, with little regard for the truth.  Shulman and Landau’s book became the basis for Harlow, released by Paramount in June of 1965, but in reality, bares almost no resemblance to the actress’s real life

Directed by Gordon Douglas, Carroll Baker has a strong physical resemblance to MGM’s blonde bombshell of the 1930’s. Unfortunately, the biopic misrepresents even the most basic biographical facts about Harlow. The film opens roughly a year after Harlow had become a working actress, skipping over her first marriage and portraying her as a virgin. Mama Jean (Angela Lansbury) and Jean’s stepfather Marino Bello (Raf Vallone) are portrayed as lazy dreamers living off Jean Harlow’s small paychecks. In truth, Jean’s mother helped her daughter in any way she could at that stage in her career.

HarlowHell’s Angels, The Public Enemy and Red Dust are three of the most pivotal films in Jean’s career, yet the movie never mentions them. Instead, we get is a non-specific rags-to-riches tale. Jean’s biggest booster is, not surprisingly, her loyal agent Arthur Landau (Red Buttons) who works only in her best interests. When playboy producer Richard Manley (Leslie Nielsen) expects Jean to have sex with him in exchange for a contract, she runs out on him. Eventually, Harlow signs with “Majestic” Studioes (standing in for MGM) and Mogul Everett Redman (Martin Balsam) standing in for Louis B. Mayer. The only other major figure in Harlow’s life using his real name is producer Paul Bern (Peter Lawford). Clearly a lot of people in Hollywood or their estates wanted little to do with this film. Anyway, Jean is eager to become ‘a woman’  She wants to marry and chooses Bern over good looking actor Jack Harrison (Mike Connors), only to discover on her wedding night that Bern is impotent. When Bern commits suicide, jean is portrayed as drinking excessively and sleeping around.

In truth, Harlow was never known as a promiscuous woman and was actually engaged to the actor William Powell when she died tragically at the age of 26. In one dreadful scene, a drunken Harlow is shown trying to seduce her stepfather!  When you look at Harlow in full, it’s nearly impossible to decipher where the falsehoods end and the truth begins. Therefore, it’s probably best to treat Harlow as a fictional film.

It’s a shame that Hollywood chose to make such a fictional, trashy film about Jean Harlow’s life, because the real thing could have been truly interesting. As it is, Harlow is little more than cinematic fluff, best left to fans of Carroll Baker, not those wanting to learn about the legendary Jean Harlow.

Harlow is presented on Blu-ray in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Olive Films 1080p transfer is one of their best yet. The image looks clean, boasts nicely saturated colors and virtually no fading. Detail is quite good in close-up and mid-range shots.

Harlow features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which handles this dialogue driven film very well. Neil Hefti’s score sounds great and fidelity is excellent, though the track doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamic range.

No subtitles are available.

No special features are included.

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