Thursday 18 January 2007

Suzy (1936)

Jean Harlow plays Suzy, in her last film but one of 1936, with only two more after that before her untimely death at the age of 26. By this time she had really worked out how to do what she did, and she casually admits early in this one that she can't sing or dance much but can be a little cute when she wants to be. That's understating it considerably, but any brief glimpse of a comparison between her early films and her late ones shows that she started out without much of a clue but turned into a very noticeable young lady who had a lot to offer. She brought a natural air to her performances that was like a breath of fresh air.

She starts off here in London at the final performance of Melodies of 1914, some sort of revue of scantily clad young ladies, giving her last wage to another chorus girl because she's a blonde and blondes always have money gravitating towards her. It takes a little longer than she expects but she meets and falls for regular film partner Franchot Tone. He appears to be some sort of rich lord because he nearly runs her over in a Rolls Royce twenty years older than it could possibly be, but he's really just some sort of inventor working on a stabiliser, and a bad Irish accent, in his spare time. Just as he manages to persuade her to marry him, they get caught up in some nefarious German plot involving his boss, Frau Schmidt, and he gets shot. Then again the timing is right, as the next day Franz Ferdinand gets shot too and World War I kicks off, leading to plenty of stock footage from another Jean Harlow movie, Hell's Angels.

The film can't really make up its mind whether it wants to be a wartime drama, a social commentary, a fluffy gold digger comedy or a bizarre love triangle, so it ends up being a good deal of all three. Harlow is a pleasure to watch and now I only have one more of her last fifteen films to find. Tone is solid but then he tended to be, even with such an atrocious accent that he keeps forgetting to put on. And then there's Cary Grant, who doesn't even turn up for over half an hour by which time we've forgotten that he was in the movie in the first place, let alone third on the credits list. To atone for that he does give us a thoroughly memorable entrance and suddenly it's a Cary Grant film, even though he isn't even trying to sound French as a character called Andre Charville. This is early for him, before even Topper, let alone Bringing Up Baby, Holiday and Only Angels Have Wings, so he's still trying to make a name for himself and doing a fine job of it too.

Hiding even further into the film and down the credits is Lewis Stone as Cary Grant's father. He's a curmudgeonly yet thoroughly decent old soul, but then he looked old by the time he reached fourteen, I think. There's Una O'Connor as one of Suzy's early landladies, and she's excellent in a far too brief part. Mostly though, there's Jean Harlow because this is definitely her film, however much Cary Grant tries to steal it.

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