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The Films of Jean Harlow: Suzy (1936)

Well it seems Wife vs. Secretary was a fluke because another weak movie today.  It’s not that Suzy’s bad, it just doesn’t know if it wants to be a war film with spies and intrigue, or a Jean Harlow romance.  Sure the movie follows Harlow’s character, the aforementioned Suzy, but the majority of the plot includes German spies, almost deaths, and an aerial dogfight that seems completely out-of-place.  At times I didn’t know if I was watching this or Hell’s Angels (which would make sense as we’ve seen many other movies try to capitalize on Harlow’s other works).  While it does include Cary Grant a year before he’d be shot to stardom in The Awful Truth and Topper, that doesn’t save this from being a pretty bland film.

Suzy Trent (Harlow) is an American showgirl who thinks she’s set for life when she decides to marry engineer Terry Moore (Franchot Tone….dammit).  When Terry is shot by a German spy Suzy leaves him for dead and goes to London.  Once there she meets playboy Andre Charville (Cary Grant) and plans to marry him.  But when Terry returns, not dead, Suzy has to figure out what to do.

That plot really only encompasses a portion of the film but you can see the problems.  Harlow is not the strong, independent, “I want a man when I want” type of character.  Even compared to her role in Wife vs. Secretary she’s homely in this film, dressed almost like a mother at times, especially at the end.  We see the relationship between Suzy and Terry but then we get a film noir element with a femme fatale who shoots Terry.  Suzy assumes he’s dead, I mean he did take one to the chest it looked like, and leaves him when a neighbor starts screaming that Suzy killed him.  Suzy goes to London and we’re led to assume some time has passed but right away she gets married again!  Two marriages and we return the first husband from the dead!  I mean, Suzy and Trent weren’t technically married so I guess I can’t make the argument of bigamist here.  The problem I have, other than having to look at damn Franchot Tone again, is once Terry returns he gets on Suzy’s ass for leaving him!  Um, we all thought you were dead and the neighbor was screaming “she killed him.”  I mean she could have waited for you to wake up, but what if Terry didn’t live?  Or what if it took him awhile to wake up…Suzy would be spending some time in interrogation dude?

Okay so there are multiple marriages and I assumed the movie’s crux would be Suzy deciding who she loved more….again, like Wife vs. Secretary the movie doesn’t go where expected (and here, that’s not a good thing).  Suzy never really makes a decision because she’s married to Andre, so there’s no decision to be made.  Well that’s a pretty weak love triangle according to the screenwriters because what happens in the climax?  SPOILERS We kill Cary Grant!  END SPOILERS.  Not the best way to force your character into a decision but it also shows how weak Harlow’s character is written which is odd since Dorothy Parker, acclaimed female screenwriter, wrote this script.

By the end we’ve included a dogfight with planes chasing Germans that recycles footage from Hell’s Angels (there’s that movie again).  The end just utilized Harlow as the sad wife left behind.  So is Suzy a war movie?  A romance?  WHAT IS IT?  Also, much like the Reckless DVD, this one had a weird audio mix.  I didn’t have the low dialogue and loud background noise, in this case everything was low and muffled.  I had to turn the volume up over halfway just to get standard sound from the DVD.

In that case, what is good about this movie?  There is a more relaxed nature to the actors then we’ve seen in other movies.  Franchot Tone doesn’t play that whiny daddy’s boy I’m used to seeing.  He’s got a great rapport with Harlow and their romance scenes are cute in an I Love Lucy kind of way.  Case in point is when Terry catches Suzy on the ground after seeing a mouse.  When she says she saw the mouse she tells Terry the mouse “gave me a dirty look” for stealing a piece of cheese.  In terms of Grant (who I love!) we get to hear the man sing!  I’m a sucker for a man who can sing and/or dance and how did I not know that Grant sang in a movie?  He sings here and it’s fun and really good.  If you’re a fan of Grant I’d recommend watching Suzy just to hear him sing.  Or better yet, here’s the scene for you (just fast-forward to 1:50)

Other great things about Grant.  His character Andre is a playboy, and not the loveable kind like in some of his past movies.  Here he’s seeing another woman, the aforementioned German spy which makes him EVIL (according to classic movie tropes).

Suzy is weak, bland, and pretty lackluster but Grant is awesome and I enjoyed Franchot Tone in this movie more than any other I’ve seen so far.

Grade: C-

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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