Bombshell (1933 film)

Bombshell is a 1933 American pre-Code romantic comedy-drama film directed by Victor Fleming, and starring Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Frank Morgan, C. Aubrey Smith, Mary Forbes, and Franchot Tone. The film is based on the unproduced play of the same name by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane, and was adapted for the screen by John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman.[1]

Directed byVictor Fleming
Produced byHunt Stromberg
Irving Thalberg
Written byNorman Krasna
Screenplay byJohn Lee Mahin
Jules Furthman
Based onBombshell
by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane
StarringJean Harlow
Lee Tracy
Frank Morgan
Franchot Tone
Pat O'Brien
Una Merkel
Ted Healy
Mary Forbes
C. Aubrey Smith
CinematographyHarold Rosson
Chester A. Lyons
Edited byMargaret Booth
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 13, 1933 (1933-10-13)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$344,000 (estimated)


Movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) is angry with her studio publicist E. J. "Space" Hanlon (Lee Tracy), who feeds the press with endless stories about her greatness. Lola's family and staff are another cause of distress for her, as everybody is always trying to take money from the actress. All Burns really wants is to live a normal life and prove to the public that she's not a sexy vamp, but a proper lady. She tries to adopt a baby, but Hanlon, who secretly loves her, thwarts all her plans.

Burns decides she can't stand any more of such a life, and flees. Far from the movie fluff, she meets wealthy and romantic Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone), who hates the movies and therefore has never heard about Lola Burns and her bad press. They soon fall in love, and Gifford proposes marriage. Burns is to meet her fiancé's parents, but everything collapses when Hanlon, together with Burns' family, finds her, and tells the Middletons the truth. Burns feels hurt by the rude way Gifford and his parents dump her, and accepts Hanlon's suggestion to return to Hollywood with no regrets. She does not know that the three Middletons were all actors hired by Hanlon himself.


Critical reception

Critical reviews were generally positive. Motion Picture Herald called the film "a comedy wow of the first water", and "one of the funniest, speediest, most nonsensical pictures ever to hit a screen". The Daily News Standard from Pennsylvania gave praise to the film, saying that "Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy together for the first time as co-stars are said to have provided the biggest truckload of laughs to roll out of Hollywood in the hilarious picture". However, Mordaunt Hall for The New York Times said Bombshell has moments where "the comedy is too rambunctious and scenes which are not precisely convincing". He did say it is merry for the most part, and said that Jean Harlow was thoroughly "in her element" as the character Lola Burns.[2]


Bombshell is a pre-code screwball comedy. The story satirizes the stardom years of Clara Bow: "Lola Burns" – Clara Bow, "E. J. Hanlon" – B. P. Schulberg, "Pops Burns" – Robert Bow, "Mac" – Daisy DeVoe, "Gifford Middleton" – Rex Bell. Victor Fleming was Bow's fiancee in 1926.[3]

The Laredo Times from Laredo, Texas, quotes Harlow in an interview about filming saying, "Thank goodness, it was not necessary for me to get in the rain barrel in Bombshell. I had to pick too many splinters out of myself the last time", referring to the 1932 film Red Dust, in which Harlow takes a bath in a rain barrel.

The success of the film led to Jean Harlow being widely known as a "Blonde Bombshell".[4]

Early in the film, Lola Burns is told she has to shoot re-takes of Red Dust — the title of an actual Harlow/Gable vehicle from the year before. In fact, there's a brief kissing scene with Gable, in the frenetic opening sequence of photos, scenes, and shots of fans, taken from that actual movie.[5]

According to the Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, scenes in Bombshell were shot at MGM studios in Culver City. The nightclub scene was filmed at Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in mid-town Los Angeles. It was demolished in 2006.


  1. Richter, Simon (2013). Women, Pleasure, Film: What Lolas Want. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 95–96. ISBN 1-137-30973-3.
  3. Bombshell: the Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn, page 150-152
  4. Bombshell: the Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn, page 151, 162
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