Another less than good movie and we’re coming down to the final days of Jean Harlow and her films. Personal Property was released three months before her death and while the story is lifeless, it’s evident Harlow herself is in ill health which ultimately colors the movie as a whole. A riff on My Man Godfrey which came out one year before, Personal Property is a bad effort from an established actress and director (W.S. Van Dyke).
Raymond Dabney (Robert Taylor) is a wealthy playboy recently in trouble with the law. His father and brother want him out of the country but Raymond loves London too much. One day he meets Crystal Wetherby (Harlow) and falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Crystal has money problems and to avoid collection of her possessions agree to have Raymond stay as a marker until she pays off her debt. When Crystal’s fiance and his family come to visit, her fiance being Raymond’s brother, she has Raymond pose as her butler Ferguson.
The director of one of my personal favorites, The Thin Man, made this film that itself is a take off another William Powell movie, My Man Godfrey (it’s like Inception!). The problem is this movie is no My Man Godfrey by a long shot (it takes so much from it that the house from the movie is used as Crystal’s place in this film). I think the biggest problem for me was Robert Taylor as our lead. I’ve never seen Taylor in other films but I found him completely dull in this movie. He tries to pull off the physical comedy like when he starts conducting from a box seat at the theater, but he’s just a blank slate. I never saw any emotion cross his face, just….blank. He also was lacking in chemistry with Harlow.
The film’s plot involves the Dabneys, who are secretly poor, and Crystal, also secretly poor, marrying because they assume the other is rich could have been funny but instead we get a romance between a guy pretending to be a butler AND two families marrying because they assume the other has money. Once the Dabneys realize Ferguson is Raymond the movie falls on subplots that never work including the character of Catherine Burns (Marla Shelton) possibly liking Raymond. I just didn’t connect to any of these subplots let alone the main story.
I also had a hard time connecting to Harlow because she looked extremely unhealthy. She was suffering from kidney failure and you can see a noticeable weight gain as her body started to retain water. She’s not nearly as physical or emotive as in past works, probably because she wasn’t feeling up to things. She tries to hold onto that brassy attitude but it didn’t seem like much fun. She does proudly wear the sapphire ring William Powell gave to her as an engagement ring…what girl wouldn’t want to rock this on their finger?
Personal Property is just a dumb movie. It’s a blatant rip-off of My Man Godfrey and proves that people should watch that instead. Only two more Harlow movies left!
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.