I thought instead of a summation of Harlow’s life and works I’d include a DVD review of the two box sets I was working with while doing this retrospective (might also grease the wheels with some DVD companies too!). The only films I had to find via outside resources were the earlier films of Harlow’s (The Public Enemy, Platinum Blonde, and Red Dust) which I found via YouTube so their quality is already implied, and everyone who’s followed these posts knows of my failure in securing a copy of Red-Headed Woman.
In that case the two box sets cover the later, and more successful works of Harlow’s career. I got both these sets at Christmas so cross them off the list of things I’ve watched. If you can’t read the photos they’re the Jean Harlow 100th Anniversary Collection from Warner Archive and the other is the TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Jean Harlow. Both were released a few months apart in 2011 to capitalize on Harlow’s Centennial. So let’s start by reviewing the TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection.
I have a few of these TCM sets that generally come with four movies under some type of theme. Off the top of my head I know I have their musical collection. They’re great for me if I want one really bad and wanted to see the other three. Not all of these were great but I got my money’s worth as you get four movies for about 20 bucks. That better be good enough for you because the only, and I do mean only bonus features are subtitles. Considering how much TCM reveres old movies you’d think they’d put something about Harlow on this box set. Nope! Personally, I’ll probably watch two out of the four movies again. Libeled Lady is one of my favorite films and I was really surprised at how much I loved Wife vs. Secretary. Dinner at Eight and China Seas were okay, but I don’t think I’ll be rewatching them anytime soon. Overall the box set is a buy if you enjoy about two movies or already know one, and/or if you just want to get an intro guide into some of Harlow’s bigger films.
The next is the Jean Harlow 100th Anniversary Collection that came with seven movies of Harlow’s. To begin, this box set is part of the Warner Archive program in that it’s prepared on demand from Amazon. These are DVD-R’s and not regular DVDs and that might affect their playability on your DVD player. Also, since it’s on demand it’s slightly more expensive and you really have to decide if seven DVDs are worth almost $60 (again, Christmas gift). For me I’m conflicted. The box set presentation is gorgeous as evidenced by how the box is constructed above.
Also not only do you get the seven DVDs you get some beautiful still photo reproductions on some durable cardstock. The movies themselves were okay but I don’t think I’d be watching them for fun. As evidenced by my reviews I wasn’t a diehard fan of many of them. Since these are demand movies the quality is also severely lacking in comparison to the TCM Collection. There are no subtitles on any of the DVDs and the audio is pretty awful on some of these. The later DVDs like Personal Property and Saratoga were good and the early films like The Girl From Missouri were good but the audio on Reckless, Riffraff, and Suzy were awful. I had to turn up the volume many times just to get normal audio and one Suzy I had to turn down the audio during action sequences as the noise was way too loud only to have to turn it up to hear the dialogue. On top of that Suzy and Bombshell had bad DVD quality with a lot of grain. It’s obvious these films have had zero restoration. In terms of bonus features there was an “Audio Vault” for some films and others had a trailer but that was it. Both box sets fail in not providing any context on Harlow herself considering these were released for her birthday, but for $60 bucks I want something on Harlow other than her movies and a few still pictures that are gonna stay in the box.
If you want to see Harlow’s films I’d recommend catching them via TCM’s channel especially considering the second best Harlow movie I saw, Red Dust, isn’t available on ANY DVD. If you want to try a box set I lean more towards the TCM set of Harlow’s films. You won’t be getting anything extra but the movies on the TCM are better and have better audio and video quality along with subtitles. If you’re a hardcore Harlow fan then I’d recommend the Warner Archive but again, you’re not getting nearly as much for your money.
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.