Suzy (1936): Contemporary reviews + my thoughts

Suzy (Jean Harlow) is an American chorus girl who hopes to move to London in hopes to be swept off her feet by a royal and marry into the wealth of the monarchy.

Rather than fulfill that dream, she meets Terry Moore (Franchot Tone), a factory foreman, and quickly falls in love with him. The two marry, but tragedy strikes (the nature of which I won’t spoil) and their romance is cut short.

Suzy heads to France to escape her heartache. She has a friend, fellow chorus girl Maisie (Inez Courtney), who moved there around the time Suzy left America for London.

(Image via Pinterest)

(Image via Pinterest)

Suzy begins working as a cabaret singer, and at work she meets Andre Charville (Cary Grant), a flyer in the French air force. She falls in love with and marries him, but once again, things get complicated pretty quickly… when Terry re-enters the picture!

Love is found, lost, and found again amidst air raids at the start of World War I in 1936’s Suzy, directed by George Fitzmaurice.

Before I get into the meat of this review, I need to mention one small detail: a dress. In the beginning of the film, Jean Harlow wears one heck of an outfit: a long, black dress with enormously feathered shoulders! It’s a stunning gown and a real attention-grabber.

With the fashion talk out of the way, let’s turn to the performances. Harlow and Tone are fun to watch early on in the film. They have nice chemistry and are both very likable in their roles. They’re a couple of young, bright, make-the-best-of-it folks who delight in their successes but don’t let the hard times get them down. They’re a little corny, but in a cute way…

…and their romance is ruined by a major plot twist — one that truly shocked me!

The plot twist allows Cary Grant, my initial reason for choosing to watch this film, to enter the picture. I liked the idea of the story, and I’m a fan of Jean Harlow, so I probably would have caught the film at some point regardless of Grant’s involvement. But I couldn’t pass it up when it aired during Grant’s Star of the Month celebration on TCM in December.

(Image via Pinterest)

(Image via Pinterest)

And if I thought Tone and Harlow were a fun pair, I don’t even know how to describe the exuberance of Grant and Harlow as they share the screen. One of their first scenes shared involves Grant singing “Did I Remember?” to Harlow — which was immediately added to my list of favorite Cary Grant scenes.

Andre is a character very full of life, full of joy and excitement… for the most part. He’s also a flawed man, making the role an interesting one for Grant, a character not quite as lovable as most of his others.

Somewhat soapy as the romantic complications ensue, the film is still consistently enjoyable. It’s already-snappy pace is made even quicker with the addition of a few scenes of action — an air raid soon after Andre and Suzy meet, a montage of Andre’s wartime flights. The cast is more than enough of a reason to give Suzy a watch, but it’s also good watch in general. The score: 4/5

Having shared my own thoughts on this film, I thought I’d also break out my copy of The Films of Jean Harlow and share a few snippets from contemporary reviews of the film. Reviews were mixed, though in general they seem to disagree with me!

“[Harlow] is a bewitching and lovable Suzy. However bizarre her difficulties, her performance makes them convincing and entertaining.” – Bland Johaneson, New York Daily Mirror

“It is a shame to waste Miss Harlow in such a role, when she should be exercising her vast gifts as a half-sophisticated, half-innocent comic.” – Richard Watts, Jr., New York Herald Tribune

“The laughs fall to Cary Grant and Franchot Tone, who take turns at being Harlow’s cinematic husband. Jean plays practically straight — and she oughtn’t to.” – Irene Thirer, New York Post

One final tidbit I’d like to share from the book’s coverage of Suzy is that this is Harlow’s only film alongside Cary Grant, and her fourth (and final) film alongside Franchot Tone.

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