Saratoga (1937): Jean Harlow’s Last Film, Starring Clark Gable

Jack Conway’s Saratoga is a typical Clark Gable Depression era vehicle, a sparkling racetrack picture that offers boisterous fun.
Saratoga
Saratoga poster.jpg

Theatrical poster

The movie was released in July to coincide with the opening of the 1937 season at New York’s old spa.

More importantly, the movie features the very last performance of Jean Harlow, who died in June 1937, and thus serves as a tribute to a lovely and gifted comedienne, whose untimely death cut short a potentially brilliant career.

Based on original screenplay by Anita Loos and Robert Hopkins, Saratoga depicts the lighter side of horse racing, mixing humor, romance and melodrama in equal measure.

The tale begins in the finest breeding farm in Saratoga, Brookvale, which has suffered financial losses. Frank Clayton (Jonathan Hale), the farm’s owner, hoping to recoup his losses, has been betting on the races through Duke Bradley (Clark Gable), a bookmaker and close friend. However, he dies of a heart attack before he can restore his place.

Meanwhile, Frank’s daughter Carol (Jean Harlow) has become engaged to Hartley Madison (Walter Pidgeon), a wealthy New York stockbroker.

After losing lots of money to Madison at Belmont, Duke hopes to win it back. But, much to Duke’s disappointment, Carol won’t let her fiancé bet on the horses anymore. Duke has incurred the enmity of Jesse (Frank Morgan), the husband of his old friend Fritzi Kiffmeyer (Una Merkel), who has talked her spouse into buying her a racehorse named Dubonnet.

Kiffmeyer thinks that Duke is in love with his wife. He’s jealous because Duke helps her to get Dixie Gordon (Frankie Darro), a top jockey, to ride Dubonnet in the big Saratoga race.

Realizing that she has fallen in love with Duke, Carol breaks her engagement to Madison.  Duke loves her, but knowing that her father wanted her to have a secure life away from racetracks, he pretends not to care. Angry and upset, Carol tears up the letter, and makes up her mind that Madison shall not lose to Duke.

Carol gets Kiffmeyer him to sell Dixie Gordon’s contract to her, hoping that this will break Duke. Then, she gets him to her house and lets him bet a fortune with Madison. Fritzi finds out about the contract too late to warn Duke, but she finds another jockey to ride Dubonnet, who goes on to win the race. In the end, Carol realizes that Duke is the right man for her and they set out for the next race.

In this comedy, Jean Harlow took her final curtain call as the least boisterous and most attractive heroine of her career.  In hindsight, critics noted the premonition of disaster: Looking ill, Harlow tries gallantly to inject into her performance vigor and vibrancy.

After Harlow died, MGM cast Mary Dees and Geraldine Dvorak for her remaining scenes, shooting them from behind, and having them wear large hats. To camouflage the effects of a different voice ( dubbed by Paula Winslowe), Loos and Hopkins “arranged” for Harlow’s Carol to have a cold!

Despite some flaws, there are some fun scenes showing Harlow’s natural brilliance as a comedienne, such as when Gable hides her under the bed while entertaining her fiancé.

Harlow and Gable are surrounded by MGM’s reliable cast of supporting actors, including Lionel Barrymore, Una Merkel, and Walter Pidgeon.  Margraet Hamilton appears uncredited as “Maizie.”

The racing generates excitement without ever eclipsing the witty dialogue scenes and the stars’ appearance

Released on July 23, 1937, Saratoga was a smash hit, partly due to the curiosity element after Harlow’s death.

Made on a budget of $1.1 million, the movie earned $3.3 million at the box-office. 

Cast:

Duke Bradley (Clark Gable)

Carol Clayton (Jean Harlow)

Grandpa Clayton (Lionel Barrymore)

Jesse Kiffmeyer (Frank Morgan)

Hartley Madison (Walter Pidgeon)

Fritzi O’Malley (Una Merkel)

Tip O’Brien (Cliff Edwards)

Frank Clayton (Jonathan Hale)

Rosetta (Hattie McDaniels)

With: George Zucco, Frankie Darro, Henry Stone

 

Credits

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Produced by Bernard H. Hyman.

Directed by Jack Conway.

Original screenplay by Anita Loos and Robert Hopkins.

Cinematography: Ray June.

Music by Edward Ward.

Edited by Elmo Vernon.

Release Date: July 23, 1937.

Running time: 102 Minutes (also 92 minutes).

 
Saratoga
Saratoga poster.jpg

Theatrical poster