Clara Bow’s life reads like a Hollywood script, rife with tragedy and triumph and enough scandal to make even Madonna blush. In this biography from executive producer Hugh M. Hefner, Bow’s film career and personal life gets full coverage, but lacks the magnetic allure that defined the “It” girl. Full of rare and revealing movie clips, the documentary is severely hampered by Courtney Love’s nasal narration, which conveys all the energy of a disaffected teenager reading a mandatory book. The producers couldn’t have made a worse choice in Love, an obvious and unnecessary attempt to link Hollywood’s colorful past with today’s pale replacements.
Love’s tepid rendering of the script is inversely proportional to the life force that was Bow. Bow’s reputation was far bigger than her ego and her talent greater than was ever acknowledged during her life. A disadvantaged girl from Brooklyn turned international star, Bow’s story is not unfamiliar to Hollywood, although rumors and half-truths have long overshadowed the facts of her life.
With the help of her son, Rex Bell Jr., film critic Leonard Maltin and Bow biographer David Stenn among others, “Discovering the ‘It’ Girl” attempts to set the record straight. But director Hugh Munro Neely, keenly aware of audiences’ appetite for self-destructive talent, works as hard at debunking old myths as creating new ones. The script by Neely, Elaina B. Archer and John J. Flynn stops just short of the tired “bright star burns out” cliche, summarizing the death of Bow, an incurable insomniac, with “At long last Clara Bow could sleep.”
Still, the movie clips alone are worth enduring Love and a faulty script considering many of her films are lost or unavailable to the public. Of 56 films Bow made, 37 still exist and “Discovering the ‘It’ Girl” serves as an introductory crash course for the uneducated and a rare treat for devoted fans. Following the biopic, TCM is also airing three of Bow’s films including “It,” “The Wild Party” and “Down to the Sea in Ships.”
One of the most remarkable scenes is a never-before heard recording of Bow reciting lines from Shakespeare years after she faded from the limelight. Her charisma was unmatched and the biopic provides a cavalcade of images that capture her expressive eyes and sensual mouth.
Her star quality immediately drew people in, but she also drew the attention of charlatans and savvy businessmen all too willing to exploit her talent. Case in point: Hollywood mogul B.P. Schulberg who first defined her as “the hottest jazz baby in films,” then with the help of romance novelist Elinor Glyn, dubbed her the infamous “It” girl. Under his guidance, Bow made an astonishing 25 films in a mere two years. A classic story of colossal mismanagement, Schulberg made a fortune off Bow while he and the rest of the Hollywood elite shunned her in their social circles.
Tech credits are fine with a lively musical score by Nigel Holton and clever editing by Neely and Archer.