|Duke: "Just put on something."
Carol: "I don't look good in something."
Duke: "Then put on anything."
|Time: 92 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
SARATOGA is Harlow and Gable's 6th and finale romantic collaboration and it shows. Their comfort with each other and obvious sexual chemistry make this rather average tale of love and deception at the racetrack more fun than it should be. Walter Pidgeon plays the rich businessman who tries to come between them. Romantic comedies only work if the path to true love is filled with roadblocks and this film finds many amusing ways of keeping our couple apart. Mostly due to Harlow's stubbornness and pride, which only makes her more endearing when Gable cuts her down to size. Harlow's character, Carol Clayton, is attempting to escape her life on the family horse farm and move up in society. She meets Hartley Madison (Pidgeon) on an extended trip to Europe and fully intends on marrying him.
Her father's ill health brings her back to Saratoga, with fiancée in tow, just in time to watch him die of a heart attack. This is when she learns that her father's best friend and big time local bookie Duke Bradley (Gable) holds the deed to her family's farm. She loathes him for taking advantage of her father (though his debts were equal to the amount of the property) and vows she's going to payback every cent to retrieve the deed to Brookvale. Duke is amused by her vehemence, keeping his true intentions to win her heart and the farm from her. Being an independent woman, she refuses to accept financial help from her wealthy fiancée and thus, is forced to earn the money the only way a young woman could in a many horse town win it at the track.
Duke is also running his own scheme to get the farm in the clear, though his method is a little less honorable. He intends to set them up for life by reigniting Hartley's love of gambling, which only makes Carol more angry with him. Hartley falls right into Duke's trap since all he wants to do is help the woman he loves. The backstabbing and double crosses begin to pile up about two-thirds of the way through, but they're not complicated enough to cause anyone to get lost. The last big race is the one that will make or break everyone involved except Hartley because he's loaded. Though Carol tries her best to ruin Duke, the best horse (man) wins out in the end. While not the most memorable of their onscreen pairings, this film will please most fans of the genre. The script is tight, filled with witty banter, romantic moments and some outright silliness thanks to Morgan and Barrymore.
The setting is the only unusual thing about the plot, but that goes a long way, keeping the machinations fresh. This was Harlow's last film and she died before it was completed. Apparently, a voice and body double were used to fill in during some scenes necessary to finish the film. I don't know what it says about me, but I didn't notice. Though she doesn't seem to have her usual vivacity in certain sections, she's a presence to be reckoned with and one that will have you glued to the screen. The script allows her to show more of her comic side here, though she provides enough va-va-voom to rattle the male chains. The dress she wears to an outdoor horse auction is so out of place it borders on the ridiculous, yet she pulls it off with grace, style and burning sex appeal. Gable is his usual charming self, playing a warm-hearted gambler everybody loves. His character must be the only likable bookie to ever make it onto the big screen.
Filmed after the Production Code was installed, he couldn't stay a bookie since that's an evil and worthless profession, profiting from the weakness and sins of others. So, in order to get the girl, he needs to become respectable. Of course, those in charge of the Code saw no problem in him bilking Hartley to get his nest egg. Hartley only worked to get it, but hey, he's rich. He'll survive and if he has to suffer a little, so be it. (This was the Depression years after all.) Pidgeon may be the loser in this game of love, but he's no sap. His character is smart enough to know when he's been beaten and gracious enough to walk away without creating a scene. He provides admirable competition for Harlow's heart, even though it's clear from Page 1 in whose arms she belongs. An affable, clever and occasionally romantic flick that showcases why Gable and Harlow will never be forgotten. While not their best, it's still a fun way to pass the time.