Moviegoers had never seen anybody quite like Clara Bow when she burst upon the scene in the mid-1920s. Unlike such popular and wholesome stars of the era as Mary Pickford, Bow was the epitome of sexual aggressiveness and liberation of the Roaring ‘20s. With her short hair, Kewpie doll lips and expressive eyes, Bow was cinema’s first sex symbol.
Her rise was meteoric and so was her descent. Though she made more than 40 films between 1924 and 1929, she ended up quitting the movie business at age 28 in 1933, a victim of sound films, sex scandals and mental problems.
Though most of her films have been unavailable on video and TV, Bow, who died in 1965, is coming into her own again. A few months ago, Turner Classic Movies premiered the new documentary “Clara Bow: Discovering the ‘It’ Girl” and featured several of her best-known films.
This week, Kino on Video released its four-part series “Runnin’ Wild: The Films of Clara Bow” ($25 each). Included in the collection is the TCM documentary, which chronicles her sad, often tragic life. The Kino edition features approximately seven minutes of footage not seen in the cable TV version.
One of Bow’s earliest successes is the delightful “The Plastic Age,” from 1925. Bow is at her jazz baby best in this rollicking little college comedy. A rather anemic Donald Keith stars as a strait-laced athlete who arrives at college and discovers the campus is a hotbed of pranks, parties and heavy petting. He soon falls under the charms of one of his roommate’s (Gilbert Roland) girlfriends--the carefree, beautiful Cynthia (Bow). When Keith joins the “fast crowd,” however, his grades and athletic abilities tumble. It’s up to Cynthia to decide if she should sacrifice their love for his education or continue to lead him down the path of sex and booze. Look for a very young Clark Gable in several scenes as an extra.
Also featured on the tape is “Run Girl, Run,” a silent Mack Sennett comedy about a sex-crazy all-girl track team. Carole Lombard, then spelling her first name as “Carol,” stars.
The 1925 Bow comedy “Parisian Love” was thought to have been missing for decades until a print was found in a European archive last year. Newly restored and color tinted, “Parisian Love” is a slight, fun farce. Bow stars as an apache dancer in a Parisian cafe who also moonlights as a thief with her lover (Donald Keith). When he is wounded in a botched robbery attempt, Bow vows revenge upon the wealthy culprit who shot him (Lou Tellgen). With the help of a surly underworld matriarch (Lillian Leighton) and a group of thieves, Bow disguises herself as a wealthy young woman in order to seduce and marry the millionaire.
Rounding out the set is Bow’s most famous picture--the sexy 1927 romantic comedy “It.” Bow, who was called the “It” girl because of her sex appeal, stars in this tale inspired by writer Elinor Glyn, who coined the phrase “It.” Glyn also makes a cameo in this movie.
This time around, Bow plays a high-spirited lingerie salesgirl who sets her sights on the handsome owner (Antonio Moreno) of the department store in which she works. The two fall madly in love during a date on Coney Island. But true love never runs smoothly and she nearly loses him when she’s mistaken for an unwed mother. Look for Gary Cooper, who briefly appears as a reporter.
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