|Released by Fox Film | Directed By Frank Lloyd
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
Set in a carnival with a wide variety of freaks, crooks, and dancers.
- “Well, I’ll be–“
- Clara Bow plays a belly dancer, with the outfits and movements that entails.
- How many times do you think Clara Bow gets undressed in this film?
Hoop-La: Undressing, Redressing, and Done
“Watch her, folks, Fatima, fresh from the sultan’s harem. She’s young, folks. But, boy, does she know her men! Hoop-la!”
The talkies weren’t kind to Clara Bow. Mind you, there was no love lost between them, but talking pictures were an added layer of stress to a changing studio landscape that left her exposed and stuck in a number of uninspiring vehicles. Hoop-La, the last film of her career, fits neatly into that compartment.
We meet Lou (Clara Bow) playing craps with the other carnies and not doing so hot. She also recently stole a ring from a sucker and has to give it back to satiate the sheriff. Bow looks like a precursor to Shelly Winters as Lou, kind of wry and world-weary a few decades ahead of her time. Annoyed at her boss, Nifty (Preston Foster), and egged on by his spurned ex, Carrie (Minna Gombell), Lou takes a bet that she can seduce and ruin his naive son, Chris (Richard Cromwell). Only, you know, she ends up falling in love.
Bow’s methods of seduction mostly involve — well, entirely involve stripping down and tantalizing the poor boy. She always wants to show him an exotic dance or take a skinny dip and then asks him to bring her her things. (Note to women: this seduction technique does, in fact, work quite well.) The film also puts her on stage a number of times, each to writhe around for the audience (both in film and out).
Bow’s game, which is good since that’s about the long and short of the ‘pro’ column for this one. While the cast isn’t necessarily bad, there’s nothing to the characters. The carnival moves across the country and runs into the usual troubles, besides. One brief highlight is Herbert Mundin clubbing people from a merry-go-round during a brawl, recalling how he’d be doing much the same thing six years later in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Hoop-La is pretty crummy as a movie. It feels a lot like a Mae West vehicle (something even contemporary reviewers noted), spending most of its narrative weight getting Bow in various forms of dress. The tension is laughable, not the last because both Nifty and Chris are such one-dimensional, dull characters that there’s no real reason to care about either of them. Chris, in particular, is such a wide-eyed simpleton that it’s stunning any woman could love him, but I guess Lou was looking for someone just that dumb all along. There’s no emotional climax, just a simple decision and a celebration. It’s dull, really, and would probably be infinitely worse if it weren’t for Bow’s energy and smile lurking behind the theatrics.
By 28, Clara Bow had been beaten, chewed up, and spit out by Hollywood. The last shot of Hoop-La shows Lou, having finally won the acceptance of Nifty, doing her snake dance one more time in front of a crowd. Their leers don’t matter any more, because she knows she’ll soon be out of show business and in a blissful, stable marriage, far from the limelight. The same can be said for Bow, of course, who retired to Nevada to work on a ranch with her husband, Rex Bell, after this film was complete. She never made another movie.
Clara Bow escaped and, while it’s pretty far from a happy ever after for her, for a few brief seconds at the end of Hoop-La, Clara Bow’s ecstasy is utterly transcendent.
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Trivia & Links
- Based on a stage play that starred Claudette Colbert in the Bow role. It was also made into an earlier movie called The Barker in 1928 with Dorothy Mackaill in the part.
- A box office success like Bow’s previous film for Fox, the much more unhinged Call Her Savage. However, Bow, who had suffered from a number of breakdowns and insults from the industry felt that she no longer needed to or wanted to work under the stressful conditions of being a star. The Clara Bow Picture Page among others quote Bow as saying,
“I’ve had enough… I don’t wanna be remembered as somebody who couldn’t do nothin’ but take her clothes off. […] My life in Hollywood contained plenty of uproar. I’m sorry for a lot of it, but not awfully sorry.”
- The Everson NYU film notes say that Clara has her nude swim in the same lake on the Fox Films backlot that Loretta Young undressed next to in Zoo in Budapest.
- From the AFI notes:
According to correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS Library, the seduction scene by the lake was trimmed and re-edited in accordance with the suggestions of Hays Office officials so as to leave the impression that Lou and Chris were not given sufficient opportunity to have sex before they heard that their train was leaving.
- A bunch of stills and pics from The Clara Bow Picture Page. A few over at Dr. Macro, too. If you want even more pics of Clara, I’ll suggest The Clara Bow Archive and leave it at that.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is available on YouTube.
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