3 great Clara Bow movies to stream for Taylor Swift fans

Taylor Swift performs during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at the National Stadium on March 02, 2024 in Singapore. (Photo by Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)
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A single mention in a Taylor Swift song can send a particular artist or historical figure to a whole new pop-culture level, thanks to the detailed attention of the singer-songwriter’s devoted fans. That’s happening now for silent-era film star Clara Bow, whose name provides the title for the final song on the standard edition of Swift’s new album “The Tortured Poets Department.”

Nearly 100 years after the end of her brief but memorable film career, Bow is once again in the spotlight, thanks to Swift. If Swifties are wondering what their favorite singer means when she opens the song with the line “You look like Clara Bow,” the good news is that many of Bow’s films are in the public domain and are easy to watch online. Here are three Bow films to start with in exploring Swift’s new silent-movie inspiration.


The movie that spawned the term “it girl” and catapulted Bow to superstardom is a cheeky comedy obsessed with the idea of whether or not characters have that undefinable but undeniable “it” quality. Bow’s shopgirl Betty Lou Spence clearly has “it,” at least partially because she’s completely unconcerned with “it” to begin with. That kind of cool confidence is what draws men to Betty Lou, who sets her romantic sights on her boss at a large department store.

Betty Lou is an assertive, determined woman who has more independence than many heroines in modern-day rom-coms. She isn’t afraid to slap a man who’s taking things too far with her, or to potentially ruin her reputation to save a friend. Bow embodies Betty Lou with the charisma, sensuality and boldness that all add up to “it.”

Watch on Tubi


The first movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture is more than just a Clara Bow vehicle — it’s a wartime epic with elaborate aerial combat that is still astonishing to witness. Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen play a pair of friends from small-town America who enlist to fight in World War I, while also vying for the affections of the same woman.

Bow plays their previously unnoticed neighbor Mary Preston, who joins the war effort as an ambulance driver and connects with Rogers’ Jack Powell during a wild night out in Paris. She enlivens the movie with her freewheeling charm, providing contrast to the horrors of war that the men have to face. Mary may long for the love of an airman, but she’s not content to sit home and wait for it.

Watch on Tubi

'Children of Divorce'

This equally horny and tragic melodrama stars Bow and Esther Ralston as childhood best friends Kitty Flanders and Jean Waddington, who both grew up with divorced and somewhat neglectful parents, and are determined not to go down the same road. They mess things up anyway, mostly because they’re both smitten with the wealthy, handsome Ted Larrabee (Gary Cooper). Kitty is flirtatious and a bit devious, stealing Ted away from his true love Jean.

The vibrant love rectangle (also including a French nobleman played by Einar Hanson) early in the film gives way to a more downbeat second half, while retaining the sense of swooning romance. At one point, Kitty seals an envelope with her tears rather than licking it shut, a grand poetic move that Swift would likely appreciate.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.