Thursday, December 3, 2009

Platinum Blonde (1931)

Though Platinum Blonde is primarily remembered today as a Jean Harlow vehicle, it may surprise many people to learn that Harlow was actually given third billing behind Loretta Young and Robert Williams in the movie. The latter is especially shocking given that the leading man is all but forgotten today, with the exception of his appearance in this film. This is too bad because the comic talent Williams displays in the movie is a revelation. He died of complications from a burst appendix a few days after this film's release. The early reviews were very positive and it's certain that he would have become a major leading man. Williams had an archly comic style of a William Powell or Lee Tracy and the looks and romantic moves of a young Frederic March.

The story follows a reporter, Stew Smith (Williams) who helps an heiress' family with a paternity suit and wins her hand in marriage as a reward. Harlow isn't terribly believable as a society dame and her usual quirky comic personality is subdued in order to play a somewhat shrill chic who has looks and money but little else to offer (as if that ain't enough!) She and Williams have some nice love scenes together, though which adds at least a touch of humanity to her character. After a few months of trying to live in the family mansion, dress for dinner and stay away from his cronies back at the office, including his gal pal, Gallagher (Loretta Young), and Stew has a meltdown. He invites all his reporter friends over and they trash the mansion. If that's not enough, he and Gallagher are caught collaborating on a sofa in a rather unprofessional pose. I've never seen Young play this sort of role before, and I think she does fine. Although, she is insanely pretty and its a bit of stretch to believe that Stew never notices her until the end of the movie. The movie is definitely pre-Code in that it ends with Stew and Gallagher living together in his old apartment, while he's waiting for his divorce from the heiress to come through! Try that after 1934!

Frank Capra directed Platinum Blonde and it has the comic energy and passion of his later films minus the crusading bent. That isn't meant as a criticism. I actually enjoy taking a break from the crusading Capra every once in a while. Loretta Young plays the first in a long line of Capra female newspaper reporters in movies like Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. What's missing from the formula here is the fatherly editorial figure whose special relationship sees the female reporter through difficult times. That's because the emphasis is on Stew and maintaining his integrity in the face of his wife's money.

I love newspaper movies and this is a good one. It's more about the culture of being a reporter than about any one big story, which is another refreshing break. No major corruption scandal is broken; no Tammany Hall is toppled. In fact the leads leave the reporting game altogether to write a novel together, a perhaps laughable plan, but one that's inconceivable from Capra later in the decade.

5 comments:

SteveQ said...

I thought it was an Edmund Breese vehicle, but that's just me.

Capra does well with screwball comedy; if it hadn't slowly fallen out of favor, he probably would've made more. Just be glad Film Noir didn't catch on!

VP81955 said...

What's amazing is that in "Platinum Blonde," Young portrays a big-city newspaperwoman...and she's only 18! (Harlow's not much older, at 20.) I did an entry on the deceptiveness of actresses' ages at my blog, "Carole & Co."

http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/243239.html

The Rush Blog said...

Harlow was fine and perfectly understated as a socialite. And this role would not be the last time she would portray a socialite.

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