[box cover]

Platinum Blonde

Newspaper reporter Stew Smith (Robert Williams) swears he's never been scooped on his own beat, and this week he's tailing one of the best stories he's ever seen — the playboy son of the wealthy Schuyler clan has been caught in a love-nest with a showgirl, which includes such intrigue as love-letters, hush-money, and blackmail. Hoping to quell the rumors, the socialite Schuylers have Smith call on them — but the newspaper man easily gets Mrs. Schuyler (Louise Closser Hale) to blurt out the truth. However, after Stew runs the story he also manages to retrieve the love-letters from the showgirl, and before long the unkempt writer starts dating gorgeous Anne Schuyler (Jean Harlow). Headstrong Stew is certain their impending marriage will not change his simple ways in the slightest; meanwhile, Anne hopes to cultivate her fiancé in the manners of finer society — in addition to making sure he doesn't spend too much time with fellow reporter Gallagher (Loretta Young). Frank Capra fans will find a lot to appreciate in Platinum Blonde — similiar to early Hitchcock films, Capra's 1931 romance underscores the director's reliance on just a handful of stock characters and themes that he would re-invent throughout his career. As with It Happened One Night (1934), we are presented with a battle of wills between a reporter (who self-righteously peddles "truth") and an upper-crust society girl; as with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), we see an everyman suddenly thrust into wealthy surroundings; and as with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Capra would use the very common name of Smith for a Depression-era hero (as opposed to the unusual Schuyler, pron. "Skyler"). Platinum Blonde doesn't quite rank with these greater achievements, but the elements are in place, and handled by a fine trio of leads (in addition to the director's standard array of eccentric supporting actors). Top-billed Loretta Young came to the production on loan and was the most-famous cast member at the time; she's appropriately pouty and soft-spoken as the attractive newswoman who ponders her unrequited love for a married man. However, she gets far fewer scenes than Jean Harlow, whose star was ascending so rapidly that film was essentially named after her most noticable feature — a suggestion put forth by Howard Hughes, who owned her contract at the time. In fact, were it not for Harlow, the script (by Capra collaborator Robert Riskin) might as well have been called "Cinderella Man" — the epithet is hurled at Stew Smith more than once (and would re-appear in Mr. Deeds). As Smith, Robert Williams is precisely the sort of square-jawed joe Capra preferred on the marquee, more smart-looking than outright handsome, and always ready with a wisecrack. It's Williams who anchors the many little moments that make this movie so "Capraesque" — arguing with his wife by improvising a sing-song, mocking the family lawyer by always bowing in greeting, demonstrating the Schuyler mansion's vast echoing qualities to the butler, socking anybody across the chin who he figures has it coming, and generally muttering under his breath at every cockamamie thing that crosses his path. Were it not for Williams, the movie would be a much lesser experience. Regrettably, this film's stars did not shine for long. Harlow died in 1937 at the mere age of 26 from complications of kidney disease, and this would be Williams' last picture, dying in 1931 of appendicitis and cutting short what likely would have been a notable screen career with the recent advent of audio. Had fate taken another course, it's not hard to believe that both stars would have wound up in front of Frank Capra's camera again. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Platinum Blonde features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a reasonable source-print — this film is not a likely candidate for an extensive celluloid or digital restoration, but Columbia's print is in reasonably good shape with strong low-contrast detail and a moderate amount of collateral wear throughout. The audio is of a similar quality — perfectly intelligible, but with a small amount of ambient noise under the dialogue. However, this is likely the best presentation this film will get in the foreseeable future, and it's perfectly pleasant to watch. A must for Capra collectors. Trailers for His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night. Keep-case.
—JJB



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