"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

October 10, 2011

"Platinum Blonde" (1931) with Jean Harlow (Film review)

Platinum Blonde is an early Frank Capra film about a young woman (Jean Harlow) from a rich and distinguished family who impulsively marries a rather boorish newspaper reporter (Robert Williams). Each assumes the other is the one whose lifestyle must change, but of course that only goes so far...

The film is named after the hairstyle of Jean Harlow, who played one of her first major roles. Harlow has been called the role model for Marilyn Monroe and it doesn't take long to see why. Tragically, she died six years after making this film of a kidney disease, at the young age of 26. Although the film was promoted as a vehicle for Harlow (the film company had even lined up beauty salons to transform any interested woman into a "platinum blonde"), it is carried by Robert Williams - another actor who died young, in fact shortly after completing this film. A third interesting presence is Loretta Young, who plays his colleague/assistant, patiently waiting until his fling with Harlow misfires.

Although there are funny moments - especially when Williams against his protestations to the contrary, is completely encapsulated in the rich household of Harlow, even wearing the garters she gives him - as a whole the film didn't work for me. Williams is too aggressive and loud (can't he speak in a normal voice?) and in fact, boorish and uncouth - in the last part of the film, I found him positively offensive. That is of course the fault of script and director, who aim blow after blow at the lifestyle of the rich Schuyler family. But Williams has invited himself into their house and could have behaved more politely and tactfully - he really is the greatest screen yokel I have ever seen.

That's why I found myself rooting for Jean Harlow, her elderly mother, even her weak brother - and the butler, although he is no Jeeves. The "official underdog," the plebeian Williams, is so distasteful that the rich family starts looking like the actual  underdog, and that can't have been the intention of the film.