Friday, May 22, 2009

Platinum Blonde (1931)

Platinum Blonde
Director: Frank Capra
USA 1931
90 min

Like many other 1930's and 1940's comedies, the main character is a news reporter. His name is Stew Smith (played by Robert Williams, who tragically died three days after the release of the film by appendicitis, just when his career started taking off). Smith is a wise-cracking, slightly annoying but charming fellow, who one day covers a scandal story involving the socialite family Schuyler. Of course, the family has a beautiful charming daughter who catches his eye, Anne (Jean Harlow). After some Capraesque gnabbing, they fall in love and elope quite spontaniously. The marriage is not approved by the refined Schuyler family, and breaks the poor heart of Stew's colleague Gallagher (beautiful Loretta Young), who is secretely in love with him.
Now, isn't that a promising plot?

Stew in the centre of his colleagues' attention, keeping eye contact with his best friend Gallagher.

As if this wasn't enough, the newly weds soon realize that they both have taken for granted that the other person would assimilate themselves with their lifestyle - Stew finds it crystal clear that Anne will move to his apartment and live on a reporter salary, while Anne thinks it's obvious that Stew will learn manners and live in the family's mansion.
Eventually, of course, this causes some problems for the couple.

Scene: The wonderfully artistic waterfall scene with Stew and Anne. How could one not fall in love?

Scene: I won't wear garters!

Platinum Blonde is a pleasant triangle drama with great actors in every role. (I've said that a lot lately, haven't I?) I haven't seen a lot of pre-code Capra yet (something I definitely will do something about), but I must say that this film had a very different ring to it than other Capra productions. I had expected a more escapistic tone in it (after all, 1931 was the beginning of the Depression), but instead Platinum Blonde turned out to be more of a solid romantic drama/comedy. (Why is he so hard to categorize?)
But maybe I'm just imagining. The important thing is that it was a great film, and to this date I haven't yet seen anything signed Frank Capra that I didn't love.

It's also funny to see similarities between Capra's movies. How about the leading man here being called "Cinderella Man" in the newspapers? Or the scene where the leading man and a butler have fun with echoing halls? Yes, I think you're with me here. (Check here.) A director making references to himself is always amusing.

There are some interesting trivia for this film, aside from the unexpected death of the leading man. (Think how cinema history could have looked like under different circumstances... Perhaps Robert Williams would have played Nick Charles instead of William Powell? Rhett Butler or Sam Spade?)
The title of the film was originally "Gallagher", but was changed to Platinum Blonde to boost Harlow's career. I always thought the title was kind of weird, since the plot hasn't anything to do with platinum blonde hair except that Harlow has it. Talk about changing the point of focus with that title switch.
I also read that, at the time, the critics totally hated Harlow's performance, mocking her and stating that she ruined every scene she was in. Maybe her laid back acting style was too modern for the contemporary audience (or at least for the all-knowing critics).

I guess we can be happy that critics see the film in a totally different light today, because it deserves to me approved - it works very good, even over 75 years later.
(But am I the only one who thinks that Stew rushes into fights a little too easily? Makes the character, who otherwise is so relaxed and happy-go-lucky, seem very unstable. What does he hide?)


Stew Smith: Yeah, I know those bluenoses. Their ancestors refused to come over on the Mayflower because they didn't want to rub elbows with the tourists... so they swam over!

Dexter Grayson: Where were you yesterday?
Anne Schuyler: Oh, Stew and I went for a long ride. Dexter, is there any finishing school we could sent him to?
Dexter Grayson: Yes - Sing Sing!

Stew Smith: Say, I interviewed a swell guy the other day: Einstein. Yeh, swell guy. Little eccentric, but a swell - doesn't wear, doesn't wear any garters. Neither do I, as a matter of fact.

[Anne showing Stew into the library]
Stew Smith: What country is this library in? Miss Schuyler, how about car fare back to the front door, huh?


Kate Gabrielle said...

I just watched this again this week, isn't it fantastic?! I think Capra should just have a genre all to himself, since he really is hard to classify. It's just the "Capra" genre!

ps. I'm really enjoying the colorized photos with each post! :D

Christopher said...

I haven't seen this in ages..but reading about it made me remember alot of things like the robert williams and Loretta Young scenes..and the Echo saw Mr. Deeds about 2 weeks after this and assumed Capra did this in all his movies..

Samuel Wilson said...

Pre-Code Capra is good stuff, especially this one and The Bitter Tea of General Yen. But he could hardly go wrong during the entire 1930s -- though I think he went a bit over the top in the last reel of Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Love the new profile picture! And great, then I'll continue with the colorizing! (Feels a little stupid to make watermarks on my colorized pictures, but I've talked to a lot of people who got their pictures "stolen" and other people took the credit for them. It takes too much time to do a good colorization to just "give them away" to some idiot!)

Haha, like Hitchcock always made a cameo? Would have been a funny idea... But I guess that repeating an entire scene in all movies would be a little tiring!

Samuel Wilson:
The bitter Tea of General Yen is yet for me to see, actually! And about Mr Smith... I'm ready to defence him, thinking about that he wanted to deliver a political message to the audience. But then again, it's not his best picture, I agree.

Robby Cress said...

As much as I love Capra I cannot believe I haven't seen this film of his yet! It's always been one of those I'll get to that. I think I need to just add to the Netflix queue. I heard that Jean Harlow's reviews in the film weren't that great during the initial release. It's funny that when another Capra film came out, "It's a Wonderful Life" that that film wasn't as big of hit for it's time. That film, like Harlow's performance seems to be better appreciated with time.

Christopher said...

I'm wondering if Capra was ever appreciated in his time PERIOD(other than It Happened One Night)
I recall in the early 70s when the book about Capra "The Name Above The Title"came out,there was all this re-newed interest in his films and Capra was all over the TV ,hitting the talk show trail..This is when I saw Platinum Blonde and The Miracle Woman and all these silents of his on PBS..
But before then,I'd never heard of him..Except for It's A Wonderful Life..and I didn't know that ws him then..

Lolita said...

Robby Cress and Christopher:
That IS interesting! But I think all innovative directors were more appreciated after their films had landed a bit, and people could take them in. Capra's films are very modern, in a way - they work so great today. Maybe it was too much for the time being. (We can draw parallells to Ingmar Bergman for example - many of his films, that today are concidered masterpieces, were totally rejected when they came.)

Matthew Coniam said...

I love Walter Catlett in this film as the older journalist that Stew punches out. Great performance; really funny. And he looks like a dirty old Harold Lloyd.

Lolita said...

Matthew Coniam:
You're right! Haha! Didn't think about that...

Samuel Wilson said...

Christopher: Capra won two Best Pictures and three Best Directors the extra one for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town)during the 1930s. The title of his autobiography refers to the fact that he got his name placed before the title of his films, which was rare if not unique for directors back then. His reputation actually started slipping with the box office disappointment of It's A Wonderful Life in 1946, and his later films were less well received. His book sparked a comeback in popularity, but Capra had definitely been on top before.

Lolita said...

Samuel Wilson:
That is quite right, of course... But I guess the Capra craze is more evident among the classic films devotees today than at that time, still! At least more secure in its position ;)

VP81955 said...

Great entry, Lolita, but just one error, and it's a biggie: Robert Williams died three days after the film's release, not three years. He had already been cast as the leading man in a Constance Bennett film (in '31, she was big at the box office), but fell ill and never recovered. A tragic loss for the industry, and one of its biggest "what ifs." He had the fast-talking sensibility of a Robert Armstrong or Lee Tracy, but I think he would have been a more sustainable star presence than either.

Another thing to contemplate about "Platinum Blonde": Jean Harlow was all of 20 when she made this film (she really wouldn't find herself on film until "The Beast Of The City" in early '32), and Loretta Young -- playing a big-city newspaper reporter -- was merely 18! (Pre-Code Young is almost always worth watching; she was excellent, a far cry from her more-mannered self in the late '30s and '40s.)

Lolita said...

Oops! A typing error can really mess things up quite a bit... I'll correct it immediately! (It's not good to write when you're tired - even if the information is correct in your head it can very easily come out wrong in typing!) Thanks for telling me, none the less.

Oh yes, Loretta is very interesting! Just seing her opposite Lon Chaney as a 14 year old is quite impressive.

Check out the wallpaper I did on Loretta on my wallpaper tag in the right column!

Maria said...

Längesen jag såg den här filmen, men vilket par! Karismatiska Jean Harlow och skönheten Loretta Young!
Så otroligt vacker Loretta var slutet på 1920-talet intill 1940-talet.