Platinum Blonde (1931)

Platinum Blonde (1931) movie poster

director Frank Capra
viewed: 12/05/2015

The title Platinum Blonde cries out “Jean Harlow!” Yet, this Frank Capra pre-code Hollywood comedy is more than the bleached locks of a bombshell, while it’s not quite altogether notable for any one other thing.

Stars Harlow and Robert Williams would die tragically early in life from diseases ostensibly curable in modern times (even back in the 1930’s.)  Williams died only three days after the release of the film from peritonitis at age 37.  Harlow would die in 1937 at the age of 26 of complications of renal failure.  That said, it would take foreknowledge of those facts to impose tragedy on this film.

Interestingly, Harlow isn’t the real heroine of the film (nor is her titular hair color), but rather Loretta Young.  Young plays “Gallagher,” the only gal in the reporting game, seen as “one of the boys” by Stew Smith (Williams), whose head is turned by the high-class dame Ann Schuyler (Harlow).  What ensues is a class comedy, with its perspective clearly instilled not in the echelons of high society but in the more working class regular folk.

I’m no Capra scholar, so it’s hard for me to posit where this film belongs in his auteurial oeuvre (yikes, what a phrasing!), but what it has in charms and interest, it also feels like a roughish early “talkie” that hasn’t mastered the form quite as yet.  Williams isn’t really the most charming of leads (he might have been better in smaller character parts), though he delivers his lines with street-smart panache.  Entertaining enough, but not overly special.

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