PLATINUM BLONDE (1931) B/W 82m dir: Frank Capra

w/Jean Harlow, Robert Williams, Loretta Young, Louise Closser Hale, Donald Dillaway, Reginald Owen

Early Capra-directed screwball comedy with refreshing dialogue and crisp pacing.

From Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride: "While [Harry] Cohn [head of Columbia Pictures] was trying to pressure [Barbara] Stanwyck into returning to work, Forbidden [also a Capra film, released in 1932] was shelved temporarily and Capra went on to a romantic comedy, alternately titled The Blonde Lady and Gallagher, which was to have been directed by Eddie Buzzell.

"Robert Williams, an experienced young stage actor, was exciting interest in the film industry for his work in his first three films. Columbia had borrowed him from RKO-Pathe for Forbidden, but he was cast instead in the new project, playing Stew Smith, a raffish New York City newspaperman who falls in love with a wealthy woman (Jean Harlow) and finds himself living uncomfortably in high society. Loretta Young was cast as Gallagher, Stew's devoted and unpretentious colleague, who loves him for himself and wins him in the end. Like Lulu Smith in Forbidden, Gallagher takes an emotional beating from the man she loves. Stew's inability to appreciate or even recognize her feelings for him comes off as incredibly callous, much more so than required by the script, and a reflection, perhaps, of the way Capra felt about his treatment by Isabelle [Isabelle Daniels Griffis, his first love, who fell in love with another man while Capra was away in San Francisco in the Army] or about the way he was treating Lu [Lucille Warner Reyburn, destined to become Capra's second --- and final --- wife, whom Capra was stringing along while having an affair with Barbara Stanwyck]. It also may have reflected the director's personal preference for the earthy Jean Harlow over Loretta Young, who, along with Williams, snubbed Harlow during the shooting.

"Even though Harlow's lower-class accent and personality made her wildly unsuited to play a blue blood, she was hot and getting hotter in the wake of such box-office hits as Hell's Angels and The Public Enemy. Capra's film with her was titled Gallagher from the end of shooting until its final preview in Santa Barbara on September 24, 1931, when it was shown as The Gilded Cage. But by the time of its trade review in Motion Picture Daily six days later, it had received its final title of Platinum Blonde, reflecting the commercial pull of Harlow's presence in the cast.

"Platinum Blonde firmly established Harlow's stardom, bringing out qualities of humor and relaxed sexiness that had not been evident in her previous appearances, although Capra realized she was not right for the part. When she asks Williams, 'Won't you step into the library?," it took Capra fifteen takes of a complicated tracking shot to get her to say 'library' instead of 'liberry,' and even in the take he finally used she sounds a little uncertain. But the reviewer for the Los Angeles Express noted that 'Jean Harlow shows a marked improvement as an actress. Credit for this, I believe, should go to Director Frank Capra, who again proves his right to be named with the ten best megaphonists. Capra has a certain style, or knack, for getting just a trifle beyond the cold screen. He has warmth and feeling, subtle gestures that tickle ribs or pull on heartstrings as he desires.'

"Even more remarkable, though, was the performance by Robert Williams. His Stew Smith is one of the most sophisticated comic performances in all of Capra's work, and he showed unmistakable star potential. 'If his succeeding parts are made to fit his personality and his demeanor, it will be eggs in his coffee for this comer,' Variety's Roy Chartier wrote in his November 3 review. Shortly before that, Williams had gone on holiday to Catalina Island, where he was stricken with appendicitis. By the time he could be taken to the mainland for medical treatment, peritonitis had set in, and, after two operations, the thirty-three-year-old actor died at Hollywood Hospital on the night of November 3, four days after the premiere of Platinum Blonde."