The Films of Jean Harlow: Platinum Blonde (1931)
Our second Jean Harlow film greatly expands her character while making her a total bitch! This is one of director Frank Capra’s lesser known films and that’s probably because it’s far too long, weirdly anti-female while still retaining that “small man of ethic” story that Capra was famous for. I’ve seen this before, but I must not have been paying enough attention because this second go-round I really didn’t like it.
Newspaperman Stew Smith (Robert Williams) is trying to find out about a scandal involving prominent family the Schuyler’s. When he falls for the daughter Ann (Harlow), Ann thinks she can change him into a man of society. This forces Stew to give up everything he loves including his job and his best friend Gallagher (Loretta Young).
As mentioned above this is one of a myriad of Capra films that isn’t well-known. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s only claim to fame is that it stars Harlow. Even more odd is our lead star Robert Williams would make this his last film as he would die from a burst appendix at only 37, only six years before Harlow herself (they also died about 11 years apart in age). No disrespect to the dead but Williams really comes off like a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart (or else Stewart is a better version of Robert Williams). The rapid-fire dialogue just didn’t seem to suit Williams. The rest of the cast including a young Loretta Young are all about on-par with Williams making this a pretty weak affair acting wise.
I think the problem lies in the script. I know I’m looking at this in hindsight but I didn’t connect with Stew at all. He’s a total Capra character to be sure! He refuses to rely on Ann’s money and goes on and on about being a bird in a gilded cage, yet he believes he can control Ann. I’m not sure how you’d view this but I sympathized with Ann far more than Stew. First, Stew is in love with Ann and is willing to give up his job and friends, yet he bemoans how he’s trapped. He even refuses to take alimony from Ann in a divorce because he’s that Capra man of principles. Well if you thought you could control her that makes you a dumbass. Also, Stew himself treats people like garbage. He tells his best friend Gallagher (the typical “girl all the boys don’t see as a girl”) that her nose isn’t as cute as Ann and forces her to start worrying about her appearence…and yet she falls in love with him?
I just found this film to be against forcing you to hate this family when it wasn’t always warranted. Sure Ann and her family are typical rich schmucks (odd considering this is meant to be a screwball comedy and said comedies usually make the rich “funny”), yet Stew openly holds a party at his house in the middle of the night…and Ann has no right to be mad? And poor Gallagher doesn’t even have a character. She just sits around and waits for Stew to….look for someone better and she’s just around?
This has several Capra-tropes and I should have mentioned before: I’m not a Capra fan! Maybe that’s why this second viewing of Platinum Blonde wasn’t that good. I will say Harlow has far more screen time than in The Public Enemy, she looks beautiful and she’s adorable in the love scenes with Williams. One thing Harlow always accomplished was being able to look completely enamored of her leading man!
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I just saw the Harlow exhibit at the new Hollywood museum in the old Max Factor building in Hollywood. Such an interesting life. Made me more of a fan.
Lucky! I always say I need to take a trip to LA and just see all the Hollywood museums and stuff.