Friday, May 2, 2014

Jean is Jealous of Loretta

Though Loretta Young (as Gallagher, the young reporter with no first name) is listed as the star of Platinum Blonde (1931), it's Jean Harlow as socialite Ann Schuyler who steals the film.  When reporter Stew Smith (Robert Williams) visits the Schuyler home to determine the validity of rumors about Ann's brother Michael, Stew is instantly smitten by the lovely Ann.  She is less impressed, but when Stew is able to retrieve (and return to the family) some incriminating letters written by Michael, Ann discovers that Stew is appealing indeed.  Their elopement is an anathema to her family, but Ann is determined to have Stew fit into HER world, whether Stew likes it or not.

This is a very enjoyable film, with good performances by Jean Harlow and Robert Williams.  As we mentioned, Young's name is above the title, but she doesn't stand a chance once Harlow shows up.  Harlow's Ann is quite appealing, perhaps because she doesn't seem as upper class and snooty as the rest of the Schuyler family.  This TCM Article discusses the problems Harlow had with sounding "sophisticated."  She especially had some difficulties with the word "library".  While director Frank Capra must have despaired at getting her to sound right, in the long run, it works in her favor.  We want to like them as a the couple, despite the fact that Ann is doing all she can to make her young husband into an upper-class twit.
That this is a pre-code film is readily apparent by the relationship between Stew and Ann. It's really one of lust more than of love.   Though Stew is clearly his own man, Ann is determined to tame him, and make him an appendage to her lifestyle.  She has no clear understanding of his career goals (he wants to write a play, for one thing) and would be quite satisfied if he stayed home and played at being a society husband.

Louise Closser Hale, a character actress we've admired before, is terrific as Ann's horror of a mother.  Mrs. Schuyler couldn't be a bigger snob, and her disregard for anyone not in her social circle makes her unlikeable AND humorous.  Her "consort" of sorts is Reginald Owen as lawyer Grayson.  Grayson does all of Mrs. Schuyler's dirty work, and enjoys every minute of it.  The character provides someone at whom Stew can direct his animosity, and Owen does an admirable job of keeping the character distasteful.  Also well worth watching is Halliwell Hobbes as Smythe, the butler.  We would expect this character (really, the only one in the house with any class) to be the worst snob, but Hobbes gives us a likeable fellow who really is open to all classes.  The party scene in which he interacts with Stew's friends is a riot.

Robert Williams, who played Stew, is also delightful.  This, unfortunately, was his last film. He died at the age of 37, the result of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix.  He had only made 7 films - two shorts and 5 full-length films (one a silent).  We've actually reviewed two of his talkies: Devotion and The Common Law.  This film demonstrates his breezy style and screen presence. 

Though Ann is the one with most of the good clothing, our Loretta gets one smashing evening dress that takes your breath away.  It's amusing that Stew specifically asks HOW she got a dress like that (on a reporter's salary).  We wondered the same thing.  The name of the costumer is not provided, but this dress proves his/her talents.

Interestingly, the film was originally called "Gallagher" after Young's character, but was changed to demonstrate the power Harlow had in the film.  Directed by Capra and written in part by Robert Riskin, it provides an early example of their collaborative genius.

As we mentioned before, one scene that particularly stuck with us was the singing argument between Ann and Stew.  As referenced in the TCM article above, it does seem almost improvised. It also appears that Harlow and Williams are having quite a good time:

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