Frank Capra (as Frank R. Capra)
Platinum Blonde is a 1931 American pre-Code romantic comedy motion picture starring Jean Harlow, Robert Williams, and Loretta Young. The film was written by Jo Swerling and directed by Frank Capra. Platinum Blonde was Robert Williams’ last screen appearance; he died of peritonitis three days after the film’s October 31 release.
Despite the film’s measure of positive reviews and star power, it wasn’t much of a hit at the box office, with returns around the country reported as “just fair” and “a bit disappointing”.
Primitive, pleasant Capra
Robert Williams plays the kind of role Spencer Tracy did time and again at Fox and MGM–the brash, likeable working man–and, in fact, the picture suggests a dry run of Tracy’s “Libeled Lady.”
There’s a breach-of-promise suit, a roomful of reporters cracking wise, a rich-rich Long Island clan existing to be mocked, and the kind of farcical complications that made the newspaper comedy one of the ’30s’ most endearing genres. Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t as snappy as it thinks it is, and Jean Harlow is as miscast as a society dame as Loretta Young is as a world-weary reporter — the whole thing might have made more sense if they switched roles. The compensations, though, are many: Capra giving his actors brilliant bits of business (the “puttering” scene is an unsung classic), a roster of swell character actors, and some pre-Production Code naughtiness, including two very sexy love scenes between Williams and Harlow. Capra’s pace is slower than usual, and his later works had cleverer plot twists. His handling of actors, though, is as beautiful to behold as ever. And in Williams’ irresistible performance, we have a glimpse of a star that might have been.
A Genius – Robert Williams – the great loss
Author: ytbufflo from mountainair nm
8 September 2004
Platinum Blonde launched so many careers – the most infamous being Frank Capra and Jean Harlow. It is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. The sound is bad, Harlow is terribly miscast, and poor Loretta Young struggles valiantly to bring depth to a part that is the filmic equivalent of wallpaper. As many have said before me, she and Harlow would have done well to reverse roles.
But the greatest on screen portrayal of fresh, modern, naturalistic acting (a style that later would be attributed to James Dean) is from the wonderful, refreshingly brilliant young Robert Williams in 1931!!!!! I would never mark this film as a masterpiece, yet I would encourage all struggling male actors to study this man’s work as a prime example of how to dominate a scene without any artifice or aggression. Every time he enters a room, the whole film lights up, and every time he leaves, all the other actors seem to lose their purpose and energy.
I have never seen such simple perfection, and I am saddened to no end to learn of his untimely death at thirty-four, just as he was starting to get roles worthy of his genius. I could not get enough of this man’s work, and regret having so little of it to view. An absolute must see for Robert Williams alone!
On November 3, 1931, three days after the premiere of Platinum Blonde, Williams died of peritonitis at Hollywood Hospital after undergoing two operations for acute appendicitis the previous week. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
An early screwball comedy.
Author: newtonsmom6 from Evanston, IL.
20 November 2003
This a a very funny Harlow comedy. Jean Harlow is fantastic in it as the spoiled heiress. More than anything, what impressed me about this film is actor Robert Williams. He is so natural and likable that the film really belongs to him. I was sorry to learn that he died not long after this film was released. I’m sure if he had lived he would have been a huge star. Watch this film, if for no other reason, than to see his excellent performance.
Poor Boy Marries Rich Girl
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
10 January 2009
In The Films Of Frank Capra Citadel Film Series and in his memoirs, Frank Capra described Platinum Blonde as a film that Columbia did strictly as a moneymaker, no messages of social significance that would be found in his later classic work, just a nice girl-boy-girl comedy. Still and probably because Robert Riskin did some of the dialog I found plenty of things that would be instantly recognizable in Capra’s more well known films.
The Platinum Blonde is of course Jean Harlow and this film title gave her the title she would have the rest of her short life. She’s a society girl who sweeps reporter Robert Williams off his feet and into marriage much to the chagrin of her formidable dowager mother Louise Closser Hale.
Someone else is chagrined as well, Loretta Young who was only 18 when she made this film. Loretta and her sisters added a few years onto their ages in order to work back then. Loretta plays one of Williams fellow reporters who is known only by her last name of Gallagher. Just like Jean Arthur was known as Saunders in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Lots of similarities between the two though Arthur’s character was far more sophisticated than Young.
Still Platinum Blonde more closely resembles Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Williams is like Gary Cooper trapped in that big mansion. Only it was Cooper’s own mansion that he inherited. Robert Williams is in on a pass and on a kind of probation so to speak, to see if he can adjust to life among the idle rich. In 1931 lots of people would have liked to have been given the opportunity.
The only one in the household he strikes up some kind of friendship with is butler Halliwell Hobbes. Note the echo business with them, it would be repeated in Mr. Deeds.
The week Platinum Blonde was released with reviews acclaiming Williams as a new star, he died of peritonitis. What an incredible loss, he was an actor with a breezy insouciance just like Robert Montgomery or William Haines over at MGM. He probably could also have done parts at Columbia that James Cagney was doing at Warner Brothers. Williams could have been Harry Cohn’s first major star of the sound era. Anyway his comic timing was perfect and he steals the film from those two movie legends who were his leading ladies.
You’ll also like Reginald Owen’s portrayal as Harlow’s family attorney and general busybody. Williams also deals with him in the way Gary Cooper ultimately dealt with his shyster.
Platinum Blonde is one of Frank Capra’s best early films and watching it will make you sad though when you see Robert Williams and you will agree that he had a brilliant career ahead of him.