Sunday, 18 March 2012
Platinum Blonde, 1931
Platinum Blonde is named after Jean Harlow, like Bombshell (1933), and the title is not really indicative of the plot of the film. It just shows how powerful the draw of big stars like Jean Harlow was in the 30s.
It's about a wise-cracking, salt of the earth journalist, "Stew" Smith (Robert Williams), who is called upon to investigate a scandal involving a rich family. Stew meets Anne Schuyler (Jean Harlow) and the rest of her family, refuses a bribe by the Schuyler's lawyer (Reginald Owen) and Anne's flirtatious pleas to drop the story, making himself an enemy of the family. He visits again later to return a book he took from the Schuyler's library, and letters which were going to be used by the injured party in the scandal to further extort the family for money. Anne offers Stew a 5,000 cheque, which he refuses. Anne and Stew start to become quite friendly and Anne invites him to a party. They quickly fall in love and secretly marry.
When news of their marriage breaks it leaves Stew's friend, Gallagher (Loretta Young), who is in love with him, devastated, but she puts on a brave face and wishes Stew well. The film then chronicles Stew's difficulties with moving into the Schuyler mansion, fitting in with his in-laws, failing to fight off Anne's attempts to make him a gentleman, and his hurt pride at being dubbed "Cinderella man" or "Mr Anne Schuyler".
When Stew invites Gallagher and a few friends for drinks at the Schuyler mansion, about twenty other journalists gatecrash, turning an intended small get-together into a raging party. Stew and Gallagher retire to a quiet room to work on an idea Stew has for a play, basing it on his marriage and life with the Schuylers. When Anne and her mother return, Anne is furious at Stew for disrespecting her home and for his close relationship with Gallagher. She makes a point that it's not his house, it's her house, implying that he has no right to invite friends around.
Stew and Anne fight, ending with Stew leaving the Schuyler mansion with Gallagher and returning to his old apartment where they continue to work on the play. Grayson stops by to say Anne has offered to pay him alimony in a divorce, which Stew refuses, punching him before throwing him out of his apartment. Stew tells Gallagher the play could end with the main character divorcing his rich wife and marrying the woman he realised that he has always loved. The film ends with Gallagher and Stew embracing.
I suppose the message of the film is about the value of independence, being true to yourself, and, sadly, something about the class system. If this film had the Jean Harlow and Robert Williams roles reversed in a The Bride Wore Red (1937) kind of way then I think it would have been more interesting and innovative, personally speaking. Viewing it from a modern standpoint it just smacks of the imagined horror of emasculation, which had, even by 1931, been done to death. But bearing in mind the time the film was made, it's quite a witty comedy with some classic 30s lines and characterisations (Some quotes here on imdb.). I still think that some men today would have problems being a "Cinderella Man", and Anne really doesn't treat Stew with much respect, so it's still relevant. She wants to mould him into someone who is more acceptable to her and her class.
A sad bit of trivia is that Robert Williams died a few days after the premiere. He was great in this, his first leading role and it's easy to imagine how his career could have grown from this point. He has excellent comic timing in this film and a no-frills, likeable persona.
Now, just a quick note to say that I'm really honoured to be taking part in The Archers Blogathon at the end of the month. I'll be covering Gone to Earth on the 26th March, which I'm thrilled about as it's one of my favourite Powell and Pressburger's films. I think there are still (at this moment of posting) film spots left if you want to take part. I hope someone blogs about A Canterbury Tale! Click on the button below to see the post at the Classic Film & TV Cafe and apply.
Here are a few other costume screencaps from Platinum Blonde which I've placed under a cut to save killling computers with all these image heavy posts. There are some gorgeous bias-cut dresses and I think the costumes in this film gives a really good overview of clothes in the early 30s.