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Platinum Blonde (1931) – DVD Review


Written by Harry E. Chandlee, Douglas W. Churchill, Jo Swerling, Dorothy Howell, and Robert Riskin
Directed by Frank Capra
Starring Jean Harlow, Loretta Young, Robert Williams, Louise Closser Hale

Released by: Columbia/TriStar Home Video.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent it, but wait for a special edition to buy it.

Stew Smith (Williams), ace reporter, was always on the hunt for the hot story utilizing his quick wit and nose for news. At the moment that story is the scandalous affair between the scion of the rich and socially prominent Schuyler family and a showgirl of ill repute. While getting the family to say more than they wanted to, he meets the beautiful and vivacious Anne Schuyler (Harlow). They take a shine to each other and after a whirlwind romance they elope. Now, Stew is dubbed “The Cinderella Man” and is the object of the hunt. He also has to deal with his imperious mother-in-law (Hale) and the slimy family lawyer. Even Anne is trying to change him into a dapper gentleman of leisure. Stew is resisting with the help of his colleague and gal-pal Gallagher (Young), but can he resist the influence of a Platinum Blonde?

This movie can be watched and enjoyed as a well-constructed comedy. However that would be missing many of the other facets of the film. This is the movie that gave Jean Harlow her signature moniker as well as showed audiences she had definite comedic talent. She puts life into a rather weak character that goes from enjoying Stew’s straightforward conduct one minute to berating him for the same qualities the next for no apparent reason. The easy repartee between her and Williams is effortless and sharp–near the level of Tracey and Hepburn or William Powell and Myrna Loy. This is also the last film of Williams, a talented actor right at the beginning of his career which was mercilessly cut short by appendicitis. Coupled with Harlow’s early death, there is an unintentional pathos to the film that makes it even more interesting. We see the beginning of Capra’s style as well as the beginning of the romantic comedy as a credible genre. A common man, initially dazzled by wealth and power, ends up fighting against the pomposity and rigidity of “high society” with the love of a good woman. This theme is quintessential Capra. He also experiments with shots and setups that show a sophistication not seen in comedies or for that matter films in general of the time.

With all this density to explore, it’s criminal that there are no extras at all. Surely they could have paid a cinema historian to discuss the significance of the film and its stars. Or gotten a biography of Harlow or Capra, there are plenty of them out there. But no, this is bare bones and that is a shame. Platinum Blonde deserves so much more. Hopefully there will be a special edition in the future.

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