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Platinum Blonde


Platinum Blonde (1931)

     Jean Harlow essentially perfected a character for herself, one that perhaps immoral by the standards of her day, was always endearing. She was the blonde, usually moderate- to low-income gal who would get her man by any means. She had sass and bared her sexuality shamelessly. In Platinum Blonde, however –a film that was literally named for her– Harlow takes on an entirely different role: the socialite.

     Newspaperman Stew Smith, played by Robert Williams, is assigned to interview a wealthy family –the Schuylers– about a breach of promise suit filed by a chorus girl against the son. He immediately makes eyes at Harlow’s daughter character, Ann, and enrages the family by refusing to take a bribe and running the story even after Ann flirtatious sidled up to the working man. Later, after interviewing the chorus girl, Stew returns to the Schuyler mansion with a stack of love letters the complainant was holding as further blackmail. He refuses a check from Ann and she softens to him.

     It is not long before Stew and Ann marry against her family’s wishes. This upsets fellow reporter Gallagher (Loretta Young) who has been pining for Stew. Thinking that he and his wife will take an apartment, Stew learns otherwise and is moved into a wing of the Schuyler mansion. He continues his job out of pride but is often ribbed by his coworkers who call him a bird in a “gilded cage” and “Ann Schuyler’s husband”.  The union is destined for failure if only because Stew’s disinterest in money has him as an outcast in his new setting.

     Platinum Blonde was originally titled “Gallagher”, but when Jean Harlow’s fame grew enormously during filming, thanks to films such as The Public Enemy, the producers saw fit to profit from her stardom. When watching, the film, however, one has to wonder if the script was also altered to feature Harlow more prominently. One hardly notices Young’s characters, so the “Gallagher” title makes little sense. Her role becomes more prominent in the end but she has maybe half the screen time Harlow does.

     In this sophisticated role, Harlow makes an effort to change her voice to one a bit softer and stick her nose up a bit more. Her clothes, though their usual silky style are more conservative and look less like they might slip off her shoulder at any moment. Williams gets the prize for performance, however. His witty dialogue and delivery of it put awkward dry laughs into the atmosphere of a snooty mansion, making us all feel at ease. Tragically, Williams died at age 34 of a ruptured appendix four days after Platinum Blonde premiered.

Source: Robert Osborne

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