Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PLATINUM BLONDE | 1931 | Screwball Stew

While chasing a scoop, star reporter Stew Smith (Robert Young) falls for blue blood Ann Schuyler (Jean Harlow).  He charms her, they marry, and then he begins sliding down a slippery slope of self-compromise in the name of love.

Before he knows it, he's Mr. Ann Schuyler, more DIY project than husband, and becoming more and more estranged from himself, his friends, his newsroom buddies, and his best pal Gallagher (Loretta Young).

PLATINUM BLONDE is Classic, as in prototypical, Screwball.  The story is set in a city, Stew is an unlikely hero, he falls for an unlikely girl, he's playful and irreverent, and the crux of the story is love, not class, and not politics (though class divisions are central).  It ticks all the boxes.

It's also solid Capra, right down line.  Smart, funny, and utterly human. Stew is a hero who needs to learn that he's actually perfect, just as he is.  Capra's heroes are often fully formed and do not need to change, but tend toward being almost too open-minded in that they're game to play along and try anything.  Which puts them at risk of becoming lost.  But when push comes to shove and the joke isn't funny anymore, they will push back and return to their core.  

Which could be the link between the screwball anti-hero being both child-like and dissatisfied with life.  Their sense of adventure and/or enthusiasm for life and/or fondness for other people will lead them to get taken for a few rides, but they keep getting in line for the next go 'round because their youthful optimism prevents them from becoming cynical, jaded, serious, dire, dull or rigid.

 When Stew falls for Ann Schyler, he's actually illustrating his dissatisfaction with the status quo.  It's as though he disdains class divisions so much that he's jettisoned them from his reality, enabling him to fall for her.  He makes cracks about blue-bloods to his editor, but he is actually beyond the issue.  He truly believes it's possible for he and Ann to love each other as people instead of symbols or types.  He believes it so much that he bends and bends and bends for Ann, before he finally breaks.

The film could be seen as reinforcing a "stick to your own kind" mentality, or driving home that Stew and Ann never had a chance because the rich really are different, but that's too easy.  If Ann had been as strong as Stew, they'd have been fine.  If it were an alternate reality and it was his buddy Gallagher that had been born with money, they'd have been fine.  It's about the people.

Released: 1931
Writer(s):  Robert Riskin (dialogue), Jo Swerling (adaptation)Harry E. Chandlee (story), Douglas W. Churchill (story)
Director: Frank Capra
Leads:  Robert Williams, Loretta Young, Jean Harlow
Genre:  Screwball, Rom-Com Plot summary and reviews of PLATINUM BLONDE @ Rotten Tomatoes