Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Comment I posted at Poynter Online for a forum about movies involving journalism...

Just watched a movie that I guess you could say is about journalism; Platinum Blonde, from 1931, directed by Frank Capra and written by that master of screwball dialogue Robert Riskin. It's about an honest reporter (played by the sadly soon to be forgotten Robert Williams, a gifted comic actor who died of appendicitis just after the movie came out) who marries a super-wealthy rich girl (Jean Harlow, for whom the movie served as a vehicle for her pouty good looks, her shapely, notoriously un-panty-lined rump, and that immortal hair). The ethical quandary it raises is not whether the reporter's marriage will affect his professional impartiality, but whether he wears the pants in the family. Harlow won't give up her palace to live in his shack, so Williams -- despite his resistance -- agrees to live at her place. He's a "bird in a gilded cage," as his boss keeps reminding him, and not only that, he's really in love with Loretta Young, who plays Gallagher, a knockout reporter whom all the other reporters think of as one of the guys. The movie creaks a bit with age, but only a bit; you're more likely to wish modern newsrooms were still this much fun, where everyone smoked, drank like fish, and editors screamed and threw things. This was the first collaboration between Capra and Riskin -- they would go on to make such classics together as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- and it's relentlessly snappy and silly. Good summer fun, especially if you don't want to sit through All the President's Men again.

P.S. I am rather haunted by this Robert Williams fellow; apparently this was his shot at the big time and he died before he could bank on it; Harlow herself, of course, was dead six years later. Williams looked like Bill Maher and in his comic timing and delivery reminded me of Cagney -- very funny and snappy actor, brimming with amiable confidence. I don't know if he was exactly romantic lead material, but he clearly had a great career ahead of him that was cut short.

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