This 1931 proto-screwball comedy places hard-boiled newsman Stew Smith (Robert Williams) in the luxurious lap of millionaire heiress Jean Harlow, a cushy fate the "Cinderella Man" lives to regret. Co-writer Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra were to rework this fish-out-of-water scenario many times -- Gary Cooper is also dubbed a "Cinderella Man" in the team's later Mr. Deeds Goes to Town -- but seldom with such verve. Much is owed to the witty, improvised feel of Williams' performance as Harlow's kept husband; as Raymond Carney notes in his definitive study of Capra's films American Vision, Capra revels in showcasing confident actors who dominate whatever space they're in (as for example Clark Gable in It Happened One Night). Williams, an Alan Alda look-alike, bobs and weaves through this film, literally running circles both around his fellow reporters and the stodgy aristocracy he's flung amongst. Like Gary Cooper yodeling in Deeds or Gable hitchhiking in Night, Williams plays games with any available material -- hopscotching across a parquet floor in one nocturnal flight of fancy. If he hadn't died of a burst appendix shortly after this film was released, Williams might have been a major star of the 1930s. As it stands his appearance here testifies to the power of film to immortalize an arresting persona. The incorrigibly working-class Harlow -- who also died too soon -- seems miscast as the spoiled heiress, but she does successfully suggest the sexual hold she has on our hero in what is, for Capra, a surprisingly erotic movie.
-- Gregg Rickman
Platinum Blonde screens Friday, March 12, at 8 p.m. at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 863-1087.