I thought I’d seen all of Frank Capra’s films, but this one must have slipped through the cracks. It was made before he got big and started winning awards, and patented his brand of “Capracorn,” which some condemn as too sweet and sentimental, but I’ve always loved.
There’s a real tragedy involved in this movie. I’ll get to it in a moment. It was supposed to be a Loretta Young picture, but Jean Harlow was the hot girl of the moment, so the title was changed to reflect her famous hair color. It was going to be called Gallagher, the name of the “one of the boys” reporter played by Young. Harlow gets third billing, but she has more screen time than Young, and frankly, a much better part. Young only pops up now and again as the good girl who carries a torch for the hero.
Robert Williams (remember that name; he should have been a household word, but isn’t) plays Stew Smith, a hotshot wisecracking reporter (weren’t all reporters cynical wisecrackers?) who falls in love with Ann Schuyler, a filthy rich heiress, and marries her. And who is the heiress? Jean Harlow, in one of the great casting mistakes of all time. He vows he will never use her money, never become “Mr. Schuyler,” but of course in no time at all he’s living in their cavernous rockpile and he’s got a valet and a tuxedo and is dining with all the swells. He chafes at it, eventually sees the light, and divorces her to marry Gallagher.
And guess what? Robert Williams is the berries in this part. He shines, he glows, he’s the one you’re watching even when Harlow is in the room. And believe me, that’s good! He has a perfect comic touch, great timing, great delivery. He’s not the world’s most handsome man, but I think he might have been as big as Clark Gable.
So the picture premieres, and four days later he was dead. Burst appendix. Peritonitis. End of career, end of story. What a great loss he was.
It was only five years after The Jazz Singer, and most of the film is a series of static scenes, as all sound movies were in those days when the equipment was so clunky. But even here the Capra touch can be seen in some long tracking shots that must have been hell to shoot. He wanted the camera to be moving, but it was still a few years before sound technology would make that almost as easy as it had been in the great tracking shots of the silent days.