by Lindsay Peters
During a Jean Harlow kick last January I came across Platinum Blonde. While the film itself is a solid class warfare screwball that deftly explores the romantic pitfalls of high society journalism, the real cinematic discovery here is the film's leading man, one Robert Williams. A Broadway actor whose checkered film career was tragically cut short just as it seemed to be gaining momentum, Williams died at 37 of a ruptured appendix three days after Platinum Blonde’s premiere. 1931 had been shaping up to be Williams’ year with major supporting roles that included the Constance Bennett/Joel McCrea melodrama The Common Law and the romantic comedy Rebound with Myrna Loy—but Platinum Blonde marked his first and last leading role. With weathered features and a rough-hewn romanticism that anticipates Robert Mitchum's rugged anti-hero appeal, Williams had a striking ability to deliver comedic lines with crackling ease that would, as Christopher Plummer put it, “make Cary Grant look like he was overacting.” What Robert Williams brought in spades to Platinum Blonde – nary a YouTube clip exists of his other performances – was an onscreen presence that captures the very best of a bygone era, while at once remaining thoroughly modern.