Joan Blondell

Blonde Crazy (1931)

Blonde Crazy PosterWhen Anne Roberts (Joan Blondell) tries to get a job as a hotel housekeeper, bellhop Bert Harris (James Cagney) takes one look at her and knows he wants her to work at the hotel.  The position has already been filled, but Bert fixes it so that Anne gets the job.  Even though Bert is a bellhop by day, he’s got gambling and bootleg alcohol rackets going on the side and he wants Anne to be his partner in crime.

After catching hotel guest A. Rupert Johnson, Jr. (Guy Kibbee) in a compromising situation, Johnson gives Bert quite a bit of money to keep his mouth shut.  Bert and Anne go to a fancy hotel in another city to celebrate and end up meeting fellow con artist Dan Barker (Louis Calhern).  Dan and Bert plan a scam to pull together, but in the end, it’s Bert and Anne are the ones who get ripped off.  They hop on a train to try to find Dan, but on the way, Anne meets and falls in love with Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland).  Joe is more sophisticated and cultured than Bert and Anne can’t resist that.  Even though Bert confesses his feelings toward her, Anne decides marries Joe instead.

A year passes and turns out Joe is much more like Bert than Anne realized.  He’s stolen $30,000 from the company he works for and is facing a prison sentence.  Anne knows the only person who can possibly get him out of this mess is Bert, so she turns to him for help.  Bert comes up with a plan, but it backfires and Bert is the one who ends up in prison.  When Anne comes to visit him, she tells Bert that she loved him all along.

What a duo James Cagney and Joan Blondell were!  I’ve seen nearly all of the movies they made together and I’d say Blonde Crazy is one of their best, second only to Footlight Parade.  Blonde Crazy is practically tailor-made for Cagney and Blondell — snappy dialogue, pre-code antics, and plenty of chances for Blondell to be sassy and for Cagney to be his high-energy self.  They make it an absolutely irresistible movie.  Whether you’re a fan of Cagney, Blondell, or pre-codes in general, you will have a lot of fun with Blonde Crazy.

Smarty (1934)

Smarty 1934Vicki Wallace (Joan Blondell) gets a real kick out of antagonizing her husband Tony (Warren William).  She does it all in good fun, but one night, she pushes Tony too far and he slaps her.  Vicki decides she wants a divorce, and gets her friend Vernon Thorpe (Edward Everett Horton) to handle it for her.  But before the ink on the divorce papers is dry, Vicki marries Vernon.

Vicki can’t resist teasing Vernon, either, and Vernon is starting to see why Tony smacked her.  If he doesn’t like something, Vicki makes a point to do it.  Vernon doesn’t like Vicki to wear revealing clothes so she buys a very revealing evening gown.  He doesn’t like her still being friendly with Tony, so of course she spends plenty of time with him.  When Vernon finally slaps her too, Vicki decides to get back together with Tony.

Considering its cast, I had fairly high hopes for Smarty.  Unfortunately, the plot just is odd and I had a hard time getting into it. It’s really too bad that I didn’t like the plot because the cast had great chemistry and still managed to put on a heck of a show.  I really wish I could see this exact same cast in a different movie because with better material, they could have made a pretty great comedy.

Sinners’ Holiday (1930)

Sinners' Holiday Running a penny arcade is a family affair for Ma Delano (Lucille LaVerne) and her grown children Jennie (Evalyn Knapp), Joe (Ray Gallagher), and Harry (James Cagney).  Mitch (Warren Hymer) runs a sideshow near the Delano’s arcade, but it’s actually a front for his bootlegging operation.  Ma Delano despises alcohol and wishes Mitch would just go away, but she has more ties to it than she’d like.  Her daughter Jennie is dating Angel Harrigan (Grant Withers), Mitch’s former sideshow barker.  And unbeknownst to her, Harry has gotten involved in Mitch’s racket.

After Mitch gets picked up by the cops, Harry starts running the bootlegging business himself and helping himself to the profits.  When Mitch gets out of jail and finds out how Harry has been running things, he’s out for blood.  Mitch confronts Harry, but Harry shoots and kills Mitch.  Harry tries to get his girlfriend Myrtle (Joan Blondell) to cover for him with the police.  However, he tells the truth to his mother and she tries to frame Harrigan for the whole thing.  But what they don’t realize is that Jennie witnessed the confrontation between Harry and Mitch.

Sinners’ Holiday isn’t a terrible movie, but there are plenty of far better movies out there about bootleggers.  However, Sinners’ Holiday is very noteworthy for being the film debut of James Cagney.  Sinners’ Holiday was based on a play called “Penny Arcade,” which had a brief run on Broadway.  Cagney and Blondell were in the play together and even though the critics didn’t care for the show, they did like Cagney and Blondell.  As fate would have it, one of their admirers happened to be Al Jolson.  Jolson thought the story might work well as a movie so he bought the rights and sold them to Warner Brothers with the stipulation that Cagney and Blondell play the same roles they had in the stage version.

Even though the movie isn’t particularly great, it’s easy to see why Jolson made sure to insist on Cagney being included in the film version.  He is by far the biggest reason to watch Sinners’ Holiday.  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have even guessed that this was his film debut.  Not only does he get an extremely generous amount of screen time for someone who had never made a movie before, he plays the part as though he’d already been playing gangster types for years.  Not a bad way to get a start a movie career.

Havana Widows (1933)

Havana Widows After losing their jobs dancing in a chorus, Mae (Joan Blondell) and Sadie (Glenda Farrell) take some advice from one of their friends and head to Havana to meet rich men and snare them in breach of promise lawsuits.  But first they need money to get to Havana.  Mae decides to hit up Herman Brody (Allen Jenkins) for a loan, claiming she needs the money to go tend to her sick mother in Kansas.  He loans her the money, but since he doesn’t have the cash, he has to get a loan from his boss.  But before he can get the money to Mae and Sadie, Herman gambles the money away and gets involved in a convoluted scheme involving an insurance policy to cover the lost money.

Once Mae and Sadie make it to Havana, they pose as rich women and quickly meet Deacon Jones (Guy Kibbee).  Deacon Jones can’t hold his liquor and can’t afford to be involved in any scandals, so it seems like the perfect target!  Plus he has a son named Bob (Lyle Talbot), who catches Mae’s eye.  Unfortunately for Sadie and Mae, Bob doesn’t have any money of his own and they meet Deacon’s wife, so a breach of promise suit is out of the question.  But they can at least try to trap the Deacon in a scandalous situation and try to get money from him that way.

Meanwhile, Herman is getting into hot water over his insurance scheme and needs to find Mae and Sadie to get his money back.  When he finds out he’s been scammed, he hops on the next boat to Havana.  But when he arrives, he gets pulled into Sadie and Mae’s scheme to scandalize the Deacon so he can get his money back that way.  They cause a scandal all right, but it gets so out of hand that the Deacon can’t buy his way out of it.  In fact, the whole lot of them are court ordered to leave Cuba immediately.  But that’s okay, because everybody winds up happy in the end.

I can sum up Havana Widows in one word: convoluted.  But it’s convoluted in a way that only Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell could pull off.  Both Blondell and Farrell are so good at, well, being Blondell and Farrell, they can do just fine with such cockamamie material.  It’s nonsense, but it’s fun nonsense full of rapid-fire dialogue, wisecracks, and a good cast.

I’ve Got Your Number (1934)

I've Got Your Numbe 1934Terry Riley (Pat O’Brien) and Johnny (Allan Jenkins) are telephone repairmen who aren’t exactly known for being employees of the month.  But rather than fire them, their boss Joe Flood (Eugene Pallette) decides to send them out on the worst jobs the phone company gets.  Much to Joe’s dismay, the tough jobs actually work out well for Terry and Johnny.

When Terry is sent to a job at a burning building, he saves the life of prominent businessman John P. Schuyler (Henry O’Neill) and Schuyler tells Terry that if he ever needs a favor, don’t hesitate to ask.  When Terry and Johnny are sent to take the phone equipment from fortune teller Madame Francis (Glenda Farrell), they end up exposing her as a fraud, but she seduces Terry and Johnny soon starts dating her.

One day, Terry is later sent to the hotel where Marie Lawson (Joan Blondell) works as a switchboard operator.  Marie had inadvertently helped Nicky (Gordon Westcott) use the phone system to bilk another hotel guest out of a lot of money and the manager wants to see if the phone had been tapped.  When Terry doesn’t find a phone tap, Marie loses her job.  But Terry is extremely attracted to Marie and before he gets her fired, he asks her out and she turns him down.  That night, he messes with the phone at her apartment so he can come and fix it.  While he’s at it, he ruins her dinner so she has no other choice but to go out with him.  But that night, Marie starts to come around to Terry.  He even goes to see Schuyler about getting her a new job.

Marie is very happy at her new job, but her trouble from her old job soon catches up with her.  It doesn’t take long for Nicky to find out where she’s working and he uses her to pull a huge scam on her boss.  Once again, Marie is left holding the bag and this time, she’s in so much trouble the story makes the news.   But with their knowledge of the phone system, Terry and Johnny are able to save her.

For the most part, I really liked I’ve Got Your Number.  Like many pre-codes, it’s fast paced and full of snappy banter and innuendo. Some of its scenes are extremely pre-code.  My biggest complaint about it is that Glenda Farrell was way underused. In fact, her entire character was pretty irrelevant to the story.  They could have cut her character out all together and it wouldn’t have made a big difference.  Glenda Farrell is by far one of my favorite pre-code actresses, so to see her so underused in I’ve Got Your Number was very disappointing.  But luckily Joan Blondell and Pat O’Brien helped make up for the lack of Glenda Farrell.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

When advertising writer Rockwell P. Hunter (Tony Randall) finds his job on the line, he has one last chance to win over his agency’s biggest client, Stay-Put Lipstick.  When he sees actress Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) on television, he has a stroke of genius.  Rita is known for her “oh-so-kissable lips,” so having her endorse Stay-Put Lipstick would surely be a huge success.  The folks at Stay-Put Lipstick agree, so Rock sets out to get Rita to agree to endorse Stay-Put.

Luckily for Rock, Rita just happens to be in town trying to forget about her boyfriend Bobo (Mickey Hargitay).  She agrees to endorse Stay-Put, but only if Rock pretends to be her new boyfriend to make Bobo jealous.  Rock goes along with it, but nothing could prepare him for what happens next.  Bobo does, indeed, get jealous.  So jealous that he talks to the press about how Rita’s been running around with an ad exec named Rock Hunter, or as she calls him, “Lover Doll.”  Before he knows it, he’s all over the newspapers and Rita’s fans are clamoring to get a piece of him.  Rita gets a lot of great publicity out of it, but it isn’t all bad for Rock, either.  Not only does the whole world think he’s the greatest lover to ever walk the earth, he finally starts getting the recognition at work he’s wanted so badly.  But once he finds success, he isn’t sure if he really wants it.

One person not happy with this situation is Rock’s fiancée Jenny (Betsy Drake), who doesn’t believe Rock’s repeated assurances that he loves her, not Rita.  Desperate to not lose him, she begins trying to make herself more like Rita.  Meanwhile, Rita begins to actually fall for Rock and wants him to really be her boyfriend.  But her secretary Violet (Joan Blondell) knows her better than she knows herself and can see that she’s really just looking for a man to replace her one true love, George Schmidlap.

I can sum up Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? in two words: absolutely hilarious.  What Bombshell is to Jean Harlow, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is to Jayne Mansfield.  It bears very little resemblance to the stage play, but it does stand well on its own.  The first time I saw it, I wasn’t even planning to watch it at the time, but I happened to catch the first few minutes and it looked like so much fun that I didn’t want to turn it off.  Everyone’s performances were very entertaining, but Tony Randall was particularly hilarious.  Even though it’s a satire on television and advertising in the 1950s, a lot of the jokes have held up surprisingly well over time.  It’s just great fun.  And wait until you see who plays George Schmidlap!

What do “Bullets or Ballots” and “Footlight Parade” Have in Common?

1.  Both movies were made at Warner Brothers.

2.  Joan Blondell stars in both movies.

3.  Bullets or Ballots was directed by William Keighley, who is credited as being a dialogue director for Footlight Parade.

William Keighley with Bette Davis and James Cagney.

4.  A few costumes.  If you look closely at some of the showgirls’ costumes during Joan Blondell’s first scene in Bullets or Ballots, some of them might look familiar from the “By a Waterfall” number in Footlight Parade.

As seen in Footlight Parade (1933)

As seen in Bullets or Ballots (1936)