Bert Harris (James Cagney) is a hotel bellhop by day and runs gambling and bootlegging rackets by night. When Anne Roberts (Joan Blondell) shows up at the hotel looking for work, Bert knows Anne is exactly the kind of gal he needs working with him and manages to get her a job at the hotel even though the job has already been filled. He tries his best to win her over and she resists for a while, but eventually gets her to join his racket.
After the first time she helps him extort some money from a hotel guest, they go out to celebrate and Bert meets fellow con-artist Dan Barker (Louis Calhern). Dan and Bert start conspiring on a scam together, but it’s all a rouse to con Bert and Anne. When Bert realizes they’ve been ripped off, he and Anne go on a train to go after him, but Anne ends up meeting and falling in love with Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland). Bert has been head-over-heels in love with Anne since the day he met her, but Anne just isn’t as into the criminal lifestyle and thinks Joe is everything Bert isn’t. But after marrying Joe, Anne finds out he’s a lot more like Bert than she realized. Joe’s gotten himself into some serious trouble and the only person Anne can turn to for help is Bert.
I absolutely love Blonde Crazy. Cagney and Blondell are two of my favorite stars of the pre-code era and this is a perfect vehicle for them to do what they did best. They had the perfect energy for this kind of fast-paced movie with snappy banter.
The Definitive Pre-Code Moments
When Bert goes looking for money in Anne’s brassiere.
Anne doing a glorious job of shutting down a lecherous hotel guest.
Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code
It would be easier to list what isn’t pre-code about Blonde Crazy; it’s pretty much 79 minutes of non-stop pre-code action. Not only is it chock full of saucy and full of suggestive stuff, it does a great job of making Bert and Anne into characters you find yourself oddly rooting for and hoping they end up together despite the fact that they’re a con artist and an accomplice. Under the production code, it was a big deal that the audience wasn’t supposed to be able to root for criminals. Anne’s a little more conventionally sympathetic since she’s not as interested in the criminal lifestyle, but Bert is completely invested in it. Cagney brought so much energy and charisma to Bert (not to say that Blondell didn’t do the same for Anne), that it’s really hard to not to get wrapped up in all of that. He made it easy to forget you’re hoping a criminal gets the girl in the end.