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Monday, July 04, 2022

Morality Put Through Precode Wringer

 


Blondie Johnson (1933) Takes More Than Expected Liberties


Joan Blondell is a distaff Little Caesar, "a new kind of Gold Digger," so says the trailer, but Gold Diggers didn't engineer murders as does Blondie here, even if opening hardship appears to justify whatever the title character must do to get by. Warners' was a skewed morality before Code enforcement spelled rules out for them. As with Cagney in Lady Killer, where's need of halting fun just because a victim "croaks"? There was mindset to effect that survival necessarily meant collateral damage, up to and including death to those that have it coming or sometimes ones that don't. We're not to lose sympathy with Blondell even when she engineers a rival gangster's machine-gunning, it settled that whatever stretch she draws will pass quick and barely blip the happy end with fellow criminal Chester Morris. Maybe moral watchdogs had at least something of a point.



"Hard-Hearted But Sweet As Sin" was advertising's apt describe of Blondell and precode sin that was sweet indeed, even where lives were forfeited. WB's essential message was that "nothing matters but dough," and at bottom of a Depression from which Blondie Johnson sprung (released 2/33), wasn't that everyone's take? Could be, but probably not, as many civilians rejected cynicism and world-weariness of ones who wrote rules of precode and precept of no rules except keeping ahead of the other fellow. Such artists represented anything but a mainstream, but we identify with them, not chumps whose change they leeched for privilege of seeing Blondie Johnson. What got obscured by pace and patter was Blondell intensity in early establishing poverty that drives her to crime; Bette Davis at Academy-prime could not have done these scenes better. And to think Blondell rated herself below capacity to play high drama. Maybe she knew that in a long run, that was less entertaining. She had come from vaudeville, where they understood getting on and off quick, and to amuse in the doing, purest essence of any act, or any art for that matter. Whatever glimpse we got of Blondell's dramatic gifts would be just that --- then on to a next set-up. By these measures, she may have been the best actress WB ever had.

4 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

In 1944, Joan Blondell had my father-in-law to her home for dinner. The other guest was Chester Morris.

6:58 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

This is one I need to see. In my experience Joan Blondell was always the good girl with a bad girl's knowledge of the world, there to protect innocents like Ruby Keeler, and/or rescue susceptible lugs from genuine bad girls.

3:34 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Didn't Cagney refer to her in his autobiography as the world's most sophisticated virgin? She gets my vote as the hardest working actress at Warners, and the solid foundation for most of her films.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:30 PM  

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