Monday, October 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Blondie Johnson (1933)

BLONDIE JOHNSON is a crackerjack pre-Code gangster drama starring Joan Blondell and Chester Morris at the top of their games.

Blondell plays the title character, a woman who's suffered through a hardscrabble life and decides she wants a lot of dough, and fast. She starts running cons with the help of a genial taxi driver (Sterling Holloway) and immediately attracts the attention of Danny Jones (Morris), a big shot with the local racketeers. Blondie and Danny form a business-only partnership to get ahead, although they periodically fight their attraction for one another.

There's plenty of mob violence, with head man Max (Arthur Vinton) feeling threatened by Danny and trying to bump him off, and Danny more successfully returning the favor. Eventually Blondie becomes head of the organization and is forced to make a critical decision regarding whether to put Danny or business first.

I've always liked Chester Morris, but this is an especially good role for him, admiringly and then affectionately telling Blondie on several occasions "You're a fresh dame!" Morris is very appealing in this one -- although he needs to lose the chewing gum when he's trying to kiss Blondie! The scene where he gives Blondie a bracelet is pretty hot stuff, I'm really not sure how she manages to keep their relationship on a business level at that point...

Blondell has a chance to show a wide range of emotion in the film, starting with some heartfelt, emotional dramatic scenes as the movie opens and viewers are given a peek at Blondie's tough background. Later she uses fake tears as a means of manipulation, whether she's conning a mark or a jury. The courtroom scene where Blondie puts on a performance so that the jury will set one of the gang (Allen Jenkins) free is about as pre-Code as you can get, with Blondie pretending to be Jenkins' pregnant fiancee who needs him to be declared innocent so he can marry her! Blondell is an absolute gem in this scene as the "girl in trouble."

Later in the film there's a powerful scene where Blondie is led to believe Danny has betrayed her and the organization, and her performance here is as good as anything Blondell ever did. Again, she's able to convey a great deal of emotion simply with her eyes.  She's simply terrific in this scene, and in the movie as a whole.

Allen Jenkins is always especially welcome in Warner Bros. movies, and it's also the kind of film where Blondie walks over to speak to a clerk and it's Charles Lane, in one of 13 films he appeared in released in 1933. Olin Howland is a mob hitman, and that's Sam McDaniel as the porter on the train.

One of the things I found especially interesting and refreshing about the movie is that one of the mobsters, Joe (Donald Kirke), has an Asian girlfriend (Toshi Mori), and their long-term interracial romance isn't made an issue in any way.

This fast-paced 67-minute film was directed by Ray Enright and the uncredited Lucien Hubbard from a script by Earl Baldwin. The cinematography was by Tony Gaudio, and the gowns were designed by Orry-Kelly.

This Warner Archive release is a very good print; the disc includes a trailer.

The movie can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies; the trailer can be viewed on the TCM website.

Highly recommended for fans of pre-Codes.

NOTE: A version of this review was posted at ClassicFlix in August 2013.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Charles Lane. Be still my heart. Sounds like a good one with a great cast.

6:06 AM  
Blogger redcon1 said...

Haven't seen Chester Morris in anything besides his enjoyable Boston Blackie roll. This sounds like a good introduction to other aspects of his career.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Citizen Screen said...

I've never seen this, Laura but sure do want to now!!

Great write-up as always!


2:02 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Chester Morris is just wonderful in the 1936 Three Godfathers. Lewis Stone and Walter Brennan with him. Despite Ford's earlier and later work on the same story this is the definitive version. About five years back TCM ran it. I didn't watch but Claude did. Without thinking much about anything I said something to the effect that he wasn't very good. Wonderful was her word and it is so. I bought the DVD. It is a treasure.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL, Jacqueline! He walks into a movie and I can't help smiling. He turned up in MOONRISE (1948) which I saw at UCLA a few days ago.

Redcon1, I've become a real Chester Morris fan in the last year or so. It's not on DVD yet but I also especially liked him in a '30s programmer called FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937).

Thanks, Aurora, I hope you check it out and enjoy it -- I'm guessing you're a cinch to enjoy it if you like Blondell and Morris. Let me know!

Barrylane, thank you for that feedback on Chester Morris in THREE GODFATHERS. I recorded it from TCM at some point but it is still in my mile-high "to watch" stack. Perhaps I'll try to do that this Christmas.

Best wishes,

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura, I started watching this on Saturday morning and finished it on Tuesday night so didn't want to read your review until then. I agree with your comment about the inter-racial relationship. And what a beauty the actress was. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen another film where the female becomes the boss of a protection organization ever! And with the ending, love vs. wealth being the winner, it was a wonderful pre-Code.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Caren!

I'm so glad you had the chance the watch this movie as well, and I'm very glad you took the time to stop by and share your thoughts on it. It's really an excellent film, with some unusual angles, which I hope more film fans will enjoy in the future.

Best wishes,

11:25 PM  

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