Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Blonde Crazy" and the Art of Cagney

Fellow film scholars, I believe we can safely say that the 1931 film "Blonde Crazy" is the only one where this happens.


James Cagney's facemask is played by Joan Blondell's brassiere. 

"Blonde Crazy," released just a few months after Cagney made a hit in "Public Enemy," shows a more playful side of the pugnacious star. My favorite movie actors -- Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Cagney -- have their own distinctive physical style, a special way of carrying themselves. At least part of Cagney's inspiration, he once said, came from the hopheads he'd see in his lower East Side neighborhood. But beyond that, Cagney was light on his feet and used his hands to accent his every move. And his training as a dancer showed up at the darndest times:



It's not hard to imagine that at least part of "Blonde Crazy" was made up as they went along, especially the interplay between Cagney and the ever-present Blondell. They both came to Warner Bros. from the Broadway play "Sinners' Holiday" and made at least a dozen films together, lending their relationships an easy realism.

In "Blonde Crazy" Cagney is Bert, an enterprising hotel bellhop always interested in picking up a quick buck. He even keeps a scrapbook of con schemes for easy reference. He is what today's kids would call a "baller."

Blondell plays Anne, who goes to work in the same hotel and reluctantly joins Bert in fleecing folks such as a lecherous traveling salesman (Guy Kibbee). And before you can say "pyramid scheme" the pair is working a counterfeit racket with Dapper Dan Barker (Louis Calhern). But then Dapper Dan pulls a con of his own, and the victims are Bert and Anne.

But Bert doesn't want to admit he's been taken, so he works a con of his own. He lifts a diamond necklace from a ritzy store and then hocks it. (He calls the pawnbroker "three balls.")

Meanwhile, Anne is falling for a bond broker (a young Ray Milland) who's a bit of a noodle. He sends her books of poetry, much to Cagney's delight:



And when Anne learns that Dapper Dan has given Bert the shaft, she sets up a little con of her own -- one with echoes of "The Sting" that involves horse races, off-track betting and license plates:



Written by John Bright and Kubec Glasmon, the men behind "The Public Enemy," "Blonde Crazy" has a couple of neat little con games interwoven with the love story between Blondell and Cagney. By the end of "Blonde Crazy," Bert is the hero despite his larcenous ways, and he has won Anne by making a huge sacrifice for her. It's the typical Cagney formula -- a charming, tough, good-bad guy.

Who can dance.

And do this.



Here are the complete credits for "Blonde Crazy" and a trailer:

14 comments:

  1. Ha! That was as much fun to read as it is to watch.

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  2. That's the best opening I've ever seen! Love how physical Cagney is with the, uh, unmentionables, even to posing with them and fingering the lace. Enjoyed your post, thanks so much!

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  3. I love this film! It's a lot of fun to watch Cagney and Blondell interact so beautifully. The film gets a bit darker toward the end but this is a film that needs to be released on DVD so more folks can become familiar with it. Nicely done!

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  4. This film is a lot of fun and Cagney and Blondell make a great combination in it. I enjoyed your posting a lot. Agree with John that this one badly needs a DVD release! Judy

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  5. David, this is a film I wasn't aware of until you proposed it for the blogathon, but you sure make it sound appealing. The young Cagney as a smart-aleck conman sounds a real treat. And the clips you provided, especially the loops with Cagney and the underwear and with Cagney strutting across the room to open the door for Joan Blondell, sure piqued my curiosity. The presence of Guy Kibbee and patrician Louis Calhern are icing of the cake. I'm really pleased that the less known early Cagney films like this one are getting good coverage in the blogathon. Now all I have to do is wait until it shows up on home video or on TCM!

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  6. Well, you had me at the mama drawers! What a fun post - and that it completely fitting because Jimmy & Joan are just total fun in this tasty little treat. Thanks for the unmentionables!

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  7. Great read! What a way to start a post off!

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  8. This post is every bit as entertaining as "Blonde Crazy" itself. I have this one on VHS, and I think I may be re-watching it this weekend. A terrific post.

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  9. Oh, I hope I have a copy of this! I remember the beginning so well, the ending not so much. Not sure what happened there (but I suspect I pressed play too late to make it through). Great breezy post in the Cagney style right from summary teasing us over to it!

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  10. I had heard about that lingerie scene and now, at last, I got to watch it - several times! I hadn't seen anything of "Blonde Crazy" til this moment. Now I'm going to have to track it down. Enjoyed your post top to bottom, pure entertainment.

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  11. Great post ... especially with the video! Haven't seen the film but now you've piqued my curiosity :) Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I like that you called Ray Milland a "noodle". Fun post!

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  13. I'm so grateful to all of you for stopping by, and for your comments. I figured that if anyone deserved a GIF, it was Cagney. I love the idea of using modern technology to highlight films thought of as "old."

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  14. favorite cagney movie-captures him so well. an element that was only allowed to sneak mildly into later roles.

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