Blonde Crazy (1931)
“Jim’s back!… with a brand new line!”
Blonde Crazy (1931)
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern
Synopsis: Adventures of a cocky con man and his glamorous accomplice.
Blonde Crazy would have been just another early-talkie quickie if James Cagney (The Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties) and Joan Blondell (The Public Enemy) weren’t on hand to liven things up. The pint-sized Cagney breezes through the kind of role for which he would become famous: the tough, cocky, devil-may-care criminal who knows he’s likely to come to a bad end, but who’s determined to have his share of excitement before he does. Blondell, with whom Cagney had already appeared on screen four times since they arrived in Hollywood together the year before, provides a perfect foil for him: a sassy blonde without pretensions or illusions who knows exactly how to keep her partner in crime in line (usually with a brisk slap across the chops – I doubt Cagney ever got slapped in any other movie as often as he does in Blonde Crazy).
He plays small-time grafter Bert Harris, a bell-hop who arranges for Anne Roberts (Blondell) to win a job as a chambermaid at the hotel in which he works in the hopes that she’ll be willing to show her gratitude in one of its empty rooms. His feelings for her are only intensified when she puts him straight with a slap, and it’s not long before he talks her into conning $5,000 out of an amorous travelling businessman (Guy Kibbee – Mr Smith goes to Washington, 3 Godfathers) who has been making some unwelcome moves on her. Bert sees an even bigger opportunity when he’s invited to participate in a money-laundering scheme by fellow conman ‘Dapper’ Dan Barker (Louis Calhern – Heaven Can Wait), but, after persuading Anne to contribute all her earnings from their previous scam into the scheme, discovers he’s been had. Having learned his lesson, Bert determines to get his own back on Barker one day…
Blonde Crazy is built around the magnetism of its leading man, and was clearly tailored to make the most of Cagney’s spunk and charisma. He came to Hollywood just one year before, and was something of a contradiction: a quiet, cultured man, who possessed the toughness necessary to survive the gang culture of Hell’s Kitchen. He drew upon this upbringing to fashion a unique screen persona that saw him retain his popularity well into middle age. But in Blonde Crazy it’s the relationship he develops with Blondell that adds life to the movie. There’s a spark there which, if allowed to burn, could have seen them develop into one of Hollywood’s finest double acts. For some reason, the industry never saw it, and although they’d go on to appear together in another three films, the roles they were given never allowed them to strike the kind of sparks they do in Blonde Crazy. Had the plot for this movie been stronger, it could have been a classic, but having established Cagney as a star in The Public Enemy, it seemed that Warners were happy simply to profit from his name at the top of the cast list.
(Reviewed 17th August 2015)