Blonde Crazy (1931) Del Ruth


    Over the years, there have been plenty of movies about grifters, confidence men, scam artist and flim flam men. Think David Mamet’s “House of  Games”, Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise”, “The Grifters”, “Confidence”, “The Flim Flam Man” and “The Sting” just to name a few. An early entry in this sub genre, just to give it a category, is Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 film “Blonde Crazy.” Starring James Cagney, who would play a scam artist again a couple of years later in Merlyn LeRoy’s “Hard to Handle”,  and Joan Blondell along with Louis Calhern and Noel Francis, “Blonde Crazy” is a lively, witty and entertaining piece of pre-code cinema that is enhanced by the screen chemistry of its two stars.

    Fresh off his career-making role in “The Public Enemy” Cagney is Bert Harris, a bellhop and small time grifter working in a hotel in a small mid-western town. In walks Anne Roberts (Joan Blondell) looking for a job as a chambermaid. Bert eyes her lasciviously and decides it worth having her around. He arranges for the last recently filled chambermaid position to be vacated and for Ann to get the position. Looking for Ann to be ever so grateful, he arranges for her to come up to an empty room in the hotel so they can be along and she can demonstrate just how thankful she is.  Instead, Bert gets a slap in his face, one of many he will receive from Ann.

 01westlake_6501   Despite Bert’s fresh attitude Ann soon hooks up with him and do their first con together scamming a hotel guest. They soon are off to a big Midwestern city where they meet Dapper Dan Barber (Louis Calhern) and Helen (Noel Francis) two big time con artists they team up with only to be swindled out of five thousand dollars by both of them.  Ann meets rich Wall Street investor Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland)  who is everything Bert is not, successful in an honest job, has friends who are into the arts. Joe is the kind of guy Ann would like to settle down with. However, there is a score to settle with Dapper Dan, and Ann comes up with a successful sting of her own that will get their money back from him.  Bert now wants to marry Ann, but she has fallen in love with Joe. They soon marry while Bert looks on.

    One year later Bert is living in a small apartment when there’s a knock on the door. It’s Ann, and it seems that honest Joe is not that law-abiding. Ann explains that Joe has embezzled thirty thousand dollars in unregistered bonds from his company.  Ann wants to borrow money from Bert so Joe can pay back the firm. Only problems is, Bert is broke. After Ann married Joe, Bert quit grifting. Still stuck on Ann he comes up with a plan to help her husband only to be double-crossed by Joe when he notifies the police and Bert is caught in the act and arrested. Ann realizing she is love with Joe, who now faces years behind bars, swears her love and promising she will wait for him.   

   blondecraz Up until the phony happy ending “Blonde Crazy” is unencumbered by censorship. There’s plenty of spicy dialogue delivered by many in the cast. Racy scenes include Cagney ogling Blondell’s body when she first arrives at the hotel looking for work, Blondell discreetly naked taking a bath giving the audience, if not Cagney, a partial view of the right side of her breast. We also have Cagney inspecting Blondell’s panties and bra to find where she hides her money (in her bra). Considering all this, why the filmmakers felt that Cagney had to pay for his sins with jail time is a mystery and Blondell as the woman promising to wait for him has been done so many times since it has become a cliché. Despite this, the film is a real pleasure to watch. Cagney and Blondell, in their fourth of seven films they made together are a perfect match as comfortable together as a pair of well-worn shoes. I don’t think the fast talking Cagney ever had a better match than the wise cracking sassy Joan Blondell.

    The Cagney persona that became so recognized was not yet fully developed at this point in his career. There are scenes early in the film that seem a little off kilter coming from Mr. Cagney. For example, the first half or so of the film is comedic and Cagney’s character, Bert, keeps greeting the ladies with a loud uncharacteristic “Hello Honeeeeeey!”  Later in the film, as it turns more serious, shades of the Cagney persona emerge that we know so well. This does not deter from the film, it is more just an interesting point as you watch Cagney’s career and persona develop from these early films to the classic Cagney we know so well.  

    Written by the team of Kubee Glasmon and John Bright who also wrote or had a hand in writing  “The Public Enemy”, Three on a Match”, “Smart Money”, “Union Depot”, “Taxi” and “The Crowd Roars”, all films that costarred both or at least either Cagney and Blondell. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, one of Warner Brother’s studio directors the film is solidly made. Del Ruth made some of his best films during the pre code period under the Warner Brothers banner. Later in his career, his films became more uneven with atrocious work like “The Babe Ruth Story” and “The Alligator People” mixed in somewhat more successful films like “West Point Story” and a lot of TV work. 

  blondecrazy-still1  “Blonde Crazy” opened in New York at the Strand Theater on Broadway in early December and was a triumph at the box office guaranteeing Cagney’s and Blondell’s continued success. According Matthew Kennedy in his recent biography “Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes” Blondell, like Cagney, went from one film to another with little or no breaks in between. The Warner Brothers ran their studio like a factory. In just over a year since she was signed to a contract, Joan made twelve movies! Cagney, a huge star now with the success of “The Public Enemy” decided that after “Blonde Crazy” he wanted more money than his current contract with Warners was paying. When Warners refused, he walked out on his contract. Again, according to Matthew Kennedy, Cagney told Blondell she should do the same thing and demand more money. Insecure with no hit under her belt the size of “The Public Enemy” and responsible for supporting her family, Blondell stayed and continued to work. Cagney would return with a huge increase in pay while Joan continued to receive her contracted salary.    

    “Blonde Crazy” was released on VHS years ago as part of the “Forbidden Hollywood” series that came out in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, there is no sign of a DVD release. Maybe, if we are lucky some creative studio executive with get a brilliant idea and release a box set of Cagney/Blondell films, all seven of them!



9 comments on “Blonde Crazy (1931) Del Ruth

  1. Judy says:

    Hi John, enjoyed your review a lot – I’m glad you liked this movie as I’m very fond of it. There’s so much chemistry between Cagney and Blondell and they seem to be having a lot of fun all through.

    I’d definitely buy that box set of their movies together if it became a reality – the next ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ box set is all William Wellman films, including Cagney in ‘Other Men’s Women’, so maybe they could follow that up with Blondell and Cagney!

    Is the Kennedy biography of Blondell good? I was tempted by it on a visit to the BFI bookshop in London, but it is very expensive…


  2. John Greco says:

    Judy – Maybe if we pray to the film gods our dream would come true. There must be a market for a Cagney and Blondell box set, they made so many good films together.

    I enjoyed the Blondell biography. I got the book from here in the States. It was discounted to $21.90 from a list price of $30. Not sure what that translates to in pounds. You may want to check out my review of the book I wrote a while back.


  3. John Greco says:

    Hey Judy,
    You mention that BFI has their own bookshop. That must be great! Back in the 1970’s when I lived in New York City there was a bookstore called “Cinemabilia” in Greenwich Village that dealt exclusively with film books and other film memorabilia. They even carried imported film books from England, many of which were not published here it the States.


  4. Judy says:

    Hi John, I’ve now read your review of the Blondell biography – thanks, it sounds like a good read and I am more tempted than ever now. A shame that she had so many problems in her life as she usually seems so positive and full of energy in her films. As well as the Cagney films I’ve seen her in, I also enjoyed watching her with Hepburn and Tracy in ‘Desk Set’.

    The BFI shop actually sells DVDs and movie-themed gifts etc as well as books, some of which are published by the BFI itself – I’ve only been there once but will definitely go back. (Visitors can also see shorts, vintage ads and even some whole movies on small screens in the institute if you book them for a couple of hours!) It’s largely geared to British films, as you’d expect, but does have some American imports.


  5. John Greco says:

    Blondell never seemed to have found happiness in her marriages and it seems she spent her life supporting family. One of my many favorite films is “The Cincinnati Kid” from the mid 1960’s which starred Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret, which at the time were the two reasons I wanted to see the film. In supporting roles were Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson reunited for the first time since their Warner Brothers days when they made Bullets or Ballots in 1936.

    At the time, as a teenager, I did not appreciate these two fine actors or the significance in their pairing. There is a scene, an important card game, where they see each other for the the first time in what must have been a long period and when they greet each other, you get the sensation that reel life and real life are overlapping.

    If I ever get to London again I am going to have to check out the BFI shop.


  6. Judy says:

    As chance would have it, ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ is on TCM in the UK on Saturday – I didn’t realise it featured Robinson and Blondell, so thanks for the tip. I recently saw ‘Bullets or Ballots’ so am very interested to see this reunion and will record the film.


  7. John Greco says:

    It’s a terrific movie, similar to “The Hustler” though not as complex. In addition to McQueen, Ann-Margret, Blondell & Robinson, the cast includes Tuesday Weld (very underrated actress), Karl Malden, Rip Torn, Cab Calloway, Jack Weston and Jeff Corey. Interesting side note is that the film, directed by Norman Jewison, was orginally started with Sam Peckinpah in the director’s seat. He apparently filmed a nude scene (not with one of the stars) and was fired. This was 1965 and nudity was still a no-no in the U.S. cinema, though “The Pawnbroker” released that same year would break the barrier. Hal Ashby, another fine director, was the film editor. He and Jewison worked on a number of films together before Ashby went out on his own.
    I hope you enjoy it. I would be interested in hearing your opinion.


  8. […] While it took awhile for Warner Archive (and myself!) to get to this title, it's long been a favorite of classic film fans and is the subject of reviews from many familiar classic film bloggers. For more on this title here's coverage from: The Hollywood Revue, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, moviediva,, and Twenty Four Frames. […]


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