Blondie Johnson (1933) Ray Enright

At a running time of 67 minutes one sits there wishing it was longer. This pre-code film gives Joan Blondell one of the rare opportunities to have a leading role and she takes it to the hilt. Though released in 1933, Virginia “Blondie” Johnson comes across as a 21st century woman, a prototype of today’s female using her intelligence and wit to climb to the top, in this case the mob world. On the surface the film may seem like just another rags to riches story, though on the wrong side of the track (this is a Warner Brothers film after all). 

Set during the depression, Blondie is forced to quit her job instead of succumbing to having sex with her lecherous boss. She and her sickly mother have recently been tossed out of their apartment and are living in the back of a drug store thanks to a friendly pharmacist. In addition, her younger sister recently died at the hands of an abortionist at the age of 15. When she comes back from the Welfare office failing to get some financial help, discovering there are a lot of people more desparate than herself, she finds Mom is dying. A priest consoles her by telling Blondie she should get a job and move on. Incredulously Blondie looks at the Priest and tells him there are 100 people for every one job. She then and there promises herself to never be poor again. The Priest reminds her there are two ways to make money. “Yeah,” Blondie says, “the hard way and the easy way,” Blondie is taking the easy way. The Priest looks on shocked.

Blondie moves to the big city. Her plan begins with small time scams until she hooks up with racketeer Danny Jones (Chester Morris), the number two man in town just under Mr. Big, Max Wagner (Arthur Vinton). For Blondie, money is the top priority, men are a distant second. When Danny makes a move on her, she brushes him off telling him she wants to keep it all strictly business.

Max suspects Danny is trying to take over the organization and makes a failed attempt on his life. Danny and his boys soon retaliate and are more successful in bumping Max off.  Danny is now running the organization, until he starts to get too big for his britches and Blondie reminds him it was all her ideas that got him to where he is today. The boys support Blondie and squeeze Danny out. Blondie now runs the organization.  Once at the top, like all bosses she has some difficult decisions to make, in this case okaying a “hit” on Danny when the boys suspect Danny, in retaliation, squealed to the police.

What makes the film truly memorable is Joan Blondell. Sexy, sassy and sumptuous, the lady deserved to have been more of a leading lady than playing second female lead as she did for most of her career. Always able to deliver lines with a feisty cynical tone, here she is given a sharp script with plenty of good lines.”I got plans, big plans, and the one thing that doesn’t fit in them is pants” she tells Danny when he tries to put a move on her. The film has been correctly praised for Blondell’s portrayal of a tough independent woman who refuses to use sex as a stepping stone. She instead uses her intelligent and wit to climb her way to the top.

The cast also includes Warner favorite Allan Jenkins along with Mae Busch, Clare Dodd and Sterling Halloway.  But let’s face it,the film belongs to Joan Blondell as a strong determined woman who knows what she wants and how she is going to get it. The film’s biggest flaw’s are in the male casting of Chester Morris and Arthur Wagner. Morris’ role cries out for James Cagney. Blondell and Cagney had a severe case of chemistry, totaling lacking between Morris and Blondell. The role of Max would have been better served by a young Humphrey Bogart, in fact the role begs for Bogie. The one other thing that drags the film down a notch is the sappy ending as we see the two lovers in handcuffs pledging their love for each other and the promise to wait as they are about to serve the time for the crime.

13 comments on “Blondie Johnson (1933) Ray Enright

  1. Dave Crosby says:

    Good heavens, John. Who wrote this script? Mae West?

    But seriously, this sounds like a bold, brash movie that would never have made it past the censors’ pencils. I hope I can find it on a disk. Thanks for the nicely written cue.

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    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      A year later and some dialogue would have never gotten passed the censors. The film was recently released on DVD via Warner Archive Collection.

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  2. Chris, a librarian says:

    Sexy, sassy and sumptuous…I agree completely. Will try to find this film.

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  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dhanabir Singh Th., Classic Film Reader. Classic Film Reader said: Twenty Four Frames – Blondie Johnson (1933) Ray Enright http://bit.ly/idhlkE […]

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  4. Sam Juliano says:

    And that’s bad news for my pocket John! Ha! Just kidding. I collect all worthy Warners Archives titles, and will add thi sone on. You make it clear here with your customary erudition and engaging reagrd that Blondell is worthe the price of a ticket alone so to speak. Yes, I would agree just looking here from the outside that either Cagney or Bogart would have given the male roles the kind of dynamism they lacked in this casting. Too bad a sappy ending intrudes, but it’s looks like time well spent here.

    John, as I write this the NYC area is in the height of a blizzard that may drop a foot before it’s all over tomorrow morning. I’m sure you recall the good old days, no?

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    • John Greco says:

      Sam ,

      It is a good film and Blondell really shines here. Cagney and Bogart would have enhanced the value but it is still a good watch.

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  5. Judy says:

    Great review, John – this sounds like a great role for Blondell, and good to see her having a lead role for a change instead of playing second fiddle, as you say. I don’t think I’ve seen much, if anything, with Chester Morris, but, looking him up on the imdb, he had an amazing career with more than 120 movies, even if he is miscast in this one!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Judy. Morris made a lot of B movies and starred in a series of films as Boston Blackie, a Private Eye. He is actually pretty good in the role (I have a few of the films that have popped up on TCM once and a while). Though they were set up a second features, most are decent mainly because COlumbia Studio used some decent directors like Robert FLorey and Edward Dymtryk during the early days of their careers.

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  6. I have always been a huge fan of Blondell, and am so happy to see this review of a film that clearly seems to play to her strengths and gives her room to run. I must see this – what a novelty, a woman mob boss! Thanks, John, for the heads up!

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks for stopping by Marilyn and as Blondell fan I am sure you would find this film intriguing. A film that in some ways was way ahead of its time.

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  7. […] at Twenty Four Frames John Greco talks about how modern Blondie is as well as Blondell’s excellent Blondell […]

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