The Best of Joan Blondell
I could have added another 10 or more titles to this list. I just like Joan Blondell in everything she does. While I like her spunky characters more in Night Nurse or Three on a Match, those aren't "her" movies, she is a supporting character; a wonderful, can't take your eyes off her supporting character, but a supporting character nonetheless. With that in mind, then I choose Blonde Crazy as my favorite of her movies because she's definitely the co-lead and the movie really exposes every bit of her charm and bubbly personality. She is also the only actress I've ever seen who can go toe to toe with the scene stealing dynamo James Cagney. As 2 chiselers on the lamb, Blondell & Cagney are perfectly matched, as they would be in 6 other films. It's as if they had their own internal dialogue with each other that makes it's presence know in winks, nods, ticks & nonsensical gestures. Night Nurse is a quirky movie overall, with Joan's sidekick character Maloney providing levity and earthiness to the crazy, mixed up world of child abuse, rape, alcoholism, neglect and the most dastardly chauffer in all moviedom (Clark Gable). Night Nurse is all pre-code goodness, with Barbara Stanwyck in a fantastic performance. In Blondie Johnson, Joan's title character flips pre-code conventions on their head by using her brains, not her body to take on the mod & win! Her transformation from clueless hick to knowing con-artist is a thing to behold and her taxi cab scam with fantastic character actor Sterling Holloway is a fun bit of stage manners on Joan's part. Much like Night Nurse is Stanwyck's picture, Three on a Match is best known for Ann Dvorak's impassioned performance as a mother spiraling into drug addiction & suicide, but Joan's turn as the wise cracking chorus girl turned step mother of the year shows her range and depth as an actress. She is funny, but not cloying; she is sincere without being maudlin. In Miss Pinkerton, she maintains her consistent spunk and charm, but doubles it as an undercover amateur sleuth helping to solve a murder. The 3 Musicals at #8 are all classics in their own rights, and none of them is dominated by Blondell, but they are each made much better because of her. She adds humor and imagination in all 3 playing chorus girls with brains & attitude. Her plaintive opening for the show stopping "Remember my Forgotten Man" in Gold Diggers of 1933 adds a poinnant capstone to the Depression era classic. While she was never much of a dancer & frightened director Busby Berkeley as a singer, she nonetheless gave the beginning of the song a depth that a more polished singer couldn't have carried off (later parts were sung by another singer. To cap off her Pre-Code Era films Public Enemy is in a class by itself. One of 4 of her top 10 Films made in 1931, it is also the movie that captivated movie goers like no other, with it's mix of violence and bravado in spades performance by James Cagney. Blondell's turn as his girlfriend isn't a big part, but she makes the most of it with her usual snappy readings and always fetching appearance. Here, as in many of Blondell's films, its not the amount of time on screen, but what she does with it that makes her so memorable. The screen lights up whenever she appears and you have to watch her until she leaves. It's an amazing gift.
Her effervescence captivated audiences in the '30's, but Joan Blondell was not just a pretty face. She had a long and varied career that lasted into the '70's (check out her bio above), so it shouldn't be a surprise that 2 of her best performances came in the 1940's with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Nightmare Alley. She always seemed comfortable in her own skin and both of these performances show an actress willing to give up her glamour to take on a character role. Her Aunt Sissy, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has the same spunk and charm as her earlier roles, but hidden within a middle age body and with a world weariness and frustrated longing that was absent in the 1930's. She's what some of her Pre-code characters may have become if they'd had a family and she'd lived to love them. Similarly, her Zeena Crumbein , in Nightmare Alley, is a schemer of the highest order, more similar to Blondie than not, but on the downside of life. Both performances reflect the growth of Blondell as a performer and her willingness to adapt to what her audience wanted. When she was nominated for her only Oscar in 1951 for The Blue Veil (a film I have not seen), I believe it had to be a career achievement of sorts because Blondell had been consistently good for more than 2 decades.
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