Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Joan Blondell

Turner has been running Joan Blondell movies for the past week and it's been particularly interesting for me because by the early Fifties when I first became aware of actors as actors Blondell was past her Hwood prime. She spent the last three decades of her life doing more television than anything, and usually playing the knowing but not quite cynical older woman whose wisdom comforts young women and whose loveless life gives her a sense of nightclub melancholy.

I've now seen three of her movies from the Thirties and she was damned fine in every one of them. In Three On A Match she's cast as a working girl fighting her way through the Depression along with a very young and prim Betty Davis. The Third of the title is Ann Dvorak in a wild and finally savage performance that she considered the finest of her career. In Night Nurse she plays Barbara Stanwyck's best friend. The working class element here is played up. Stanwyck has trouble getting into nursing school because she hasn't finished high school. In both Blondell is the sarcastic but loyal friend of the star.

Though she made dozens of movies, she was frequently cast in the sidekick role so I was interested to see how she'd do as the co-star of a comedy mystery with no less than Melvin Douglas, one of the finest actors in Hwood history.

The name of the picture is There's Always A Woman. After I saw it I went to IMDB to read up on its history. Included in the long review is the following: One warning: those who are sensitive to any allusion to spousal physical abuse, however playful, will not enjoy this movie.)

I laughed out loud when I saw that.

There's Always a Woman is about an investigator for the DA's office (Douglas) who lets his wife (Blondell) convince him that he could do better as a private detective on his own. The movie opens with Douglas about to be evicted from his office. He is broke. His detective agency was a bust. He will no longer listen to Blondell who begs him to give it a little more time. But no he says and heads straight to the DA's office to beg for his job back. Meanwhile a woman straight out of Raymond Chandler (beautifully played by Mary Astor) appears and asks for the detective. She wants a woman followed--a woman she suspects is trying to steal her husband. Blondell, who is tired of Douglas demanding that she stay home and be a housewife, listens and says she's the detective. And takes the case. But this isn't Lucy Ricardo. Blondell lies, bullies, entraps and falsifies evidence without any qualm. She's quite charming while she's doing all this but if you hesitate for even a moment you realize she's really menace. But a damned funny one.

This is a great screwball comedy with a whodunit thrown in. It is also shocking in its way. Douglas is hired to solve the case for the DA but Blondell wants to solve it first. The race is played with great comic gusto and more physical interplay between a man and a woman I've ever seen. Though Blondell is very glamorous here with numerous chic outfits and hairdos, she and Douglas go at it every few minutes. And not just verbally (though some of Douglas' zingers are wonderful). No, throughout the movie they are constantly kicking, stomping, shoving, kidney punching, elbowing, jabbing, poking and prodding each other. And she's frequently giving it to him first and hardest. I'm not sure I'd like a relationship like that but the pounding these two give each other kept me laughing for the entire 86 minutes. Again I've never seen anything like it.

One of the many reasons to be thankful for Turner is that you get to discover not just actors but careers. Blondell was a very good actress and certainly worthy of Turner's recent retrospective.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Tomorrow looks like a great day for crime movie lovers.

Iren said...

I love Joan, she was great in Gold diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade if you are looking for more of her early work to check out.

Vince said...

I'm kicking myself for missing this one. And I go over their schedule so thoroughly.

Craig Clarke said...

Blondell is also terrific in The Crowd Roars (with James Cagney) and Union Depot (with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). She wrote an autobiographical novel called Center Door Fancy, and it's a great read.

Anonymous said...

I wish Turner would do a Barbara Nichols retrospective. She died young, and mostly played floozies, which she did with unmatched aplomb.