Thursday, September 5, 2013

Blondie (1938)




Based on the popular comic strip of the same name the Columbia Pictures produced film Blondie begins a new comedic series for the Hollywood studio who would turn out sequels at a massive pace. A B-movie starring small time actors Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake as a young middle class married couple, Blondie was picture that would have attracted audiences who recognized the title from the leaves in their funny pages. Complete with the shapely blond wife and her goofy, sandwich loving husband comes the first of many adventures of Blondie and Dagwood and the first motion picture of this silly couple.

Blondie is a comedy based on the popular comic strip of a young, married couple where they both attempt to secretly celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary with pricey gifts for each other, a pleasant notion if it were not for the husband possibly losing his job. Dagwood (Arthur Lake) is the bumbling, yet lovable, mid 20s, middle class man working to support his family which includes his young son Dagwood Jr., better known as “Baby Dumpling” (Larry Simms), and his loving housewife Blondie (Penny Singlton). Dagwood plans on buying his wife a new set of furniture as a secret anniversary gift, a concept planned secretly as well by Blondie. However, Dagwood needs a raise to afford his gesture, but happens to lose a big client for his company in C.P. Hazlip (Gene Lockhart), prompting his firing. Now Dagwood must do what he can to keep his family to falling into complete financial ruin. Of course, Dagwood happens to get C.P. on his side to help save his job, while Blondie is the brains behind her husband that gest Dag rehired with a significant pay raise.

The film is an lightly entertaining situational comedy picture complete with gags primarily seen in cheaper B-pictures. Aside from the blundering butt of most jokes in Dagwood, the motherly and well-ordered Blondie, the usual small child acting situations that could be likened to “Our Gang” material from Baby Dumpling, there is the family dog who shows emotion though pet trained tricks and cheap effects where his ears raise up in surprise. The plot would not be complete without a slew of supporting characters that allow Dagwood to dig himself into holes throughout. From a short comic strip that usually crammed one gag into three slides, Blondie is a picture that lasts nearly 70 minutes filled with little moments that would fit right at home within the comic strip on the Sunday funny page.

The production would be one of a small budget. Directed by a small time studio director in Frank R. Strayer, who has credits in various genres of picture from horror to sillier movies such as this, the film starred small time actors Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake. Singleton, a talent from various stages from vaudeville to nightclubs, heads the picture as its title character, playing a rather squeaky clean mother and wife who actually has the best grasp on things through the feature. Lake was an adolescent actor who had made it to very small roles in larger studio films. His performance of Dagwood makes the clumsy character look and sound rather inept, opening the door for Blondie to be the voice of reason and the unsung hero. His rather whinny performance embodies the character, which can be rather annoying at times, but really is meant to set up the problems that he spends the entire movie trying to fix.

In the a supporting role Gene Lockhart plays the businessman whom Dagwood befriends through an escapade attempting to repair a vacuum cleaner only to discover he is the client Dag is trying to reach. His performance seems to be rather crisp and well timed, that may be because he was a bit of a Renaissance man of the entertainment art; a teacher of acting, a professional author, and music writer.

Blondie is a moderate picture, very much lying in the category of a better than B-list film, but less than an A picture. The feature was meant to be just the first in a series of film based on the comic strip, bringing back audiences looking for a laugh and returning to see what Dagwood could possibly get himself into and how Blondie would deal with it. This would be a first in a long running tale of financial trouble for the comedic family which would be a common avenue for future episodes of couple. Over time there would be a total of 28 Blondie pictures, spanning to 1950. On average the studio would put out two or three Blondie’s a year as steady, small market revenue, making small time stars out of Singleton and Lake, keeping them busy for twelve years, although both never making it to major stardom beyond these roles

Singleton and Lake shared many years together on screen as Blondie and Dagwood.
The Blondie movies would find its way into a Blondie radio show, as well as a television series in the 1950s, furthering the adventures of Dagwood and Blondie, and the work of the actors. This feature, along with its various sequels would be re-edited into television show episodes, which would be rather simple since the story structure of the films closely resembles that of what television sitcoms would be like in the 1950s.

The motion picture of Blondie is nothing of merit when it comes to the cinematic arts. It does not make a major dent in the timeline of film history. Rather it is a jumping point for a rather honorable successful string of B-budget comedies that entertained many for decades moving from the silver screens of the local theater to the small screen in American homes in the decades to come. The director and stars would continue to work in the Blondie series for many years, because it paid the bills and brought them meager popularity. The series would typecast the two stars, but they did not seem to mind, because Blondie appeared to be rather well liked.


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