Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


James and Olivia
THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (1941). Director: Raoul Walsh.

In old time New York, Biff Grimes (James Cagney) is a struggling dentist with a wife, Amy (Olivia de Havilland). He gets word that there's a man, Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson), who has such a severe toothache that he needs to come by on a Sunday and he can name his price. When Biff finds out who his patient is, his mind goes back to years ago. Most of the film consists of a a long flashback that explains why he has good reason to hate the man. Will Hugo get a lethal dose of laughing gas? The Strawberry Blonde is an odd comedy-drama with scenes of low comedy blended not so felicitously with more dramatic ones, and coming up short as a whole. The acting helps put it over: Cagney. playing yet another rather unsympathetic character, is full of his trademark bluster and charisma. De Havilland [Libel] is lovely and generally expert in her portrayal of the woman that Biff first despises. Scoring very big is Rita Hayworth [Salome] as Virginia, the woman Biff had originally wanted but who was stolen by Hugo; as a married couple who hate each other both Hayworth and Carson [The Groom Wore Spurs] are very effective, with the former giving a particularly adept performance (there's more to Hayworth than just sex appeal).Alan Hale, Una O'Connor, and George Reeves are also good as Biff's father, a neighbor lady, and a college boy that Biff has a quarrel with. A big problem with Blonde is that there are just too many really stupid moments, many of them consisting of scenes crafted to show off Cagney's aging tough guy image, including a ridiculous scene when he beats up several college boys at once -- sure! Since most of the film takes place some years in the past, Cagney at 42 is too old to be entirely convincing in the role as well. Still, the movie is fast-paced and unpredictable, and does have a few funny scenes, such as the Grimes and Barnsteads first encounter with spaghetti at the dinner table. The film's main strength is in how it gets across how relationships can turn out far differently than you expected, and in how one's heartbreak over another, initially devastating, often turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. This is a remake of One Sunday Afternoon, with Gary Cooper playing Biff. A musical version in 1948 cast Dennis Morgan as Biff! Raoul Walsh directed that version as well.

Verdict: A little too odd but certainly different. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

You're right, this is an odd and unusual film, and Cagney plays a very vulnerable character, a rarity for him. he is wonderful though! Also love Olivia and Rita Hayworth in support. Those Gay '90s-themed movies were all the rage in the early 1940s before the war!

William said...

Yes, they did a number of them. Very good cast in this.