Friday, April 3, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 5: BLONDIE

Hard to believe that after a year hiatus on this subject, I'm giving you two in a row. I thought this would be the hardest for two reasons: availability and viewing pleasure. Thanks to Youtube, I watched this for free, as well as a few others in the series.

I remember seeing these at various times on WTCG/WTBS from Atlanta, and later on they were run on KSPR in Springfield, MO on Sunday afternoon. I was afraid that seeing this again after all those years would I would say to myself, "This sucks! I thought this was so wonderful in my childhood. I must have been a moron!" Truth is, I enjoyed seeing this again.

The 1938 film, Blondie, was the beginning of a long running series of films based on the popular comic strip, that is still in newspapers today. Most of the movies I've reviewed have been based on continuity strips rather than gag-a-day comic strips. The fact is Blondie started out as a continuity strip and also part of a short lived fad called "pretty girl" strips. She was a ditzy blonde flapper, who liked to party. I realize I'm going to upset some people with this next statement, but the "pretty girl" comic strips were the 20's version of some of the reality shows on cable TV.  Before we had Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, Lauren Conrad, the Kardashians, and the girls of Jersey Shore, the funny papers had Tillie the Toiler, Winnie Winkle, Boots and Her Buddies, Dixie Dugan, Ella Cinders and Dumb Dora. Several of these characters were drawn to look like actress Louise Brooks, just as Valentina would later.

Blondie, as well as another strip, Fritzi Ritzi, were part of this trend but survived long after because they were revamped. Fritzi Ritzi was joined by a little niece named Nancy, who became the focus of the strip. Under the name Nancy, the comic strip is still popular to this day.

From the first day of the strip Blondie was in love with a somewhat clumsy and goofy son of a railroad magnet named Dagwood Bumstead. When they finally married, Dagwood's father disowned him. From that moment until today, Blondie became the smart and well-grounded one in the relationship. It also dropped the continuing storyline for the gag-a-day format that it has today.

Blondie is played by the lovely Penny Singleton. Close your eyes during one of these movies and listen to her voice. If it sounds familiar, it is because she was later the voice of Jane Jetson on The Jetsons. She is very convincing as a beautiful young woman, who would do anything for her doofus husband.

Speaking of doofus husband, Hollywood could not have found a better actor to play Dagwood than Arthur Lake. His head is shaped like Dagwood's head is shaped in the funnies. Lake paved for actors such as Buster Crabbe, Tom Tyler, Ralph Byrd, Sam J. Jones, and, more recently, Ryan Reynolds and Ben Afleck to play more than one comic strip/book character in the movies. Lake had played Harold Teen in a silent movie of that popular comic strip.

However, the movie is stolen by Larry Simms, a four year old playing Baby Dumpling (now known in the comic strip as Alexander). He is hilarious in this first film and rather good in the others that I sampled. I'm sure some would be upset with a scene where he bashes a neighbor kid in the head with a large brick (Off camera, but still the suggestion would upset people).

This movies sets up a formula that worked in the rest of the series. Dagwood gets in trouble with Mr. Dithers (Johnathan Hale), who eventually fires him, then Dagwood gets involved in some other mess trying to win his job back, meets a beautiful woman, Blondie becomes jealous, but she eventually saves the Dagwood's butt.

The movies were made from 1938 to 1950. They were re-released to the theaters for several year and then syndicated to TV with an opening theme song, featuring two unknown singers, were added over the original credits. Also the opening featured a clip of Dagwood crashing into Postman Beasley and his yell "BBBLLLOOOONN-DDDEEEEE!," which may have been from the radio show, since Lake and Singleton played Blondie and Dagwood radio too.

Besides Dagwood running late and smashing into Postman Beasley, there is an appearance of one of Dagwood's famous sandwiches. One thing changed from the comic strip was Blondie's maiden name. In the movie, her mother and sister have the last name of Miller. In the comics, Blondie's family name was Boopadoop. Sometimes movies change things about comics for the best.

My only problem with this movie is an appearance by my least favorite actor of all-time, Willie Best. Ugh!

The Blondie film series is the forerunner of many of the early TV sitcoms. The humor and situations are identical. I realize someone reading this will go into one of those rants about "If only we had movies like this today the world would be a better place." Well, brace yourself for this, but in the early 90s, the artist behind Blondie, Dean Young (son of the strip's creator Chic Young), decided to update the strips look and content in the 90s. For many years, everything in the strip was drawn the same as it was when these movies were made, which may have been why they were still popular for years after their original run. From the 90s on the characters used cell phones and computers. Blondie wears slacks and started a catering business with her friend, Tootsie. Baby Dumpling now works at a fast food joint called Burger Barn. He and his sister listen to hip-hop. Yes, folks change has to come, so GET OVER IT!!!

As I mention, this film and most of the other films in the series are available on YouTube. The only trailer I could find is either from a re-release of the 50s or a TV promo for Blondie On a Budget. It is obviously a re-release because the voice over is by comedian Eddie Lawrence, who didn't become famous until the mid-50s and Rita Hayworth was not a major "promotable" star when this film came out. 

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