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REMEMBER MY FORGOTTEN BLONDE? SO DOES MOMA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody who ever saw and heard Joan Blondell belt out “Remember My Forgotten Man” in the Depression-era musical “Gold Diggers of 1933” or delighted in her sexy wisecracking with James Cagney, Dick Powell, Warren William and other Warner Bros. tough guys and swells of the thirties could possibly forget the sassy, softhearted blonde.


Now, thanks to the film department of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, audiences will have a chance to rediscover several early Blondell musicals, comedies and dramas, as well as some of the star’s later films. Below, courtesy of MOMA, the details on "JOAN BLONDELL: THE BOMBSHELL FROM NINETY-FIRST STREET," which runs from December 19 through the end of the year. For more information about this series and other MOMA screenings, click here. To read Guy Flatley’s 1977 interview with Blondell, click here; for Guy’s 1971 interview with Blondell’s occasional co-star Ruby Keeler, click here; for his 1969 interview with her frequent partner-in-mischief Glenda Farrell, click here.

 

Joan Blondell (1906–1979) was illustrative of the strengths of the Hollywood studio system. Never getting the socko starring vehicles of contemporaries like Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford, Blondell nonetheless carved out a memorable career over half a century. As Matthew Kennedy notes in his new biography, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes, "She was one of the most reliably good actresses…yet she was rarely showcased and never won a major award." Andrew Sarris called Blondell "the world-weary showgirl incarnate," but as she matured she became a creature far more complex than her flip 1930s Warner Bros. persona. This retrospective attempts to capture some of this metamorphosis, as seen in her roles for Elia Kazan, Edmund Goulding, and John Cassavetes. Though she often worked with inferior material in forgettable films, Blondell remained prolific throughout her career; she once said, "Without work, what is life?" Whether one views Blondell as the "fizz on the soda" (Eve Golden) or as the "last of the great troupers" (Seymour Krim), she embodied a spirit that was quintessentially cinematic and American to the core. Several of the prints shown in this exhibition are new and represent rare films that have long been unavailable on video. Kennedy will introduce the screenings on December 19, 20, and 21.


Organized by Charles Silver, Associate Curator, Department of Film. Special thanks to Matthew Kennedy. Thanks also to Ned Price, Linda Evans-Smith, and Marilee Womack, Warner Bros.; Schawn Belston, Twentieth Century Fox; Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures; and Todd Wiener, UCLA Film and Television Archive.


BLONDE CRAZY. 1931. USA. Directed by Roy Del Ruth. With James Cagney, Louis Calhern, Ray Milland. An early Warner Bros. romp for Cagney and Blondell, only months after Cagney's epochal star turn in Public Enemy. This was the fourth of seven films in which they appeared together in less than four years. Blondell attributed the team's box office appeal to the fact that they were showing "something fast and to the point." 79 min.
Wednesday, December 19
Saturday, December 22

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. 1945. USA. Directed by Elia Kazan. With Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan, Peggy Ann Garner. Kazan's debut film provided Blondell with one of her best mature roles as Aunt Sissy (although she was only thirty- eight years old). This sensitive adaptation of Betty Smith's best-selling novel about adolescence and tenement life won Oscars for Dunn and Garner. Blondell noted that Kazan "let me have a moment or two of tenderness, of maturity, that nobody had ever given me before." 128 min.
Wednesday, December 19

BLONDIE JOHNSON. 1933. USA. Directed by Ray Enright. With Chester Morris, Allen Jenkins. In this gem from the height of Warner Bros.' gangster cycle, a poverty-toughened

Blondell tries her hand at running a gang, only to get mushy at the end. Although the film was a typical Depression-era quickie, it afforded Blondell the opportunity to dominate the screen as never before. 69 min.
Thursday, December 20
Saturday, December 22

 

 

NIGHTMARE ALLEY. 1947. USA. Directed by Edmund Goulding. Screenplay by Jules Furthman, based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. Cinematography by Lee Garmes. With Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Mike Mazurki. Blondell is superb as Zeena, a carnival psychic married to a hopeless drunk but in love with a con man played by Power. She eventually winds up with Bruno, portrayed by wrestler-turned-actor Mazurki, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day. Highly atmospheric, the film is a throwback to the work Furthman and Garmes did on Josef von Sternberg's masterpieces Morocco (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932) (Marlene Dietrich, star of both films, was considered for the psychiatrist role in Nightmare Alley)—and a surprising anticipation of the worlds of John Waters and David Lynch. 111 min.
Thursday, December 20
Sunday, December 23

FOOTLIGHT PARADE. 1933. USA. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Cinematography by George Barnes. Musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. With James Cagney, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh. In some ways the ultimate Warner Bros. musical, as Matthew Kennedy says, "Footlight Parade had it all." Blondell is endearingly comical, and Cagney dances spectacularly away from and beyond his Public Enemy persona. Berkeley's numbers were described as "the most extravagant, eye-paralyzing chorus scene...that ever graced a movie screen." Blondell found the musical to be hard work, accentuated perhaps by the fact she was married to cinematographer Barnes—and was shortly to marry Dick Powell. 104 min.
Friday, December 21
Saturday, December 22


THE BLUE VEIL. 1951. USA. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt. Musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley. With Jane Wyman, Charles Laughton, Richard Carlson, Agnes Moorehead, Natalie Wood. Blondell made only one film in the four years preceding The Blue Veil, and she was not to make another until 1956. Much of her work during this period was devoted to television and off-the-beaten-path regional theaters. Her spunky performance in The Blue Veil brought rave reviews, but she saw her future as portraying "fallen-faced dames." Still, she brought much-needed energy to this weepy film. 113 min.
Friday, December 21
Sunday, December 23

NIGHT NURSE. 1931. USA. Directed by William A. Wellman. With Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Clark Gable. An example of the kind of supporting role Blondell played before the break of Blondie Johnson, this was the actress's tenth film in the first year of her film career. She is a perfect gum-chewing sidekick to her real-life friend Stanwyck, and both were apparently enamored of the young Gable just before he attained stardom. 72 min.
Saturday, December 22
Saturday, December 29

THREE ON A MATCH. 1932. USA. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. With Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis, Warren William, Humphrey Bogart. The kind of fast-paced, pre–Production Code melodrama that only Warner Bros. had the cast and the chutzpah to provide, Three on a Match is a surprisingly enlightened and uncompromising feminist tale of "gutter-inspired realism," in which Blondell plays a reform-school graduate. 63 min.
Wednesday, December 26
Saturday, December 29


THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL. 1937. USA. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Screenplay by Norman Krasna, Groucho Marx. With Fernand Gravet, Edward Everett Horton, Jane Wyman. This is Groucho's take on the affair between King Edward VIII and American Wallis Simpson. Blondell claimed that her stint as a Lubitschean heroine was her favorite role, enabling her to subtly elevate her status, and that of chorus girls everywhere, above vulgarity to new heights of "intelligence and character." 94 min.
Wednesday, December 26
Monday, December 31


THERE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN. 1938. USA. Directed by Alexander Hall. With Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake. Originally intended as the first in a series of Thin Man–like comedy/mysteries, this Columbia release allowed a reinvigorated and pregnant Blondell to escape some of the drab sameness of her Warner Bros. routine. This was the period when fans voted her "Public Gold Digger #1." 80 min.
Thursday, December 27
Friday, December 28


THREE GIRLS ABOUT TOWN. 1941. USA. Directed by Leigh Jason. With Binnie Barnes, Janet Blair, Robert Benchley. This screwball comedy—Benchley's hotel manager, Wilburforce Puddle, hosts a morticians' convention—never quite rises to the level of Preston Sturges, although it does anticipate Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry. However, "No one did been-around-the-block-but-not-jaded better than Joan" (Matthew Kennedy), and one regrets that no studio (or Sturges himself) latched on to her for comedy in the succeeding decade. 73 min.
Thursday, December 27
Sunday, December 30

LIZZIE. 1957. USA. Directed by Hugo Haas. With Haas, Eleanor Parker, Richard Boone, Johnny Mathis. Lizzie deals with the multiple-personality fad of the Cold War era. Blondell considered her performance as Parker's drunken aunt her best in over a decade, but 1957 was the last year in which she made more than two films, now having to content her strong work ethic mostly with television and touring stage companies. 81 min.
Friday, December 28
Sunday, December 30


OPENING NIGHT. 1977. USA. Written and directed by John Cassavetes. With Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Paul Stewart. Now past seventy years of age and in poor health, Blondell initially struggled with Cassevetes's improvisatory filmmaking style (about as far from Warner Bros. as a girl could get), but in the end her superb performance as an angry playwright won excellent reviews and the admiration of her costars. 144 min.
Saturday, December 29
Monday, December 31