The Lovable Ruffian - James Cagney with Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy (1931)

Thursday, August 1, 2019

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

"Now the world owes me a living, and I'm gonna collect it, see." - James Cagney in Blonde Crazy

Pre-code films are spectacularly vulgar and this one is a humdinger!

I think until now the earliest Cagney film I'd ever watched was probably A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1935, which is brilliant, by the way. But I'd never ventured into any of his earlier films simply because they're a pain to track down. But I know a gal who found a way for me to watch all of these amazing old movies, so yay!

James Cagney was made for pre-code films. There's a certain raw, brutishness about him that you just can't get away with today. He's not even playing one of his infamous mobster roles in Blonde Crazy, he's just a guy who's an impressively foolish con artist and wow, quite the playboy!

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

If I met a man who drawled out "hoooooonnnneey" that way, I'd be tempted to sock him in the nose. Maybe that habit was common in 1931?

Let me expound on my reason for labeling James Cagney as The Loveable Ruffian.

Because I know that at this point he really doesn't sound all that loveable!

It's that raw energy, that wolfish twinkle, that I find repulsive, but at the same time, Cagney possessed enough acting chops to incorporate glimmers of regret, yearning, and genuine selfless love to make my label him as that loveable ruffian. He's kind of this way in most of his roles, at least the ones I've watched so far.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

Blonde Crazy is entertaining because he's a guy who's always out to make a fortune anyway he can, even if it means selling his own hooch or pulling a fast one on visitors to the hotel where he works. Enter the plucky Joan Blondell, who I've never seen before but absolutely love. I'll have to track down more of her films, apparently she and Cagney were paired together quite often.

Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

Anyway, Joan gets employed at the same hotel as a linen lady. Cagney takes an immediate shine to her, just as he would any girl who would get the job. Ladies man, like I said. But she'll have none of it. In fact, just as often as he drawls out "hoooooonnnnneey" she'll whip around and slap him in the face. I'm guessing that's what made him really fall for her? A girl who wasn't fooled by his tricks.

James Cagney in Blonde Crazy from 1931

They do partner up as con artists, although she feels a bit guilty for it. Together they make thousands of dollars by conning suckers who can afford it. She finally has enough, falls for a good guy (or convinces herself she has), just as Cagney realizes he's in love with her.

The ending is quite the pip. I didn't quite see it coming, but I liked it, really, because it's a bit unpredictable, but also made sense.

Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

One thing that could be either objectionable or admirable depending on your point of view is the pre-code era's take on sex. They actually acknowledge that it's a thing! They also acknowledge, whether they mean to or not, that men can be pigs. Perhaps it's my modern moralizing self looking almost 90 years into the past that sees this, but all of the men in this film, at some time or another, treat the women in their lives as possessions, something to be bartered or bought. That makes them pigs, but it was normal for men in that era to wolf whistle and eye a girl up and down as if she were nothing more than a hunk of meat.

Cagney's character helps Joan's character get a job and then he expects her to sleep with him. They didn't come right out and say that, but it's what he was thinking and required very little reading between the lines.

It's not the cleaned up version of Hollywood that sometimes gets presented. But like I said, I kinda admire that about really old Hollywood. They didn't put blinders on, just created movies to represent the morality of the era in which they were living.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

I would actually watch Blonde Crazy again.

For one thing, I adore the absurdity of 1930s fashion. Some of it made perfect sense and was super stylish and some it was just insane, usually the ladies' evening wear. Sometimes I spent a good chunk of time wondering how the women held their gowns up!

Joan Blondell is delightful, just delightful. And Cagney's character is probably 50/50 turd to nice guy. All he needed was a little push in the right direction. And even when he realizes he can't have Joan, he actually turns his life around anyway. It's kinda funny.

If I were to label them as anything, I would say a realistic version of Bonnie and Clyde. It is the era, after all!


  1. I'm interesting in watching some pre-code films, both to see their "daring" and why the Code was imposed, but also just because I think they were probably more honest about bad behavior. I'd rather have out and out sin alluded to than hidden in clever innuendos, like the later Hollywood things. They were NEVER clean. :P

    1. That's what I'm finding so far, that they pretty much called a spade, a spade. Not that I don't love films from the 40s and 50s, buuuuut the grittier side of cinema from the 30s is just exhilarating. You might try this one, just for kicks. Ooh, and the other Cagney film I mentioned that he did with Bette Davis (The Bride Came C.O.D.) is also listed on that site. That one you should definitely watch. I believe it's from 1941, so the code was enforced, but it's still fun and Bette was hilarious.

    2. Yeah, that's Bette's only screwball comedy, so it's probably worth watch. She apparently liked working with Cagney, but didn't much care for the movie -- did not think comedic roles suited her.

    3. Does Cagney always play a turd? I watched The Bride Came COD and... it was the same story. His character was selfish and a little bit obnoxious.

    4. Cagney either typecast himself or was typecast as the tough guy/mobster. Which is a shame because the performance he always gives is topnotch and I would have liked to see him branch out into other types of roles. So I don't think I have ever seen him in a truly likeable role, at least not yet. Of course, I haven't seen a whole lot of his films so I'm still hopeful there's a nice guy role out there somewhere.

  2. I love this movie. Cagney and Blondell had great chemistry. I just watched 'City for Conquest' with James Cagney. Really good film, you should check it out :)


Thank you for your kind comments, which I adore!