1. Blondie (1938)
The movie mostly consists of proto-sitcom* domestic hijinks: Job-like figure Dagwood is besieged by a never-ending barrage of awkward circumstances, misunderstandings, and poor financial decisions, landing him in hot water with his boss, JC Dithers, and wife Blondie. True to the source material, there's also a lot of cutesy shit with their dog Daisy and son Baby Dumpling. Very dull, although one bit I liked is that for Dagwood and his co-workers, carrying a packed lunch from home, thereby saving $3 a week during THE GREAT DEPRESSION, is considered shameful, a nice period detail about the petty pride of the middle class.
*Ironically, Blondie was never successful as a sitcom. There were two attempts, both of which were cancelled after one season.
If nothing else, the highlight of the film is the lead performance. I had never before in my life contemplated what a Real Life Dagwood Bumstead would be like and didn't know what to expect, but Arthur Lake absolutely kills it. His performance as a high-strung, put-upon beta male reminds me of Crispin Glover as George McFly and totally alters how I view the comics character. His counterpart Peggy Singleton does what she can with the material, which mostly relegates her to the role of nagging housewife.
It's interesting to see how comics and movies intersect during this period. Blondie creator Chic Young's name is fairly prominent on a lot of the posters, which seems unthinkable by today's standards. There's a surprising bit of cross-media continuity with the comic strip: Dagwood and Blondie wed in the funny pages in 1933, and now in 1938 they're celebrating their fifth anniversary. However, there is no mention of Dagwood's past as a wealthy heir to the Bumstead railroad fortune, which he forsook in order to marry Blondie over his parents' objections (conveniently giving the comic a chance to pivot from its origins as a "pretty girl strip" to a more relatable domestic setting). Perhaps future installments will dig deeper into Blondie lore, but I doubt it. Although, come to think of it… Dagwood mentions that he's never driven a car before, which I assumed was just an aspect of the setting, but could be a coy reference to his upbringing where he was undoubtedly chauffeured everywhere…
At some point, Dagwood's former romantic rival Chester casually shows up and it seemed to me like the audience was expected to already be familiar with him from the comic, but as far as I can tell he's an invention for the screen.
According to Wikipedia, the screenwriters set out to incorporate a lot of the recurring gags from the strip, and sure enough there's a scene where Dagwood eats a sandwich in bed that honestly reads as indulgent fanservice, slop for all the hardcore Dagheads in the audience. I was curious about this and did a little research: Chic Young's son claims sandwiches were introduced to the strip in 1936, so I looked through newspaper archives for 1936-1937 (I assume this movie was written early 1938) and it seems there's only a handful of instances where Dagwood makes a weird, relatively normal-sized sandwich. Here's an example:
Enough to be a recurring gag, but not yet established as a major component of the strip the way it is now. Is it possible the movies helped elevate it into the defining aspect of the Blondie franchise?
Also of note: the Bumsteads sleep in separate twin beds, which is a departure from the strip (Young "steadfastly refuses to be bullied into getting them twin beds… [h]e is very stubborn about this") but perhaps a concession to film censors. #
2. Blondie Meets the Boss (1939)
Much better than the first movie. I got a genuine laugh from Dagwood punching a salesman who mistook him for a housewife. They're playing to their strengths with more physical comedy. Unfortunately, they also doubled down on giving Baby Dumpling more dialogue, recited in the most irritating monotone possible. It also seems like "Blondie thinks Dagwood is having an affair" is going to be a recurring thing in these movies, although this time she has evidence instead of just gossip. There's a cute gag where she's the one who runs into the mailman, but for a movie titled Blondie Meets the Boss there's surprisingly little of Blondie in the workplace, which I kinda would've liked to see explored more (the film seems quietly progressive on that front). I agree that Dagwood in an apron, who absentmindedly starts referring to himself with feminine pronouns, is more entertaining, though.
- What kind of world is this where a couple going on vacation makes the front page? Did the newspaper have to push back news of Kristallnacht to page 2?
- Part of the plot features Blondie's college-age sister Dot (Dorothy Moore reprising a non-comic-canon character from the first film who's apparently never mentioned again after this), breaking into their house, thinking they're on vacation, so she and her male partner Freddie have a place to stay during the State Jitterbug Championship, which seems slightly insane.
- Freddie, fed up with having to babysit, calls Dot something that is bleeped out and I really want to know what it was.
- Dagwood, played by Arthur Lake, is pressured into kissing Francis Rogers, played by Dorothy Comigore. Comigore would later appear in Citizen Kane, a movie inspired by William Randolph Hearst, founder of Blondie publisher King Features Syndicate, as Kane's second wife Susan Alexander, a role inspired by Marion Davies, who may or may not have been Lake's mother-in-law.
- I was not expecting a movie based on Blondie to be such a hotbed for extramarital temptation. I think they should bring this into the comics, maybe have a big story arc where Blondie kicks Dagwood out of the house because she thinks he's having an affair with Fritzi Ritz (rivals since their flapper days), and he commiserates with Leroy Lockhorn and Andy Capp.
Continuity Corner: Prior to the reveal that he's a philanderer, I assumed Marvin was there because neighbor Herb Woodley hadn't been created yet, but it turns out he had been, and Blondie even mentions a Mrs. Woodley later in the film. Apparently Herb was originally named Bill, and they had an infant son named Alex. Interesting because the Woodleys are childless today and Baby Dumpling's real name is Alexander. Did Blondie and Dagwood steal their neighbor's baby? #
3. Blondie Takes a Vacation (1939)
Blondie and Dagwood take pity on the couple and decide to help them out. Dismal comic antics ensue as Dagwood attempts to become a repairman. Daisy chases a skunk into the air vents of Marton's hotel and the stench leads all the guests to flee to the run-down hotel. Upon learning his hotel will have to be closed for an extended period of time, Marton grabs the insurance forms from a safe and burns it down, which is witnessed by Baby Dumpling and Daisy, who are saved by a benevolent arsonist the family befriended earlier.
A chore to watch but I'm determined to stick it out. Everything moves at such a languid pace. The movie starts off with Blondie throwing a fit because Dagwood inadvertently disparaged her new hat (women, am I right folks?) and it drags on forever.
- There's a pattern of Baby Dumpling's friend Alvin showing up in the early part of the movie to say a few lines in that awful kid monotone, this time trying to sell Dagwood on the MGTOW mindset. Maybe someday he'll factor into the main plot.
- Dagwood and Blondie talk about getting old, blissfully unaware that in about 15 years or so their comics counterparts will cease aging altogether as the strip drops the "real time"aspect.
Animal Antics: They're getting really ambitious with Daisy. Previously they'd have the occasional puppet arm, now there's thought bubbles, there's pain stars, the dog is doing crazy flips. I wonder if she'll eventually start talking.
Sandwich Watch: Surprisingly, no sandwiches in this installment. #
4. Blondie Brings Up Baby (1939)
So I wouldn't, like, recommend these movies, but this is one of the more enjoyable ones so far, although it's still too mawkish and all the problems are solved way too conveniently. The characters seem much better defined in this installment. Blondie, played by Penny Singleton, isn't quite the nagging, suspicious housewife of the previous films or the unfazed straight man of the modern comic strip; here she's depicted as just as much a simpleton as her husband, which makes for more fertile comedic territory. Neither know what an IQ is and are terrified when they learn their son has an IQ of 168, she struggles to open a door she doesn't realize is locked, and can barely contain her hostility towards the neighbor boy. That boy, Alvin, is given a little more characterization as a slightly older boy who's kind of a smartass. Baby Dumpling's sadness feels genuine, perhaps child actor Larry Simms was given a bit of direction for the first time. Mr. Dithers, the archetypical cantankerous boss, is shown to have a heart of gold and is played with a lot more charm than his depiction in the comic strip would suggest. Even the mailman is given a moment of pathos: he knows he can never escape his fate of getting run into, but gosh darn it he's got to try.
The biggest laugh for me is a sharp cut to Dagwood in the process of tearing up a bunch of books, just sort of ferally angry at the concept of books, unaware that his wife just spent $80 on them from the salesman.
- The version on Amazon's Freevee starts with 2 minutes of scenes from later in the movie, as a trailer of sorts, which confused me at first.
- Interestingly, we never actually see Baby Dumpling in school or interacting with his schoolmates. There seems to be a strict rule that no more than two children can be onscreen at the same time.
- It's mentioned that Alvin's unseen father is named Fred Fuddle, which is an absolutely delightful comic strip name. Mrs. Fuddle, who does appear, does not get a name.
- There's a schmaltzy ending where Baby Dumpling encourages a sickly rich girl in a wheelchair to walk again, which is supposed to tug at your heartstrings, but it comes off like he doesn't understand her situation at all and is just being an asshole.
Animal Antics: There's a special effect where Daisy is crying and there's a comical amount of tears flowing from her face. I feel bad for this poor dog having to get hooked up to some kind of crazy contraption.
Continuity Corner: According to Dagwood, Baby Dumpling's real name is also Dagwood, which COMPLETELY CONTRADICTS the comic strip where it's Alexander Hamilton Bumstead. A striking blow to Bumsteadheads everywhere.
Sandwich Watch: For the second movie in a row, no sandwiches. I really thought this was going to be a big thing throughout the series. #
5. Blondie on a Budget (1940)
Most of the comedy comes from Dagwood's discomfort being seen in public with a woman who isn't his wife, the nightmare of Mike Pence and Tyler "Ninja" Blevins. For a moment I thought they might use Hayworth's character to explore Dagwood's comic strip past as a wealthy playboy in the big city, but she drives him to their old makeout spot located in whatever unnamed town the Bumsteads reside in, which would seemingly rule out that whole backstory. I get it, they want Dagwood to be a relatable everyman, but I think it would add a little more depth to Blondie's fears of inadequacy beyond "women be paranoid."
Dagwood's neighbor (and now apparently best friend) Marvin is back, with more advice on how to lie to your wife. There's a scene I kinda like where he can perfectly mimic Dagwood's voice and nearly fools Blondie over the phone trying to give his buddy Dag an alibi. Also, Alvin's dad makes his first appearance, but this time he's called Ed which isn't as funny a name as Fred Fuddle. #
6. Blondie Has Servant Trouble (1940)
The haunted mansion, with its rotating walls, secret passageways, and assorted magic props, feels like a conscious effort to take the Bumsteads out of their usual milieu and throw them into Three Stooges territory. I don't think it works, things never feel as madcap as they should, and Arthur Lake is the embodiment of "we have Buster Keaton at home." Even though the runtime is only a nice 69 minutes, some bits go on too long: Dagwood's befuddlement over a rotating closet, and a dinner scene where the dog unknowingly buzzes for the phony servants repeatedly to their irritation.
There's one gag that feels inspired: the villain stealthily enters the room through a rotating wall that had a mirror on one side, Horatio looks at him and remarks "I don't even look like myself" and doesn't realize it's not a reflection until noticing only one of them is holding a knife.
- Whilst trying to find this goddamn movie, I came across the original titles, apparently replaced for TV syndication along with those of the other films. It's a shame - I like any time credits are physically written on something, and it bugs me that I'm not viewing the films as they were originally presented.
- This is the sixth Blondie film and I'm picking up on a pattern: Dagwood ends up in jail, marriage crisis, the Bumsteads go somewhere. I wonder if this cycle will continue.
- The Bumsteads have always lived in a heightened reality, particularly when the dog is involved, but this entry knocks things up a notch. In one scene, Dagwood and Horatio descend a staircase, Dagwood picks up a white sheet, Horatio turns around, thinks it's a ghost and screams in horror, then the camera pans to reveal Dagwood is somehow back at the top of the stairs, apparently unaware of what just transpired. There is never a rational explanation for this.
Continuity Corner: Mrs. Fuddle addresses the mailman as Mr. Crum, NOT Mr. Beasley as it is in the comic strip. This 1936 strip is the earliest mention I could find:
Animal Antics: According to a news article from the time, the dog playing Daisy received an electric shock from sitting on uninsulated wires during the dinner scene. "His instant reaction was to fly five feet through the air emitting a yelp of anguish. Director Frank Strayer was delighted to catch the action, but it took Daisy's trainer a full half hour to persuade the pet to repeat the milder action called for." #
7. Blondie Plays Cupid (1940)
There's a few gags I liked, particularly 6-year-old Baby Dumpling driving a car and nearly running over his dad with very fake-looking rear projection. Also noteworthy is how cavalier they are with violence in this installment; there's firecrackers and shotguns abound, and the movie ends with (SPOILER ALERT) Dagwood accidentally setting his family on fire, landing them all in the hospital.
What drags it down, again, is the pacing. This working title for this movie was "Blondie Goes to the Country," but the Bumsteads don't arrive in the country until 35 minutes in, just slightly over half the movie's total runtime. I think part of the reason they're able to pump out three of these a year is that the first act of every Blondie movie rigidly adheres to a pattern with minor variations: we join the Bumsteads at breakfast, the dog does a trick, Blondie and Dagwood have an argument, Alvin comes over and says a few lines, Dagwood realizes he's late for work and runs into the mailman on the way to the bus stop, his co-workers play a prank on him, he has a meeting with his boss Mr. Dithers. All of this is usually pretty dull and very leisurely paced, which consequently leaves the rest of the movie feeling fairly rushed and underdeveloped.
Continuity Corner: Blondie's Aunt Hannah is another screen invention. In the comic strip, she has mentioned an Aunt Emma, an Aunt Carrie, an Aunt Effie, and an Aunt Gussie. There are probably more, but I got tired of searching. #
8. Blondie Goes Latin (1941)
A surprisingly strong installment. They do a good job with the screwball antics: characters running in and out of staterooms, just missing each other; Dagwood pretending to be at home while calling from the next room as the dog runs back and forth between the rooms. However, there's way too much singing and dancing for my taste; the Brothers Marx at least had the good sense to limit Harpo's extended harp solos to one per film.
- After getting knocked down, the mailman puts his hat on Dagwood and tries to run into him, but misses him and crashes into a taxicab, knocking it on its side. Clearly, he would be the tank in a Blondie RPG.
- "How very generous of my boss, who purposely didn't invite his own wife, to let my wife stay in his adjourning stateroom on a luxury cruise while I'm conveniently called away back to work" - Dagwood, apparently.
- Shots of telegrams are cut off at the sides, I suspect some cropping occurred when they repackaged these movies for TV syndication.
- Baby Dumpling encounters a girl his age playing the piano and sings a duet with her about hating music lessons, which is pretty much the full extent of his presence in this movie. Also, the girl has a doll with moving eyes that appears to be alive?
- The female singer of the band puts Dagwood in a dress as a disguise, which isn't particularly funny and is more a contrivance for Blondie to catch him undressed with a strange woman. I suppose it's funnier when he puts on a frilly apron in Blondie Meets the Boss because he does it of his own volition and there's no real reason for him to do so.
Comics Corner: When Dagwood is initially called away, I thought for a moment we'd be seeing the "Dagwood goes feral" story arc realized for the screen:
Sandwich Watch: Making their grand return after a five-movie absence, Blondie realizes her husband is still on the ship when she sees a steward carrying one of his trademark giant sandwiches back to the kitchen. Enraged, her mind becomes filled with newsreel footage of war, a recurring gag in the series. Judging by the year, I assume this is the last time they can do that gag. #
9. Blondie in Society (1941)
Blondie is incensed after Dagwood loans $50 to a childhood friend and orders him to get the money back. The borrower instead offers Dagwood a Great Dane named "Chin Up White Tie for Dinner" (???), who immediately wreaks havoc in the neighborhood. Everyone has their own designs for the dog and the plot gets hard to follow. As best I can understand: Dagwood and his boss Dithers are lying to Blondie, a rich guy is lying to Dagwood, Dithers is in cahoots with the rich guy and lying to Dagwood, and Blondie is lying to everyone else. Anyway, Chin Up is entered into a dog show and [SPOILER] wins for the great trick of "standing up" when Blondie sings to him, which is absolutely pathetic compared to all the shit Daisy can do:
Didn't care for the wacky dog antics or incomprehensible layers of subterfuge, but I did like the gag where Blondie crashes a bicycle through a door that's being repaired and hits the mailman. In the commotion, the bicycle loses a wheel and becomes a unicycle, which she continues to ride down the street. Blondie is still written as a nag (she once again threatens divorce for what I think is the sixth or seventh time in this series), but it's nice that she gets to partake in the physical comedy.
- There's a subplot where Baby Dumpling and Alvin use slang terms like "toots" and "okey dokey" to trick Blondie into letting them join the Boy Rangers as a means of curbing their bad behavior, which reminded me of this Nick at Nite promo.
- Every establishing shot of Dagwood's office features the secretary saying the name of the company into the phone. It's been nine movies, I think we know where Dagwood works!
- Kudos to character actor Edgar Kennedy as the veterinarian, who really gave his all to such a minor role.
Sandwich Watch: After Chin Up eats the stew Blondie was cooking for dinner, Dagwood begins to make himself a classic Dagwood sandwich, but Chin Up eats the meat before he finishes and starts burping.
Crossover Corner: Daisy and Marmaduke appeared together in a 1980 TV special, barking at Garfield with Snoopy and Fred Basset. In the comics, Marmaduke attended Dagwood and Blondie's 75th anniversary (to Blondie's left, behind Mallard Fillmore and in front of Luann):#
10. Blondie Goes to College (1942)
It's a weird but fertile premise: a couple in their ninth year of marriage try to recapture their lost youth by engaging in some extended roleplay with the tantalizing prospect of some cuckoldry, in a fantastical world where people could just go to college without worrying about incurring debt. The setting feels remarkably fresh, and there's some decent screwball antics with the couples going on a double date, and Dagwood failing spectacularly at sports. I wish the story could've progressed in a more natural way, but Mr. Dithers decides to put an end to the charade early in a somewhat convoluted and unfunny third act that ends up with Dagwood being accused of kidnapping his own son.
- Budding fascist Baby Dumpling excels at military school, rising to the rank of sergeant and barking orders at other kids. This is the most I've ever liked the character.
- Mr. Dithers once again fires Dagwood, only to immediately backpedal once he learns Dagwood has made a connection with Laura's father, a huge potential client. Why does he keep doing this? He's practically a surrogate father to the Bumsteads; Blondie even confides in him that she's pregnant before telling her own husband.
War Report: When Rusty first sees Blondie looking around for someone, he approaches her and goes "Didn't you hear? He got drafted," a pickup line of questionable smoothness and seemingly the first direct indication that the country is at war.
Sandwich Watch: Not only are there no sandwiches, for the first time in the series nobody crashes into the mailman.
Continuity Corner: Blondie and Dagwood went to college in the comic strip, which was part of a story arc where Dagwood's rich parents tried to get him to marry her homely roommate Irma:
Mystery Musings: In the first movie, Blondie's maiden name is "Miller." In this one, she says it's "Smith." Most sources, including King Features Syndicate, say it's "Boopadoop" in the comics, reflecting her origins as a flapper. However, I did some investigation and while it's been used in official promotional material from 1930 onwards, I haven't been able to find it used in an actual strip. So we don't know what her canonical maiden name was, and a 2013 strip casts doubt on whether "Blondie" is her actual name:
Just who is this woman??? #
11. Blondie's Blessed Event (1942)
Although Blondie is due to give birth soon (supposedly the Hays Code forbade her from appearing visibly pregnant), she complains to Dithers that Dagwood's anxiety is driving her crazy, so he sends him to Chicago to speak at an architect's convention. At the hotel, he meets struggling playwright George Wickley, who agrees to write the speech for him. The speech, an anti-architect tirade calling for people to build their own homes out of potato peelings, does not go well and the convention abruptly ends early. Dagwood returns home, clumsily attempts to do housework with his son (he vacuums up one of the puppies) and waits at the hospital while Blondie gives birth. When Dagwood and Blondie return home with their newborn daughter, they find Wickley waiting on their front porch, and the rest of the movie is about him being a rude houseguest.
This is not as outright dull as some of the other Blondie movies, but I struggle to identify anything I liked about it. It feels pretty disjointed and Wickley isn't a particularly funny character. The way his plot completely overtakes the movie makes me suspect they just shoved all the birth stuff into an unrelated script.
- Looking into the production history, the way they were pumping these out feels crazy by modern standards: filmed in January, released in April. Also, I learned Peggy Singleton, who plays Blondie, married the producer, Robert Sparks, the previous year.
- The movie repeats a gag from the comic strip where Dagwood rushes home after being told there's "five more mouths to feed," although in the strip Cookie had already been born so I don't know what he was thinking:
- Daisy and her pups would later star in their own spin-off comic book where they talk and have adventures, precipitating the Air Buddies franchise. The identity of the puppies' father is not stated, but they were originally planned to be introduced in Blondie in Society as the offspring of Daisy and the Great Dane Chin Up (it's even hinted at on the poster).
- I imagine "Dagwood Finally Tells Off Dithers!!!" would be the equivalent of "Quagmire Goes Off on Brian!" on 1940s YouTube.
Sandwich Watch: A bellboy brings in a platter of stuff for Dagwood to make his own sandwich, which he offers to Wickley.
War Report: A government guy offers Dagwood a job after hearing his speech, because they need all those building supplies for the war effort.
Continuity Corner: Baby Dumpling decides to go by his comic-accurate real name, Alexander, retconning an earlier movie that blithely asserted it was Dagwood Jr., a major win for loreheads. #
12. Blondie for Victory (1942)
Enough is enough: "It's up to you to convince Blondie that a woman's place is in the home," Dithers orders. Even the hackiest parody of '50s sitcoms (of which the Blondie films are a prototype) would think that line's a little too on-the-nose. A meeting of husbands is called, and a plan is formed to have Dagwood steal valor by borrowing a soldier's uniform and lie to Blondie about enlisting so she'll reconsider her priorities. On their first mission* standing guard at a dam, the Housewives of America freak out at the sight of a skunk like the hysterical broads they are. Dagwood shows up in uniform, but the army thinks he's an AWOL soldier and a chase ensues. As this is going on, he sees a man carrying a suspicious package he assumes is a bomb, and heroically leaps into action to apprehend him. It turns out to just be rationed sugar, but the army is nonetheless impressed by Dagwood's selfless heroism and all charges are dropped. Blondie has a change of heart and disbands her group, and there's a propagandic montage at the end where they basically say "yeah, some women are needed on the front lines, and we support them, but housewives are important too!" It closes with a shot of the Bumsteads standing in uniform as a representation of the American family, double exposed with a waving American flag. It's Blondie and Dagwood's America, all right.
*I'm not familiar with the history of WWII civil defense groups, so a lot of this movie felt completely alien to me. What exactly were they doing???
Sandwich Watch: Dagwood's sandwich gets the most screentime of any Blondie movie so far, as he carries it from one room to another trying to find a place to work. It is eventually eaten by one of Daisy's pups, whom the boys have decked out in special collars to collect coins for the war effort.
Mail Time: The former mailman Dagwood always runs into has a new job as a watchman at the dam. I shan't spoil what happens to him…
Department of Synergy: It's mentioned that as a morale booster the lowliest soldier will get a date with Rita Hayworth, whose star had risen considerably since her appearance in Blondie on a Budget. Coincidentally, she was under contract with Columbia, the studio behind the Blondie series.
Comics Corner: The meeting of husbands reminded me of the Husbands' Back Fence Club, where Dagwood and his neighbors would complain about their wives. This turned into a brief interactive feature where actual husbands, and later wives, could send in their grievances and have them featured in the strip. #
13. It's a Great Life (1943)
The most inventive scene is one that uses the language of comics to great effect: having sold the horse, Dagwood dreams of its new owner mistreating it, visualized within a thought bubble. Meanwhile, Blondie dreams of her and Dagwood sitting forlornly on a bale of hay. These two dreams start to interact, and the dream Bumsteads work together to save the horse. I'm sure this had been done before, but it's nice to see this franchise embrace its comic strip roots.
Finally, in the very last scene, the horse suddenly talks (with 2-D animation on its mouth, presumably from the Screen Gems team), bidding farewell to the dog Daisy, who then looks at the camera and says "Can you beat that? A talking horse!" (which I expertly predicted back in my review of Blondie Takes a Vacation). A little cheap, but a nice gag to go out on. Where do you go from here?
This is the first Blondie film without "Blondie" in the title; it was originally the more literal-minded "Blondie Buys A Horse," but I couldn't find a definitive reason why it was changed. My assumption was that the Blondie brand was waning in popularity (the film series will go on a brief hiatus after the next one), and they thought they could trick unsuspecting moviegoers into seeing this, but the advertising still emphasized Blondie and the rest of the Bumsteads, so I'm not sure how viable that strategy would be. Also, something I didn't look into until now is that 16 of the 28 Blondie films were written or co-written by female screenwriters. This installment was written by Karen DeWolf and Connie Lee, both of whom would later be blacklisted.
War Report: Alexander and Alvin trick neighbor kids into beating rugs for them by charging them a penny to hit a drawing of Hitler in the rear, which I believe is the first direct reference to the dictator.
Sandwich Watch: Alexander makes himself a "Bumstead Special," but Blondie takes it away from him, saying "That thing's enough to kill a person. Let your father have it."
Animal Antics: Daisy, the dog who plays Daisy, was bitten by the fox and couldn't sit up for several days according to a newspaper at the time.
Continuity Corner: Blondie twice refers to Dagwood by his supposed full name, "David Harum Bumstead." No. Absolutely not. I can buy "Blondie" being a nickname, but I adamantly refuse to believe "Dagwood" isn't his actual government name.
14. Footlight Glamour (1943)
Once everything gets sorted out, Vicki and Dagwood arrive home. Blondie is incensed that Dagwood has brought an attractive young woman into their house (there's war footage superimposed over her scowling face, a recurring gag I thought they'd stop doing once an actual war started), but she gets over it once Vicki convinces her and the rest of the regular characters to act alongside her in a play she's written, Mad Moonlight. The play is a disaster: Dagwood misses his cues and flubs his lines, falls down a trap door, gets sick from drinking sea water, and wears a magician's tuxedo filled with magic props. Vicki is humiliated and gives up acting, to the delight of her father, who in gratitude signs a big contract with Dithers. And all Dagwood had to do was crush a young woman's dreams!
The chaos of the play is fun and there are some nice moments from the side characters, but like most guest characters Vicki and her conniving director boyfriend are too one-note to care about, and it's disappointing to see the series fall back into familiar patterns. It's a little weird that you're supposed to side with the rich guy over his daughter... sure, she's pretentious and deluded, but surely there are worse things for a wealthy dilettante to do with her time.
Footlight Glamour marks the end of an era: it's the last Blondie film for both director Frank Strayer and producer Robert Sparks, and the series will go on hiatus for a year before returning in 1945 in response to fan demand (allegedly). Rest assured, however, that 1944 was not a dark year for Bumsteadheads: this and the previous film, It's A Great Life, continued to play in theaters, and the radio show and comic strip kept chugging along with new material.
- Blondie sees her son and his friend dressed as commandos with dark camouflage smeared on their faces and asks, "What are you two made up for, a minstrel show?" The next scene is Dagwood being mistaken for a pedophile trying to abduct a child. This one has it all.
- Mad Moonlight is about Dagwood having to choose between two women, his silly, vain wife (played by Blondie) and an intelligent, beautiful actress (played by Vicki). I like that nobody ever comments on this weird subtext.
- Mr. Dithers's oft-mentioned wife Cora makes her first (and apparently only) appearance in the BCU as an overbearing, patriotic society snob who henpecks her husband into playing a butler, performed impeccably by character actress Grace Hayle. She insists the French maid she's playing is "Free French, of course" and ensures proceeds from the play will be donated to the USO.
- The mailman Mr. Crum, usually limited to one scene per movie, gets a lot of screentime in this, pulling double duty as an actor in the play and incompetent stagehand. It's a shame that this is actor Irving Bacon's last time playing the character.
Sandwich Watch: Dagwood makes a sandwich in front of the puppies, then looks at the calendar and realizes it's Meatless Tuesday (specifically, August 24) and ruefully puts it away.
Continuity Corner: Dagwood mistakenly thinking a future houseguest is a little girl also happened in a 1933 strip:
15. Leave It to Blondie (1945)
Blondie and Dagwood are proud of themselves for saving up money, and then they both accidentally donate $100 apiece for a camp for underprivileged kids, leaving them in a financial lurch. Luckily, Alexander and Alvin have secretly submitted a song left behind by Dagwood's musician uncle Horace to a song-writing contest under Dagwood's name, where the grand prize is $250. Naturally, Dagwood is selected as a finalist, and must perform the song for rich benefactor Ms. Meredith, but when contest official Rita Rogers shows up to prepare him for the performance, she discovers he has absolutely no singing ability and doesn’t even know the lyrics. She takes Dagwood to a hotel to whip him into shape with piano-player Ed, which concerns Blondie, because she had overheard a fake gypsy fortuneteller tell Dagwood he'd be meeting a beautiful black-eyed brunette. Convinced he's having an affair with Rita, she kicks him out of the house. Distraught, Dagwood sleeps by an open window at the hotel and catches a cold on the day of the performance, leaving him unable to sing despite being forced to chug various home "remedies" made by the supporting characters. Alvin hatches a plan to record Ed singing the song and play it while Dagwood lip-synchs. The plan goes awry, but he wins anyway even though he didn't write the song (Meredith recognizes it as something Horace had written for her 20 years ago) or perform it, and even gets a bonus from Mr. Dithers because Meredith agreed to buy some property from him. I’d be pretty pissed if I was one of the other finalists.
While I suspect the hiatus had more to do with contract disputes than dwindling popularity (I came across an item in a gossip column suggesting star Penny Singleton was being “a little difficult,” but couldn’t find anything more to corroborate), it’s not unreasonable to assume audiences had developed Blondie fatigue after being subjected to 14 films in 6 years. It’s rather disappointing, then, that instead of retooling things and trying something new, the series makes its comeback with yet another “Blondie suspects her husband of being unfaithful” plot. Also, Arthur Lake’s schtick has been growing quite tiresome, exacerbated by Dagwood’s passivity in this installment where he just sort of bumbles along while other characters do everything for him.
- Really dislike how vague the title is. Leave what to Blondie? Leave it to Blondie to fall for some charlatan gypsy and concoct some ridiculous fantasy about infidelity? The other movies are at least a little more descriptive, i.e. in Blondie Goes to College, Blondie goes to college. Speaking of titles, in June 1944 Variety reported the series would return with “Blondie Houses a Haunt,” but I’m not sure if that evolved into this movie or if it was scrapped entirely.
- Child actor Danny Mummert (Alvin) has improved immensely over the years, while Larry Simms (Alexander)… hasn't. It seems cruel to keep sticking them together when the talent gap is so large.
- After realizing he's put his foot in his mouth by insulting Ms. Meredith, Dithers says "I could shoot myself," which is rather unfortunate considering the fate of Jonathan Hale.
- Rita wants Dagwood to look like “that modern crooner,” and Dagwood thinks she’s talking about Dinah Shore. He’s performed in drag before, maybe he’s developed a taste for it...
War Report: The first scene features the newspaper being delivered by... a GIRL?!? She explains to a surprised Daisy that she's filling in for her brother, who's serving in the Navy. This seems to be the only reference to the war.
Mail Time: Longtime mailman Mr. Crum is replaced by a new guy. I like that they go through the trouble of having him explain that he's taken over Crum's route, and that Crum warned him about Dagwood just to ensure continuity. #CrumCrew rise up. Meanwhile, neighbor Fred Fuddle is played by a completely different guy than before.
Continuity Corner: Where
is Springfield do the Bumsteads live? Take a look at the envelope Dagwood receives:
You'll notice it just says "City." Also note that the street name starts with an "E," which is a massive blunder. Real film buffs and radio heads know, of course, that they live on Shady Lane Avenue.
Sandwich Watch: They forgot the damn sandwich again #
16. Life with Blondie (1945)
This is a surprisingly strong entry in the series, thanks to the delightful presence of the old-timey (then-timey?) gangsters, who seem to have wandered in from another movie. I especially like the crime boss, Blackie, who starts panicking about the dog and insists on getting a plastic surgeon to disguise her. There’s been some bad hombres in the Blondie series here and there - a homicidal magician, a devious hotelier, a gold-digging director – but the introduction of an organized criminal underworld in this otherwise Pollyannaish world takes things to a new level, and it’s fun to see hapless goofball Dagwood Bumstead mixed up in Dick Tracy’s world for a bit.
There’s also a palpable energy lacking from many of the previous installments: it opens with Daisy on the run from dogcatchers, there’s a tense scene where Dagwood’s young daughter Cookie wanders along a window ledge on a high-rise building, and it concludes with an action-packed fight scene where Blondie gets to knock out Blackie’s moll Hazel. I daresay director Abby Berlin has more ambition than the series’ previous helmer Frank L. Strayer.
- The reason Daisy becomes famous is because an unnamed neighbor mentioned to a reporter that she sent her Navy son pin-up pictures of girls along with a picture of Daisy, and for some reason he and his Navy buddies weren’t interested in the girls, preferring instead to hang up a picture of the dog and declare her the “Navy’s Pin-Up Pooch.”
- The babysitter can’t watch Cookie, so Dagwood is forced to take her to work. There’s some good comedic acting from Marjorie Ann Mutchie as she mimics him trying to sneak into his office.
- Neighbor boy Alvin Fuddle is totally absent from this film, and in his place is brainy new neighbor Tommy Cooper. That archetype can be funny sometimes (one of my favorite Nancy moments springs to mind) but here it’s just annoying.
- Another annoying character is Dagwood’s co-worker Ollie Shaw, who appeared a couple times in the earlier films, but was recast for the post-Strayer era and is now constantly mugging in all his scenes. Why bring back such a forgettable minor character? I figured he must be from the comic strip, but as far as I can tell he’s another screen invention.
Mail Time: Tommy is interested in observing “the phenomenon” of Dagwood running into the mailman, who tells him it hasn’t happened in a week (symbolizing Dagwood’s impotence??). Seconds later he gets knocked down by Blondie and Daisy, who’s late for a photoshoot.
Sandwich Watch: It’s not played as a gag, but Dagwood makes one of his trademark sandwiches as a night snack. #
17. Blondie’s Lucky Day (1946)
The series tends to alternate between wacky plots and more down-to-earth domestic stories, and consequently the latter just feel dull. In the previous movie, there’s a big brawl with gangsters. In this one, all that exciting action is replaced with… a guy getting an expensive bill. It’s easy to see why the poster art goes off in its own direction, selling a much zanier romp than the actual movie. I couldn’t help but think the Bumstead Construction Company is a much less funny version of the Michael Scott Paper Company arc from The Office. I was a little curious about the logistics of Dagwood starting his own business, which seems out of reach for a middle-class family that’s perpetually on the brink of financial calamity, but the movie avoids any details. Blondie even mentions decorating the office, which we never see. Boring!
- Before learning Sgt. McDermott is a woman, Blondie invites neighbor Grace Perkins to dinner. It’s extremely out of character for Blondie to treat an unmarried woman in the neighborhood as a friend instead of a threat. There was a month-long story arc about this:
- Neighbor kid Alvin is still absent, so they can’t do the recurring gag where he’s horny for the guest actress.
- Dagwood tries to look up someone in the phone book and snickers at the name “Bumstead” before remembering that it’s his name. A new low for the character?
Continuity Corner: Dithers reluctantly puts Dagwood in charge of the office because he’s the oldest employee (he’s been working there for 13 years per comics continuity). As shown in Footlight Glamour, most of the staff fought in WWII, which makes me wonder if the ones who didn’t return from the battlefield helped Dagwood move up the ladder.
Mail Time: After just two appearances of Eddie Acuff as the mailman, we are introduced to yet another new mailman, this time played by Frank Jenks. I feel like if you’re going to be in a Blondie movie you’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. #
18. Blondie Knows Best (1946)
This one was alright. There's a lot of plates spinning and some fun slapstick, though not as much as you'd expect from one-third of the Three Stooges. The third act feels rather disjointed and a little too kooky. Guys. World War II JUST happened. A couple of German guys looking for Untermenschen to experiment on doesn't ring any alarm bells?
This movie marks the final performance of Jonathan Hale as Mr. Dithers, which I find bittersweet. Dithers is a rather one-note character in the comics, but Hale imbues him with charm and compassion, and I admire the way he could sharply pivot from smooth-talking dealmaker mode to contemptuous outrage to warm fatherly concern without skipping a beat. He will be missed. For more information on Hale’s tragic life, please check out this insane Gregg Turkington-ass dedication.
- Credit where it’s due: Dagwood makes it the whole movie without getting served. All this to avoid paying $428.65.
- After being gone for two movies, Alvin (Danny Mummert) is back from his visit to Bedford Falls, where I guess he picked up a lot of knowledge about the legal system.
- Peabody asks Dagwood to "supply the girls," and his co-worker Ollie reluctantly offers up his fiancée and her sister to serve as their dates. My favorite part of the movie is Ollie getting madder and madder as he covertly watches his lover flirt with Dagwood.
- It's 1946, so I guess it's perfectly fine for the kids and the dogs to get into a car with a strange man they've never met before.
Continuity Corner: The general story of Dithers and Dagwood trading places to win over a client also occurred in episode 16 of the 1957 Blondie sitcom, which is available on Tubi in surprisingly decent quality.
Mail Time: No mailman is ever seen, but Dagwood crashes into Conroy on two separate occasions.
Sandwich Watch: Before heading to the club, Dagwood makes himself a giant sandwich as a snack, to Dithers’ horror. I like that he's discovering Dagwood's penchant for these culinary monstrosities for the first time and reacting like any normal person would. #
19. Blondie's Big Moment (1947)
In a radical shakeup for the Blondie series, Mr. Dithers has been written out after actor Jonathan Hale had the nerve to ask for more money. His replacement, Mr. Radcliffe, is played by Jerome Cowan who had played a different character in the previous film, which seems a tad egregious, but I doubt anyone noticed or cared. Radcliffe is much more short-tempered than Dithers and seems like he's ready to gut a dog at the slightest provocation. This movie wants you to hate this guy: he's feared by his employees, he's mean to our dear Dagwood, he hates kids, he's lecherous towards Blondie and Miss Gary, he fills the house with disgusting cigar smoke, he talks only about himself and his business accomplishments. He's the mean principal outlawing recess, the snooty country club owner, the smarmy business guy trying to tear down the orphanage. On some level, you want to see this jerk get his comeuppance, so it's a bit unsatisfying that the movie doesn't really provide that catharsis. He's humbled by having to hire back Dagwood and get jelly dripped on him, but it's a small price to pay for landing a big, important contract.
This isn't to say Radcliffe isn't funny (I did chuckle at how much he wanted to strangle that kid), but his manic energy can wear thin, especially when the entire movie revolves around him. Making Dagwood's boss more antagonistic creates more conflict and story potential, and might actually be more accurate to the source material, but at this point I'm skeptical Cowan has the charisma to make Radcliffe someone I'd want to spend more time with for an indeterminate number of sequels. At the end of the day, though, the basic formula remains the same (Dagwood bungles something, Dagwood's boss yells at him, Dagwood's boss fires him, Dagwood wins over an important client through dumb luck, Dagwood's boss rehires him) so maybe this shakeup isn't actually all that radical.
- Dagwood really wants to tell people about his vacation, but nobody seems to care. You'd think there'd be more interest considering his vacation was front page news back in Blondie Meets the Boss.
- Speaking of which, in retrospect Blondie Meets the Boss would've been a much better title for this movie. I guess Blondie's "big moment" is when she tells off Radcliffe?
- This film features a couple of rarely-seen locales: you rarely see the bus Dagwood takes every morning and you rarely see the other side of the office.
- There was some funny stuff with Cookie a few movies ago, but she's been an afterthought ever since.
- I've come to appreciate the way these movies will wait until the last possible moment to resolve the story and the twist that Slugger is secretly a millionaire is one of the more audacious endings.
Continuity Corner: Mea culpa: it turns out Dagwood's co-worker Ollie is not the same character as Dagwood's co-worker Ollie Shaw from the first few films, as his full name is revealed to be Oliver Merton when he puts his nameplate on Dagwood's office. This is Ollie's heel turn, the moment he goes from annoying pest to Dagwood's office rival, sucking up to the boss and willing to sell out his buddy for some more floorspace, perhaps exacting his revenge for the previous movie. It's a fun little "character arc" going on in the background of these movies.
Sandwich Watch: No sandwiches in this one. #
- Gregg Turkington of the Victorville Film Archive
- Carol Lynn Scherling, author of Blondie Goes to Hollywood: The Blondie Comic Strip in Films, Radio & Television