Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

“Hey fellas! Here comes the strawberry blonde!” 

            One day a friend and I were walking around New York City and we were walking down this one street when this tall, skinny girl with long black hair and dressed like she wants to get attention comes in front of us. There were a few guys working on something and they were all breaking their necks to get a glimpse of this girl. All my friend and I could do was laugh and wonder what on earth there was to this girl. The whole time we have just been seeing her from behind. Well when she turned around my friend and I just looked at each other and laughed because she was not that pretty!
            In the film The Strawberry Blonde set in the early 1900s a couple of guys break their necks to get a look at the new girl the “Strawberry Blonde” and whistle at her as she goes by. The women they were all admiring and whistling at deserved it unlike the girl I saw because she just so happened to be Rita Hayworth playing Virginia Brush. Virginia knows she can get any man she wants and she does. One man who is interested in her is an aspiring dentist named Biff Grimes (James Cagney). All his life Biff has been getting the short end of the stick constantly getting the leftovers. He is friends with a man named Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) who is running a new organization that is making money. Hugo makes a date with Virginia and her friend Amy Lind (Olivia de Havilland).
            Virginia and Amy could not be more different: Virginia is a spoiled brat whoand knows she is a hot thing and Amy is a nurse who wants to be seen as a tough cookie suffragist. Biff wants to get with Virginia so Hugo says that he can but that does not happen instead he ends up with Amy as planned. Biff is all a wreck and only has his mind on the Strawberry Blonde but then Amy turns him on his toes a bit with some of the things she tells him.
            A few days later Hugo and Biff plan to take the ladies out on a boat ride with Hugo promising Biff he can be with Virginia for the day. They have the tickets but the limit the boat can hold is reached just as Biff and Virginia were about to board. Biff finally gets his chance to have the girl of his dreams to himself and has a great time. When they return home he asks her out but she tells him she is booked solid for the next few weeks with dates with other men. They make a date for three weeks from that Wednesday.
            When the Wednesday for their date comes Biff cannot wait. Virginia on the other hand was ready to blow him off but after he says they were to go dancing and to a show she says yes. Well anyway she is a bitch and blows him off anyway that night after she marries Hugo that day. Biff is waiting in the park when Amy comes around. She went to tell him that Virginia got married. On the rebound he asks Amy if she would like to go steady with him and not too long after they get married. They do not have a lot money, Biff is working his way through correspondence school to be a dentist but in the meantime he is delivering milk at night.
            One day while getting his father out of a brawl in a bar he sees Virginia for the first time in a long time. She invites him and Amy to her home for dinner the next night. The night of the dinner before Biff and Amy arrive Virginia tells Hugo to give Biff a job since Amy was her good friend once and Biff was his good friend too. Hugo gives Biff a job but because he is only out for himself and gets the not so bright good guy in trouble.
            The whole film is told through a flashback but it is not bad as I often find films that use the device to be. It fit the story and gave it a satisfying ending. Biff’s realization that he really is a lucky man and he loves his wife can be seen as too over done but with the way the story goes it works and it is not corny.
            The cast was so good they all worked together perfectly. This was the first time I have ever seen James Cagney in a film. I liked him as the small tough guy who is always getting the leftovers in life. He was not over the top with being too tough or too nice he was great. Now I cannot wait to really see him as the tough guy. Olivia de Havilland was outrageously adorable. The scene where she first meets Biff in the park is hysterical because you could never see her that way: when we are first introduced to Amy she has just gotten out of work and is in her nursing uniform. Right away she starts with the women’s suffragist talk; we are supposed to think she is this really tough cookie. She starts winking and being flirty with a guy she does not even know. When she and Biff are sitting together while Virginia and Hugo are off doing their own thing she tells him her mother was one of the original Bloomer Girls and that her aunt was an actress (which was a profession that used to be very risqué), she does not mind if a guy kisses her before they are engaged, and that she smokes when she gets bored. I was laughing with her in those scenes she was great. I have a whole new admiration for her. Of course later it turns out she was just kidding about everything but you cannot be mad she was so cute. I really liked de Havilland and Cagney together they acted perfectly with one another. Rita Hayworth was ok there were some moments where she got on my nerves. Her clothes were fantastic though.
            I really liked how the film had Olivia de Havilland and Rita Hayworth play strong women. De Havilland was not the weak timid woman she usually played to this point. She was spunky even at the end she was being really cheeky and cute. She was feminine but did not take any crap. The film did not set to knock the women down a peg and I really liked that especially for the time it was made in. It makes fun of Women’s Rights at the beginning of the century but it does not outright and completely mock it.
            One of my all time favorite directors Raoul Walsh directed the film. I love how he does not constantly focus on one actor or actress if they are all together in a scene. He had such a great touch at capturing his actors at their best.
            I have to admit I was not expecting The Strawberry Blonde to be as good as it was. I thought it was going to be too dramatic but it was not all dramatic there were many bright, good moments especially between Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney. The story is very good it comes from a play entitled One Sunday Afternoon and was made into a film of the same name in 1933 starring Fay Wray and Gary Cooper. The Strawberry Blonde is adorable and has a lot of heart. It is a very good Classic Hollywood film and I definitely suggest seeing it.
            The Strawberry Blonde is available on DVD.