© 1938 Columbia Pictures Corporation

Blondie (1938)

I am not really sure why, but I got my hands on a big chunk of the series of 28 films that were based on the Blondie comic strip between 1938 and 1950. I thought I would watch the first one or two installments and leave it at that, expecting that the quality would quickly fall off, simply because they made so many of these films. After seeing the first film, I was instantly hooked. It is corny, predictable, sentimental light entertainment, but there is probably nothing wrong with entertainment being entertaining.

The first Blondie film tells the story of Dagwood Bumstead meeting a salesman-adverse businessman (Gene Lockhart), and the two bond over a broken hotel vacuum cleaner which they become obsessed with repairing. Blondie thinks Dagwood is having an affair with the businessman’s daughter, Dagwood losses his job at the Dithers Construction Company, as well as the living room furniture, Blondie wins them back, and everything ends well. A subplot involves their son Baby Dumpling and his next-door friend Alvin Fuddle, with whom he starts a feud over who likes the other the most.

It is interesting to see how much the basic storyline of the comic strip was altered in the film adaptation. Self-censorship of source material in order to produce family entertainment was the name of the game in 1938, but it was usually novels and plays that had some of their best scenes removed in order to make the screen adaptations as unoffensive as possible, and it is surprising that something so benign as a comic strip would have to be fundamentally altered in order to make it to the big screen. In the comic, Blondie Boopadoop was a gold-digging flapper who pursues Dagwood Bumstead, the son of a rich industrialist who has never who has never worked a day in his life. However, his family disinherits him for marrying so far below his class and he has to go to work at the J.C. Dithers Construction Company. Meanwhile, the former good time girl must adjust to life as a suburban housewife. In the film, Dagwood is good-natured but incompetent worker and more or less helpless at home, and needs Blondie’s help just to get a matching pair of socks on his feet. In the film, Blondie becomes Blondie Smith, an idealized housewife who will do anything to hold her family together, with a mother who does not trust Dagwood and a sweet younger sister. Blondie’s only faults are her jealous nature and overactive imagination, which has her believing that all women are out to steal her husband. It is not clear if the changes were only made to appease the censors and make the film more palpable for film-going audience, or if they were not to some extent changed to better suit Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton who play Dagwood and Blondie. Either way, the two leads are perfectly cast as the film incarnations of the characters.

I will set about watching the whole series now, or at least as much of it as I can.

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from Pan’s Labyrinth