THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE is delightful vintage nostalgic Americana: just the ticket when you’re fed up with how fractured and foolish we’ve become. It won’t fix that (what will?), but it will make you feel lighter-hearted for 97 minutes.
Directed by Raoul Walsh in 1941, it was a critical and audience success, taking it a healthy $3,000,000. It was the director’s favorite film of the 138 he piloted, pleased stars James Cagney (anxious to stay away from serious tough-guy stuff) and Olivia de Havilland and gave nice boosts to rising lights Jack Carson and Rita Hayworth.
Decent dentist ‘Biff Grimes’ (Cagney) is a sport but also bantam enough to duke it out at the drop of a leaf. He falls for dazzler Rita, but so does amiable rival ‘Hugo Barnstead’ (Carson), while nicer gal Olivia tries to bring common sense to the rivalry. Set in New York in the 1890s, it’s chocked with period atmosphere and many of the great songs of the day, singalong ditty-standards that can still summon heart-warmed smiles and toe-taps a dozen decades later.
Cagney’s perfect, playing rat-a-tat off his own Irish-American big-city upbringing. Carson’s a great foil, more than holding his own against the champ; Hayworth a fresh and breezy 23; de Havilland at her best, relishing a strong year, Oscar nominated for Hold Back The Dawn and brightening another hit for director Walsh, They Died With Their Boots On.
Ever-able Warner’s hearties Alan Hale and George Tobias provide excellent backup, with a young George Reeves pitching handsome as a ‘college man’. Oscar-nominated for the Music Score (Heinz Roemheld orchestrating those golden oldie-oldies). With Una O’Connor. James Wong Howe did the fine cinematography, and the writing whirlwinds Julius & Philip Epstein handled the sparkling script with its happy armful of slang and perky back & forth. Walsh took this on as a remake of a flopped 1933 Gary Cooper outing, One Sunday Afternoon, and liked it so much he remade it again seven years later, as a musical with that title. It didn’t do as well: this one’s the keeper.
Nice quote on comedy from Carson: “People will always laugh at somebody else’s discomfort. But they only laugh because they have suffered the same indignity themselves or known darn well how it feels. Being a comedian is almost like being a doctor–the more troubles you discover and understand, the more gladness you can bring to an audience.”