The Strawberry Blonde (1941) is directed by Raoul Walsh; stars James Cagney, Olivia De Havilland, and Rita Hayworth; and is based on a play by James Hagan. Cagney plays Biff who is in love with Rita Hayworth’s strawberry blonde, but she is aloof, and coy, and sometimes just plain crummy to our hero. Though calling Biff a hero is a bit of a push since Biff is more likely to use his fists, and use them poorly judging from his constant blackened eyes, than use his brains. He is taken advantage of so many times that you aren’t surprised when he takes the fall for a “friend” and spends five years in prison. That’s right, it is a romantic comedy, and the lead spends five years’ hard labor as a sort of joke on him. Instead of Rita Hayworth, Biff marries Amy (Olivia De Havilland) who steals all her scenes with her endless charm and keen comedic timing. He also enrolls in a correspondence school for dentistry (a degree he will have to complete behind prison walls).
The best of the rest is Alan Hale as Biff’s father and the local badger to all married women. Jack Carson plays the heavy with a sort of loose casualness that it is hard to blame him for all the mayhem he causes. The movie, at times, still feels very much like a play with its static camera placement and use of basically five total sets. Movement through flash-forward and flashback is done deftly. While this is certainly a family film on the surface, it is filled to the brim with double-entendres, other word play, double meanings, and innuendo. The first meeting between Biff and Amy in the park is so convoluted that you won’t need to worry about explaining it to your kids, but may need to re-watch the scene a few times to fully appreciate the densely packed dialogue.
- Vintage Radio Broadcast: Screen Guild Playhouse (10/5/41): a live, radio version of the play The Strawberry Blonde with Cagney and De Havilland.
- Vintage Radio Broadcast: Lux Radio Theater (3/23/42): another live, radio version of the play The Strawberry Blonde, but with Hayworth joined by Don Ameche and Gail Patrick.
- Classic Warner Bros. Short: Polo with the Stars: an oddly satisfying look at the rules of polo and how the horses are treated and trained.
- Classic Warner Bros. Cartoon: Tortoise Beats Hare: a classic Tex Avery-led cartoon with an old-school Bugs Bunny trying to prove he’s the fastest in the land.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Strawberry Blonde has its moments, and the actors absolutely radiate in every scene. There is a bit of a dark undertone, though, with the biting wit of the dialogue, and, you know, paying for a crime you didn’t commit; however, in the end, The Strawberry Blonde is sweet, charming, and a great bit of old Hollywood to add to your collection.