SPOTLIGHT: Brassy Pre-Code Blondell (XIV)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Today we’re hosting a bonus Film Friday, a post that was written but never made it to “air” in our fall 2015 spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of Joan Blondell (1906-1979), an iconic Warner dame known for her snappy speech and straight-shooting style. We’d covered Illicit (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Night Nurse (1931), and in her spotlight series, we featured Blonde Crazy (1931), Union Depot (1932), The Greeks Had A Word For Them [a.k.a. Three Broadway Girls] (1932), Miss Pinkerton (1932), Three On A Match (1932), Lawyer Man (1932), Blondie Johnson (1933), The Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933), Goodbye Again (1933), Footlight Parade (1933), Havana Widows (1933), I’ve Got Your Number (1934), and Smarty (1934). Today…

 

He Was Her Man (1934)

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A safecracker goes straight to get back at some fellow crooks. Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Victory Jory, and Frank Craven. Screenplay by Tom Buckingham and Niven Busch. Story by Robert Lord. Directed by Lloyd Bacon.

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All of the leads are surprisingly understated, and aside from Jory, the other two members of the principal love triangle — Cagney and Blondell — are almost miscast. On paper, it seems like a good fit: he’s an ex-con with a score to settle with the mob, and she’s a hooker who’s leaving the old life and getting married to a decent fellow. But the portrayals of the characters, and much of this comes from the scripting, doesn’t allow for their individual joie de vivre, which drives both of their cinematic personas. The audience excepts certain things from each performer, and they knowingly don’t deliver. I’m sure the idea of simpler, more “human” performances appealed to both players, but in a quasi-action film, I miss the spark which typifies their Pre-Code careers. That noted, their chemistry is always a delight, and there are moments of genuine beauty in their scenes. (I also appreciate the unhappy ending, but I shan’t spoil it here!)

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Yet it’s ultimately not what we want from a Cagney-Blondell Pre-Code, nor what we want from the story at hand. Thus, He Was Her Man is designed only for the hardcore fans of either performer.

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