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Home Classic MoviesTCM Actress Joan Blondell on TCM: Warners’ 1930s Anti-Heroine

Actress Joan Blondell on TCM: Warners’ 1930s Anti-Heroine

actress Joan BlondellJoan Blondell: The enterprising, no-nonsense 1930s Warner Bros. actress is one of Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” luminaries.
  • TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” schedule – Aug. 8: Turner Classic Movies will be airing 16 titles featuring actress Joan Blondell, with particular emphasis on her fast-talking, go-getting Depression era anti-heroines at Warner Bros.
  • This Joan Blondell article includes a brief overview of five of her TCM films: Union Depot, The King and the Chorus Girl, Blondie Johnson, Three on a Match, and Blonde Crazy.

TCM’s ‘Summer Under the Stars’ schedule on Aug. 8: Focus on Warner Bros.’ enterprising 1930s contract actress Joan Blondell

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” schedule – Aug. 8: TCM will be presenting 16 titles featuring 1930s Warner Bros. contract actress Joan Blondell – or about the equivalent of her quarterly output at the studio.

Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but only a bit. After all, Blondell was inordinately busy throughout the Depression era, when she was seen in more than 50 feature films (including a few loan-outs). In 1931 alone: Ten titles, mostly in supporting roles. In 1932: Another ten titles in leads and co-leads. In 1933: Eight titles.

Things slowed down somewhat in mid-decade, though Blondell continued to appear in at least four or five releases almost every year until 1939. The one exception was 1938, when Alexander Hall’s crime comedy There’s Always a Woman (at Columbia) was her sole vehicle.

This year, TCM will be focusing on Blondell’s Warners movies of the 1930s, with two exceptions: Paramount’s Make Me a Star (1932) and the Hal Roach Studios’ United Artists-distributed Topper Returns (1941). In other words, don’t expect any rarities.

Even so, here’s hoping that one day a print of Archie Mayo’s 1932 sex comedy Convention City will be unearthed. That the rights issues entangling Curtis Bernhardt’s sentimental melodrama The Blue Veil, which earned Blondell her only Academy Award nomination (as Best Supporting Actress, 1951), will be disentangled. And that TCM will bring back Sidney Lanfield’s Pre-Code drama Broadway Bad.

Below is a brief overview of five Joan Blondell movies: Union Depot, The King and the Chorus Girl, Blondie Johnson, Three on a Match, and Blonde Crazy. (See TCM’s Joan Blondell “Summer Under the Stars” schedule further below. Most titles – possibly all of them – will remain available for a while on the Watch TCM app, which seems to be back in order after weeks of frustrating glitches.)

Union Depot (1932)

In Alfred E. Green’s shockingly fluid and impressively staged Union Depot – Sol Polito’s camera goes just about everywhere in the immense titular setting; sound is cleverly used to convey mood – Joan Blondell, billed below the title in a subordinate role, creates one of the most nuanced characterizations of her Warner Bros. period. Rarely were her big, soulful eyes used as effectively as when she’s ready to give her all for a $64 train ticket to Salt Lake City.

This Grand Hotel-ish (minus the major stars and the big budget) Pre-Code drama also has a (mostly) adult-oriented screenplay* to recommend it – even featuring a wistful finale – and star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. delivering a more compelling than usual performance as an abusive jerk redeemed by love and compassion.

* Credited to Kenyon Nicholson and Walter DeLeon, with dialogue by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright†, from Joe Laurie Jr., Gene Fowler, and Douglas Durkin’s unpublished 1929 play of the same name.

† Kubec Glasmon and John Bright were shortlisted for the 1930–31 Best Original Story Academy Award for the gangster drama The Public Enemy.

The King and the Chorus Girl (1937)

With a screenplay attributed to (The Blue Veil co-producer) Norman Krasna and Groucho Marx (his sole official writing credit), Mervyn LeRoy’s The King and the Chorus Girl stars Joan Blondell and French import Fernard Gravet (Fernand Gravey in the USA) as the enamored title characters.

Such stories – member of the nobility falls in love with commoner – have always been around, but they seem to have become especially prevalent in 1930s Hollywood. Notable examples include Love Me Tonight (Princess Jeanette MacDonald and tailor Maurice Chevalier), Thin Ice (Prince Tyrone Power and skate instructor Sonja Henie), The Baroness and the Butler (Baroness Annabella and butler William Powell), and, perhaps best of all, The Gay Deception (Prince Francis Lederer and lottery-winning secretary Frances Dee).

Carole Landis, Joan Blondell’s fellow blonde in Topper Returns, is supposed to have an uncredited bit in The King and the Chorus Girl.

Blondie Johnson (1933)

In Ray Enright’s Blondie Johnson, Joan Blondell proves that hard work does pay.

Determined not to suffer the indignities of poverty after losing her job and getting no government assistance, Blondell’s Blondie uses her relentless drive to become the de facto leader of a criminal gang.

In real life, she would have also pushed her strong-jawed mobster lover (Chester Morris*) to run for president – and, as a more handsome, more charismatic version of an Orban, an Erdogan, or a Trump, he would have won, too – but this is a Hollywood movie. Though a Pre-Coder, Blondie Johnson thinks it has the duty to teach audiences a lesson or two about law and order. And that’s its fatal flaw.

Hardly one of the most memorable Warner Bros. directors, Ray Enright collaborated with Joan Blondell on eight titles, several of which are part of the TCM lineup. In addition to Blondie Johnson, there were Havana Widows (1933), I’ve Got Your Number (1934), Dames (1934), Traveling Saleslady (1935), We’re in the Money (1935), Miss Pacific Fleet (1935), and Back in Circulation (1937).

* Chester Morris was a finalist for the 1928–29 Best Actor Academy Award (there were no official nominations that year) for the crime drama Alibi.

Joan Blondell Three on a Match Bette DavisJoan Blondell in a Three on a Match publicity shot, standing next to Warner Bros.’ future Queen of the Lot Bette Davis.

Three on a Match (1932)

Despite her top billing, Joan Blondell has a dramatically subordinate role in Mervyn LeRoy’s solid Pre-Code drama Three on a Match. As the movie’s actual lead, Ann Dvorak – running the gamut from dissatisfied bourgeois wife and mom to downtrodden junkie – delivers what may well be the most remarkable performance of her career.

The film’s other single-match user is future two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Bette Davis (Dangerous, 1935; Jezebel, 1938) in her first year at Warner Bros.

In 1938, Margaret Lindsay, Ann Sheridan, and Marie Wilson were featured in John Farrow’s less potent B remake Broadway Musketeers.

Seven years later, Edward G. Robinson, who should have known better after all his years at Warners, allowed his boss and a coworker to use one match to light three cigars in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. Inevitably, death and mayhem ensued.

Blonde Crazy (1931)

An average Pre-Code programmer, Roy Del Ruth’s Blonde Crazy has James Cagney doing his usual schtick as a con man bellhop and Joan Blondell as his chambermaid girlfriend. Working in tandem, the enterprising couple use hotel guests as rungs on their ladder to financial success, though personal choices eventually take them in different directions.

Later on, in a curious (if contrived) socially subversive twist, Blondell learns the hard way that just because a guy looks like a model citizen, that doesn’t necessarily make him one.

Also in the Blonde Crazy cast: Future Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, 1945), looking very youthful and handsome, and future nominee Louis Calhern (The Magnificent Yankee, 1950), by then a veteran with more than a decade in show business.

Immediately below is TCM’s Joan Blondell movie schedule.

TCM’s ‘Summer Under the Stars’ schedule: Joan Blondell

Aug. 8, EDT

6:00 AM Union Depot (1932)
1h 15m | Drama
Director: Alfred E. Green.
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Alan Hale.

7:15 AM Lawyer Man (1932)
1h 12m | Drama
Director: William Dieterle.
Cast: William Powell, Joan Blondell, David Landau, Helen Vinson, Claire Dodd, Alan Dinehart, Allen Jenkins.

8:30 AM Traveling Saleslady (1935)
1h 4m | Comedy
Director: Ray Enright.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, William Gargan, Hugh Herbert, Grant Mitchell, Al Shean, Ruth Donnelly, Johnny Arthur.

9:45 AM The King and the Chorus Girl (1937)
1h 35m | Comedy
Director: Mervyn LeRoy.
Cast: Fernand Gravet, Joan Blondell, Edward Everett Horton, Alan Mowbray, Mary Nash, Jane Wyman, Luis Alberni, Kenny Baker.

11:30 AM The Famous Ferguson Case (1932)
1h 14m | Crime
Director: Lloyd Bacon.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Grant Mitchell, Vivienne Osborne, Adrienne Dore, Tom Brown, Kenneth Thomson, Leslie Fenton.

12:45 PM Blondie Johnson (1933)
1h 7m | Crime
Director: Ray Enright.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Chester Morris, Allen Jenkins, Earle Foxe, Claire Dodd, Mae Busch, Sterling Holloway.

2:00 PM I’ve Got Your Number (1934)
1h 8m | Comedy
Director: Ray Enright.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Pat O’Brien, Allen Jenkins, Glenda Farrell, Eugene Pallette, Gordon Westcott, Henry O’Neill, Louise Beavers.

3:15 PM We’re in the Money (1935)
1h 6m | Comedy
Director: Ray Enright.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Hugh Herbert, Ross Alexander, Hobart Cavanaugh, Phil Regan, Anita Kerry, Lionel Stander.

4:30 PM Broadway Gondolier (1935)
1h 38m | Musical
Director: Lloyd Bacon.
Cast: Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Adolph Menjou, Louise Fazenda, William Gargan, George Barbier, Grant Mitchell, The Mills Brothers.

6:15 PM Dames (1934)
1h 30m | Musical
Directors: Ray Enright & Busby Berkeley (dance numbers).
Cast: Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, ZaSu Pitts, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert, Arthur Vinton, Phil Regan.

8:00 PM Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
1h 36m | Musical
Director: Mervyn LeRoy.
Cast: Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers.

10:00 PM Footlight Parade (1933)
1h 42m | Musical
Director: Lloyd Bacon.
Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Claire Dodd, Gordon Westcott, Arthur Hohl, Renee Whitney.

12:00 AM Topper Returns (1941)
1h 25m | Comedy
Director: Roy Del Ruth.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Roland Young, Carole Landis, Billie Burke, Dennis O’Keefe, Patsy Kelly, H.B. Warner, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, George Zucco, Donald MacBride, Rafaela Ottiano, Trevor Bardette, Slicker the Seal.

1:45 AM Three on a Match (1932)
1h 4m | Drama
Director: Mervyn LeRoy.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis, Warren William, Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins, Edward Arnold, Hardie Albright, Anne Shirley (as Dawn O’Day), Virginia Davis, Glenda Farrell.

3:00 AM Blonde Crazy (1931)
1h 15m | Comedy
Director: Roy Del Ruth.
Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Noel Francis, Ray Milland, Guy Kibbee, Polly Walters, Maude Eburne, Nat Pendleton.

4:30 AM Make Me a Star (1932)
1h 10m | Comedy
Director: William Beaudine.
Cast: Joan Blondell, Stuart Erwin, ZaSu Pitts, Ben Turpin, Helen Jerome Eddy, Ruth Donnelly.
Cameos: Tallulah Bankhead, Clive Brook, Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Phillips Holmes, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, Charles Ruggles, Sylvia Sidney.

“Actress Joan Blondell on TCM: Warners’ 1930s Anti-Heroine” notes

Joan Blondell “Summer Under the Stars” schedule via Turner Classic Movies.

Joan Blondell solo image | Bette Davis and Joan Blondell Three on a Match movie image: Warner Bros.

“Actress Joan Blondell on TCM: Warners’ 1930s Anti-Heroine” last updated in September 2023.

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