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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Blondie (1938)



Reviews and Comments

The first entry in one of the longest running film series in all of movie history (in terms of number of entries) introduces us to the screen incarnations of the famous characters of what may be the longest running comic strip in all of comic strip history.

Part of what makes this film series so endearing is the perfect casting. Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake fit the Blondie and Dagwood characters so perfectly, they could just as easily have been Chic Young's inspiration for the comic strip instead of the other way around. Better yet, consistency strengthens the series, as Singleton and Lake star in every last one of the twenty eight Blondie films made over the course of thirteen years.

Larry Simms as Baby Dumpling (later known as Alexander) also reprises his role in all the films; Danny Mummert plays his friend that lives next door in all but four episodes. Throughout the series, we watch them grow up, and we become pleasantly familiar with their personalities -- were they replaced every few films, we would not.

Irving Bacon stars as the ill-fated mailman, Mr. Crumb, that Dagwood was forever crashing in to on his way to work. Crumb was transferred to a new route mid-way through the series, opening the door for other mailmen to take the falls. (One of the most consistently funny gags in the series was the inevitability of Dagwood's collisions with the mailman; curiously, right through to the twenty-eighth film, the writers found enough twists on it to make it fresh and hilarious every time.)

Jonathan Hale stars as Dagwood's tempermental boss J. C. Dithers in sixteen of the first eighteen films, bringing a surprising depth to a role that might have easily been a stereotypical cardboard caricature. Dithers is a stern, hot-tempered boss who runs a tight ship and has little patience for the trouble Dagwood continually finds himself in, but in certain moments, he surprises us with his compassion, understanding, and the ability to laugh in a bleak situation. The Dithers character works because those moments exist but are rare.

Rounding off the cast is Daisy, the family dog, used to great advantage, every bit as expressive, funny, and adorable as the human stars. She was played by a male dog, and the same dog in all twenty eight pictures.

Faithfulness to the comic strip was always a major concern with the makers of the film series -- the little touches, like the appearance of Bumstead sandwiches and Dagwood crashing in to the mailman in a flurry of letters, are simply delightful.

Plotwise, the appealing characteristic of the Blondie films is Dagwood's knack for getting himself in to trouble. Just when you think he's gotten in to enough trouble for one film, and the rest of it should be spent getting out of it, he gets in still more trouble. And more trouble. And then some more. And still more. Sometimes Blondie pulls him out of it, sometimes blind luck does the job, but regardless, we can't help but laugh and sympathize, laugh and sympathize. Through it all, one thing is certain: the Bumstead family will hang together through thick and thin; their blatant refusal to accept defeat is a quality that can only be admired. Their characters are reflections of ourselves; perhaps another element of the series' appeal rests in how we identify with them and cheer when they pull through in the end. And it helps, of course, that most of the films are outright hilarious.

This first film in the series is one of the best. Dagwood loses his job (for the first of a great many times) just when money is tight; he must close a deal with an elusive client on his own to get it back.

Series Entries