Blondie and Dagwood are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary but this happy occasion is marred when the bumbling Dagwood gets himself involved in a scheme that is promising financial ruin for the Bumstead family. Camping on the porch of the Poor House would become the most-used prevalent plot line in the 27 series-films that followed. It was also an issue in the comic-strip for about a year after its inception when it was basically a continuity strip but, aside from Dagwood's inability to coax a pay-raise from Mr. Dithers over the years, the financial status of the family was seldom an issue when the format switched to a gag-a-day strip. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
"I think it's more difficult to bring up a husband than a baby."
This is the first of the classic films of American comedies in the BLONDIE series, of which 28 were made between 1938 and 1950. The films are all wonderfully comic and delightfully whimsical, and frequently absolutely hilarious. The main characters are Dagwood Bumstead and his wife Blondie. They derived from Chic Young's famous comic strip "Blondie", which began publication in 1930. From the 1930s right through to the end of the 1950s, Dagwood and Blondie represented a side of Middle American life which resonated though the heartland from coast to coast, and the two characters and their child "Baby Dumpling" and dog Daisy were so familiar that most ordinary people throughout America almost thought they knew them personally, or wished they did. The "Blondie" stories, according to Chic Young, were set in Joplin, Missouri, and what could be more Middle American than that? Arthur Lake, who played Dagwood with such genius, was born in 1905 in Corbin, Kentucky, the same strange former roadside town with truck-stops (before interstate highways existed) which gave the world Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, so Lake knew how to play a comic Middle American dimwit as well as anyone. ("Blondie, some of my green socks are blue.") Lake had already made 123 films before he commenced the BLONDIE series, but he did little else after 1938 until his retirement in 1957 than play Dagwood, in films, on TV, and on radio. He became a national institution. As a child, everyone I knew read "Blondie" every Sunday in the Sunday paper, though everyone called it "Dagwood and Blondie". I remember that it was from reading it that I learned for the first time in my life that there was such a thing as a pie which was not sweet but which had cheese and tomatoes on it instead, called a pizza, and after reading that I went around asking all the grownups I could find if they had ever seen or heard of a pizza and they all said no. It was years before I tasted one of these strange pizzas. It was definitely Dagwood who introduced the pizza to Middle America in the 1950s, such was the educational potential of a mass comic strip in those days, and look at the effect it had on the whole country. Now can you imagine American or any other Western life without pizza? Even the Mainland Chinese have been addicted to pizzas since the 1990s. Much of this we certainly owe to Chic Young's comic strip and his character Dagwood. In this first film we have the only appearances in the BLONDIE series of the comic genius Gene Lockhart (as C. P. Hazlit, an eccentric millionaire), and his wife Kathleen, as Blondie's mother. It is a pity they never reappeared, as Gene Lockhart in particular largely steals the film with his brilliant performance. (Maybe the producer was worried for that very reason that Lockhart would prevent his main characters from establishing themselves.) But the shining star of the whole BLONDIE series was always the perfectly cast Penny Singleton. It is clear to me that, consciously or subconsciously, January Jones of the TV series MAD MEN has modelled her stance, her pout, her deportment, and her movements on Penny Singleton, for period authenticity. They look and dress like sisters. Penny Singleton was a true phenomenon, a whirlwind of a housewife who took husband, child, dog, neighbours, husband's boss and husband's job all in hand while multi-tasking with all the housework at the same time. It was she who got her husband a raise in salary, she who brought all chaotic situations under control, she who made wry and humorous remarks all day long, she who rebuked and disciplined and then softened the situations with her angelic smile and a flattering witticism. In short, she was the Middle American ideal woman of her period. She was what every woman from Oregon to Georgia, from Vermont to Arizona, wanted above all to be. And she was beautiful. So she became the greatest of the unsung female American icons. But no modern feminist would ever give her the time of day or admit she had ever even existed, because she stands for everything extremist feminists most fear and hate, female contentment and subliminal control, with no fuss. When Penny Singleton said to Dagwood in this first film: "I think bringing up a husband is more difficult than bringing up a baby," she said what every American woman outside the coastal metropolises knew all too well, and she said it with such an angelic and loving smile that everyone adored her just as much as Dagwood did. We must not forget the other great star of this and the following BLONDIE films, the amazing child actor Larry Simms, who plays "Baby Dumpling", the unbelievably cute and adorable son of the Bumsteads, and in this film he makes his acting debut at the age of four (the same debut age as Margaret O'Brien and Shirley Temple). Apart from appearing in Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) and a few others, Simms largely played this character, retiring from the screen in 1951 at the age of 18. Simms did appear in an uncredited role at the age of three in something else. I can understand something of what Simms must have gone through, since I myself was briefly a child actor at the age of three. At that age you are too young to notice or worry about the camera at all. What bothers you are the lights, which are so bright and dazzling and they have to keep telling you not to let the lights bother you and not to squint. The running subplot in the BLONDIE films of Baby Dumpling playing with the little boy Alvin next door provides some of the most hilarious episodes in the series, along with the little dog Daisy.
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