When we first meet Blondie Johnson, she’s begging for help from the Welfare and Relief Association. She tells the unsympathetic operative that she lives in the backroom of a drug store. She and her mother were turned out of their last apartment. They rely on the kindness of their neighbors for food. Her mother is suffering from pneumonia.
The man is unmoved by her tale of woe. A short time later, Blondie hurries back to the drug store, in a driving rainstorm, only to find that her mother has died. She breaks down in hysterical, heart-rending sobs.
It’s the last hint of distressed damsel that you’ll see from this dame.
Blondie Johnson (1933) stars the always-fabulous Joan Blondell in the title role of a downtrodden Depression-era woman who transforms her existence from bleak oppression to indisputable triumph. Using her wits, her nerve, and her determination, Blondie starts out as a small-time con artist, but it’s not long before she’s a big-time gangster – her conversion begins shortly after her mother’s death, when the local priest advises her that it’s her job to “do something about [her] circumstances.”
“You’re right, Father. It is up to me. And I’m going to do something,” Blondie replies. “I’m going to get money and I’m going to get plenty of it.” And when the priest cautions her that there are two ways of getting money, Blondie agrees: “The hard way and the easy way.”
Spoken like a true anti-damsel.
Blondie Johnson is one of my favorite pre-Code characters. She was sometimes down, but she was never out. She didn’t take any crap from anybody – friend, foe, or lover. She kept a level head. She was forward-thinking, innovative, and fearless, but not reckless. And she did what she needed to do to get the job done. In different circumstances, she’d have made an ideal corporation head — heck, maybe even president! Don’t believe me? Check out some of Blondie’s anti-damsel acts:
- Blondie teams up with a cab driver (who, by the way, she tried to fleece at their first meeting) to wrangle cash from soft-hearted locals. One of her targets is Danny Jones (Chester Morris), a known hood who falls for her teary tale of misfortune and shells out ten bucks so she can make it on time to her fake job as a fictional nurse.
- After Danny figures out Blondie’s scheme, he confronts her as she’s counting out the evening’s earnings. He first swats her upside the head and then, when she cracks wise, he steps squarely on her foot. Blondie promptly slams her fist on top of his hand, causing Danny to retort in pain, “You’re a fresh dame.”
- Instead of shying away, Blondie’s curiosity is piqued when she learns that Danny is the right-hand man to a high-ranking gangster. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” she’s agreed to join Danny in a crafty plot to sway the jury in a murder trial – she not only comes up with the plan, but she skillfully executes it, resulting in a not guilty verdict for Danny’s pal.
- When Danny angrily tosses his wallet at Blondie, she gives it back to him: “I don’t want any of it. Not when you throw it at me like you throw slop to a pig,” she says. (What she doesn’t say is that she’d stealthily removed a thousand dollars from the wallet before she self-righteously returned it.)
- Danny tries to hit on Blondie. She pushes him off – literally and figuratively: “I brought you here for business. But you don’t seem to be able to keep your mind on it.” Later, she continues to maintain her resolve, even when she and Danny begin to fall for each other. She admits to a girlfriend that she likes Danny, but adds, “I got plans. Big plans. And the one thing that don’t fit in with them is pants.”
- Blondie works her way through the ranks of the mob, helps to topple the gang’s leader, and then muscles Danny out of the way, taking over as the head of the organization and operating it like an efficient, well-oiled machine.
And that’s just the beginning!
But in the words of Sir Isaac Newton (not to mention Blood, Sweat and Tears), what goes up must come down – and the same goes for Blondie’s rise to the top. I’ll let you watch the movie to find out the specifics regarding her descent, but I will say this: even in defeat, Blondie kept her head high – anti-damsel to the end.
Do yourself a favor and check out the defiant, determined, and dynamic dames being covered in this first-rate event!
You only owe it to yourself, y’know.