Tag Archives: Larry Simms

Blondie Meets the Boss (1939, Frank R. Strayer)

It’s hard to say who gives a better performance in Blondie Meets the Boss, Larry Simms as Baby Dumpling or Daisy the dog. Simms has a lot of funny lines–all the best lines are from kids talking about adults, it was hard not to think this entry should have been called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” But Simms is always looking off to the side, like Strayer or someone is giving him visual cues. Maybe there are cue cards. Something similar happens with the other child actor–Danny Mummert–who is even funnier than Simms in his one scene. The dog’s cute and has a real personality and it’s in that inclusion where the movie feels like it’s trying something. A dog in a comic strip can do a lot of stuff a dog in a movie cannot, but they try in Blondie Meets the Boss and it’s appreciated.

Otherwise, the movie’s something of a mess. The plot is contrivance on top of contrivance–the script goes through so many of them, it’d be hard to list them all. The biggest problem, the one affecting the climax, has to do with Dagwood–Arthur Lake’s a convincing bumbler (the best parts of his performance are when he’s thinking and it’s a visible struggle)–trying to hide from his wife he’d been in an inappropriate situation with another woman. He ends up kissing the other woman because of peer pressure from the neighbor and it’s like the viewer’s supposed to think it’s okay Dagwood’s so weak-willed because, I don’t, it’s a Blondie movie.

The situation is never really dealt with–though he at least doesn’t confess the circumstances to wife Penny Singleton, who could have then just shook her head at what a moron she’d married–and it leaves the film with a bad taste. The neighbor, played by Don Beddoe, is a seedy guy and he just gets seedier throughout. It’s a strange, serious addition to an otherwise genial, near slapstick comedy.

Singleton’s story arc–the film splits the pair and, as with the first entry in the series, they don’t seem as comfortable together as they do apart–has to do with her taking Lake’s job for a day or two. There’s some funny Lake as Mr. Mom for a while, before the whole philandering bit starts. Then there’s this annoying character introduced to make Lake jealous. The supporting cast runs hot and cold and, given the amount of monologues each character gets, it’s tedious. Stanley Brown’s fine as the other man, but Joel Dean (whose character never shuts up) is awful. Dorothy Moore’s good though.

Singleton’s disappointing, because the movie spends the first two acts showing the viewer how much smarter she is than Lake… and then the third act she gets stupider. Their intelligence levels don’t flip, she just dumbs down for the movie to resolve itself–as a light comedy–in seventy minutes. Still, it doesn’t really hurt Singleton’s mostly mediocre performance–it wasn’t like her material at the office was very good either.

But the kid and the dog are hilarious.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Richard Flournoy, based on a story by Flournoy and Kay Van Riper, and on the comic strip by Chic Young; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Milton Drake and Leigh Harline; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penny Singleton (Blondie Bumstead), Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead), Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling Bumstead), Jonathan Hale (J.C. Dithers), Danny Mummert (Alvin Fuddle), Dorothy Moore (Dot Miller), Don Beddoe (Marvin Williams), Dorothy Comingore (Francine Rogers), Stanley Brown (Ollie Shaw), Joel Dean (Freddie Turner), Richard Fiske (Nelson), Inez Courtney (Betty Lou Wood) and Skinnay Ennis (Himself).


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Blondie (1938, Frank R. Strayer)

When I was in middle school, I read most of the comic strips in the newspaper, Blondie being one of them. I remember seeing, in the TV listings around the same time (probably a little later), some station running a bunch of Blondie movies at five o’clock in the morning. I missed taping them, but they’ve since shown up on DVD (some of them–I guess the series has twenty-seven entries). This first film, which I wasn’t expecting much from, is actually fairly good. There are a number of problems, the most damaging being the kid. First–as a relatively modern reader of the Blondie strip, I wasn’t aware of its classical content–is the name: Baby Dumpling. I’m not sure I ever got over it, but the silliness dulled as the movie went on. However, the kid playing the kid, Larry Simms, comes off like a little shithead, not an adorable troublemaker.

The film’s at its best when it’s out of the house and doing comic strip-sized gags. There are a number of three panel gags in the film–until the last act, most of the film is these gags, actually–and they work well for the most part. When in the house, Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake are less successful together then they are alone. For whatever reason, doing the comic strip gags doesn’t work with the two of them. When the film’s acting like its own animal, they’re all right. Lake isn’t particularly good, though he’s a decent physical comedy actor (which is why the scenes with him alone work better) and Singleton ranges in quality too, best when she’s putting up with him, which is the Blondie character’s defining trait. The film’s best scene is a quiet one, when they both check in on the baby. Watching the film, even today, one is participating in the concept–the adaptation of the Blondie comic strip, which has its own set of rules, rules a regular film does not have–and the baby checking scene really breaks free of the concept. It gives the characters real character, as opposed to the two dimensional adaptation.

The best performance in the film is Gene Lockhart, who plays a captain of industry obsessed with tinkering. In a film with so many mediocre performances, Lockhart immediately stands out as giving an excellent performance. I kept waiting for him to come back around.

As for the writing and directing… well, the writing’s all right. It’s certainly not as innocuous as I expected and I did laugh a few times. The director, Frank R. Strayer, is adequate. He’s better outside than in, but the film doesn’t offer many of those opportunities.

I wasn’t expecting much from Blondie (in fact, I was expecting to turn it off), but it’s a nice enough way to spend seventy minutes.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Richard Flournoy, based on the comic strip by Chic Young; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Leigh Harline and Ben Oakland; produced by Frank Sparks and Robert Sparks; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penny Singleton (Blondie), Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead), Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling), Gene Lockhart (C.P. Hazlip), Ann Doran (Elsie Hazlip) and Jonathan Hale (J.C. Dithers).


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