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Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda

June 13, 2008 - June 29, 2008

Blonde Crazy, June 13

With a lush figure, bright, platter-sized eyes that missed nothing, and a mouth equally ready to dish a wisecrack, pull a sneer, or plant a kiss, actress Joan Blondell (1906–1979) was a staple of Hollywood’s studio heyday. The fact that she rarely got first billing testifies more to the wealth of star power in her era than to any shortage of talent or hard work on her part: she made close to a hundred films over half a century, and brought freshness and spirit to every role.

Blondell made her stage debut as a toddler in her parents’ vaudeville act. In 1930, Warner Bros. brought her to Hollywood, along with another young actor, James Cagney. Like Cagney, Blondell quickly became a fixture of the Depression-era screen; in a span of just eight years, she appeared in fifty-two pictures, including seven with Cagney. In movies designed to provide “relief from the pain of living,” she said, she was “the fizz on the soda.” Her later character roles played up her earthy frankness and maternal heart, but she never lost that old fizz.

This series spotlights a perennial supporting player who was also, as Matthew Kennedy wrote in the recent biography Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes, “one of the most reliably good actresses Hollywood has ever seen.”

Juliet Clark

Friday, June 13, 2008
7:00 p.m. Blonde Crazy
Introduced by Matthew Kennedy. Sparks fly between Blondell and James Cagney in a brisk, twisting comedy of cons.

Friday, June 13, 2008
8:55 p.m. Night Nurse
Barbara Stanwyck and Blondell expose Hippocratic hypocrisy—and plenty of skin—in this medical melodrama, also featuring Clark Gable.

Sunday, June 15, 2008
6:30 p.m. Footlight Parade
Introduced by Matthew Kennedy. Blondell and Cagney in a Busby Berkeley backstage saga, “fast-paced, knowing, and arguably the best of the Warner Bros. Depression musicals.”—Matthew Kennedy

Friday, June 20, 2008
7:00 p.m. Three on a Match
This swift, sordid melodrama features Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis as former classmates drawn into an underworld of drugs and crime.

Friday, June 20, 2008
8:30 p.m. The King and the Chorus Girl
“A monarch-in-exile falls for showgirl from Brooklyn Blondell when he ogles her in a cancan ensemble. It’s understandable: she never looked better.”—Village Voice

Sunday, June 22, 2008
6:30 p.m. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Elia Kazan’s debut feature evokes youthful dreams and family hardships in 1910 Brooklyn. Blondell is “little short of wonderful.”—N.Y. Daily News

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
6:30 p.m. There’s Always a Woman
Blondell as a self-made sleuth in “a zany, agreeable, and well-written comedy-satire of murder mysteries in the Thin Man mold.”—Matthew Kennedy

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
8:15 p.m. Three Girls About Town
Blondell copes with drunken conventioneers and an unruly corpse in this charmingly eccentric comedy. “Altogether delightful.”—Matthew Kennedy

Thursday, June 26, 2008
6:30 p.m. Nightmare Alley
This compelling noir tracks the rise and fall of carnival sleazeball Tyrone Power. “No self-respecting film buff can afford to miss it.”—Time Out N.Y.

Friday, June 27, 2008
7:00 p.m. Lizzie
Blondell plays delightfully drunken aunt to tormented Eleanor Parker in a precursor to The Three Faces of Eve.

Sunday, June 29, 2008
6:30 p.m. Opening Night
Gena Rowlands is an actress in crisis in John Cassavetes’s updated, improvisational take on the backstage drama, with Blondell as a bemused playwright.

Series organized at PFA by Susan Oxtoby.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this series: Charles Silver, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stuart Bernstein, Representation for Artists; Michael Mashon, Library of Congress; Marilee Womack, Warner Bros.; Schawn Belston, 20th Century Fox; Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures; and Alfred Ruban, Faces Distribution Corp.

Archival and restored prints are presented with support from the Packard Humanities Institute.