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Raoul Walsh
James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland, Rita Hayworth
Writing Credits:
Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein

Quick-tempered yet likable Biff Grimes falls for the beautiful Virginia Brush, but he is not the only young man in the neighborhood who is smitten with her.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 4/25/2023

• 2 Radio Adaptations
Tortoise Beats Hare Short
Polo With the Stars Short
• Trailer


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The Strawberry Blonde [Blu-Ray] (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 7, 2023)

Nearly 40 years after his death, the public tends to remember James Cagney more as the tough guy of films like White Heat rather than the singer/dancer of movies such as Yankee Doodle Dandy. However, he made plenty of movies in that lighter vein, and 1941’s The Strawberry Blonde offers another example.

Set in the 1890s, gorgeous “strawberry blonde” Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth) attracts the romantic attention of every single man in town. Short-tempered Biff Grimes (Cagney) attempts to woo her, but his unscrupulous and ambitious buddy Hugo Barnsfeld (Jack Carson) gets Virginia to marry him.

On the rebound, Biff licks his wounds and weds Virginia’s friend Amy Lind (Olivia De Havilland) instead. This doesn’t end his rivalry with Hugo, though, as Biff contends with complications related to his sleazy pal’s actions.

In a surprising move, Blonde starts in the early 20th century. This means when we meet Biff, he’s already married to Amy and antagonistic toward Hugo.

We spend about 11 minutes in that period before we finally go back to the meat of the plot circa the “Gay 90s”. I guess the filmmakers thought that this early tease will act to intrigue the audience.

It doesn’t – or at least not this member of the audience. The time Blonde devotes to the early 20th century scenes feels unnecessary and it slows the tale’s progress.

Does Blonde improve when it goes back to the 1890s? Somewhat, but the film feels inconsistent and unsure of where it wants to go.

At heart, Blonde feels like a romantic comedy. It comes with plenty of light moments, and it would make more sense if it pursued that path.

Honestly, it could dispose with Hugo entirely and simply become a “meet cute” between the salty Biff and the progressive, opinionated Amy. Virginia would act as the object of desire before Biff eventually realizes that independent, brainy Amy suits him better.

Instead, Blonde dips its toe in a bunch of different domains. That might work fine if the film could blend them more smoothly.

Granted, it does follow the path I describe to some degree. We see an awkward first date between Biff and Amy where they inevitably butt heads, and that launches them on an uneasy path toward romance.

The complications with Hugo just end up as a distraction, unfortunately. The movie could lose that character entirely and benefit from it.

We do find a nice cast here, though Cagney seems too old for his role. 42 at the time, it feels like Biff should be in his 20s – like De Havilland and Hayworth were – or at most early 30s ala Carson.

Cagney looks all of his then-42 years and can’t pull off the appearance of a younger man. Cripes, Cagney was only seven years younger than Alan Hale as his movie dad!

Other than his advanced age, Cagney seems fine as Biff, even if he never really breaks a sweat. The role asks him to deliver a slightly sweeter variation on his signature style and he doesn’t elevate matters.

De Havilland becomes easily the most interesting of the cast. She gives a potentially cliché role zing and spirit, factors that allow him to turn into the best part of the film.

Well, for a while, at least. Unfortunately, Blonde eventually waters down Amy to become a dull housewife, a choice that harms the movie.

Blonde doesn’t become an unpleasant ride, but it lacks much real meat. The film lacks a lot of zing and becomes a bland tale.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

The Strawberry Blonde appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Warner Archives’ Blu-rays are pretty much money in the bank, and this became another winner.

Sharpness satisfied. Virtually no softness materialized, so the film appeared well-defined and accurate.

Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems. Edge haloes remained absent, and with a layer of fine grain, I suspected no issues with digital noise reduction.

Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and contrast was appropriately displayed. The movie showed a good silvery look, and shadow detail was also concise and developed.

Source flaws failed to become an issue. The transfer eliminated those defects and left this as a clean presentation. I felt very happy with this appealing transfer.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack, it replicated the original material with positive quality. Dialogue seemed fine for its era, and was relatively crisp and well-defined with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

In terms of the score, it was acceptably broad and clear. The material presented little low end but the dynamics were fine for a track of this vintage.

Though effects were similarly dated, they seemed adequately clean and realistic, and no aspects of the mix displayed signs of distortion. Background noise failed to become an issue. All in all, the audio worked fine for its age.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find two shorts from 1941. We get Polo With the Stars (9:14) and Tortoise Beats Hare (7:56).

Given the title, one assumes Stars will let us watch movie celebrities as they play. While we do see a few notables, they fake participation and don’t really show up much anyway.

Instead, Stars acts more as a lesson about the world of polo. In that regard, it offers some insights to newbies.

One of the most famous Bugs Bunny cartoons, Hare features his replication of the well-known Aesop fable. It offers a justifiably beloved short.

We also get two separate radio adaptations of Blonde. From October 5, 1941, “Screen Guild Playhouse” (29:10) allows James Cagney, Olivia De Havilland and Jack Carson to reprise their movie roles.

Inevitably, this short broadcast chops down the story to an immense degree, as it entirely loses characters like Biff’s dad and his best pal Nick. It also makes major other shifts in the narrative.

I won’t mention these – no spoilers! – but they really make this a different story. It’s not a particularly compelling rendition, but its alterations make it semi-interesting.

Broadcast March 23, 1942, “Lux Radio Theater” (58:59) returns only Rita Hayworth from the film – though surprisingly, she now plays Amy, while Gail Patrick takes over as Virginia.

Why? I assume because Hayworth’s star rose between the movie’s release and this broadcast so the producers wanted her to take on a role that kept her on the air for more time.

Don Ameche portrays Biff and this longer adaptation brings back the Nick character from the film, though Biff’s dad remains MIA. Obviously this adaptation hews closer to the movie’s narrative, though a few changes still pop up. Ameche plays Biff in a surlier manner than Cagney, and this ends up as a somewhat bland program.

Despite a good cast, The Strawberry Blonde fails to find a particularly compelling path. A mix of romantic comedy and melodrama, the film never flops, but it also lacks the needed spirit and narrative purpose. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals and appropriate audio along with a few bonus features. This turns into a mediocre romp.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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