Freddy Krueger has made 9 movie appearances…Jason, who made the hockey mask so fashionable, 12 movies…James Bond, 23. But you know who’s got them all beat? The Bumstead’s, Blondie and Dagwood. Between 1938 and 1950, the characters from the popular Chic Young comic strip appeared in 28 films. Many people of my generation know the films from their television run. They were packaged and syndicated much like a sitcom would be. I remember watching them on the weekends on channel 32 in Chicago. Today we’re going to take a look at the first film in the series, simply called “Blondie.”
In this debut film, Blondie (Penny Singleton) and Dagwood Bumstead (Arthur Lake) are getting ready to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary. Blondie, who loves any excuse to spend money, decides she is going to surprise her husband with a new furniture set. Just what every husband wants, right? There’s a problem, though…Blondie is counting on Dagwood to get a raise from his stingy boss, Mr. Dithers (Johnathan Hale) to help pay for the stuff.
Unfortunately, Dagwood’s attempts to move up in his company have been unsuccessful. Plus, he’s got other problems since he loaned some money to a former co-worker who then skipped town…the furniture in the Bumstead home is the collateral. But, Dagwood is given the chance to get a big account for the company. He is dispatched to a local hotel to pitch an opportunity to a rich big shot, Clarence Hazlip (Gene Lockhart). Hazlip has no interest in meeting with salesmen, but he ends up befriending Dagwood (who only knows him as “CP”) as the two of them, who both have an interest in “tinkering,” work together to fix one of the hotel’s vacuum cleaners. This “tinkering” is much to the dismay of Hazlip’s daughter Elsie (Ann Doran). Oh…did I mention that the former coworker Dagwood loaned money to, is also named Elsie.
Everything gets confused when Dagwood runs into Blondie’s former sweetheart, Chester (Gordon Oliver), at the hotel, and Chester see’s him go into a woman’s hotel room. The woman is, of course, CP’s daughter Elsie. So…Blondie begins to suspect Dagwood is having an affair with a woman named Elsie, Chester starts to move in to steal Blondie away, repo men come to take away the furniture, and before we know it, Dagwood’s spending the night in prison. The story goes in a lot of different directions, but it is pretty funny.
For this film to have spawned 27 sequels, you’ve gotta figure the primary performers were strong. To say Singleton and Lake were perfectly cast as Blondie and Dagwood would be an understatement. They really defined these characters for decades to come. Still, as good as they are, the film’s standout performances come courtesy of a dog and a small child. The dog, Daisy, is perhaps one of the most memorable canine’s in movie history. The child is Larry Simms in the role of Baby Dumpling. Simms was four years old at the time this movie was made. It is amazing that this child had such great confidence and timing at such a young age. He is hilarious! My favorite Baby Dumpling scene comes after he has had an argument with neighbor kid Alvin (David Mummert). He seems to be offering Alvin an olive branch and invites the boy over…behind his back, Baby Dumpling conceals a brick. A brick!
That is just one of the moments that seems a bit edgy for a 1938 comedy based on one of America’s favorite Sunday funnies. There’s more…Blondie freaks out in once scene when she thinks Dagwood is talking on the phone to his mistress and hears him mention “the bedroom.” And then there’s Chester, who shows up a Blondie’s door with two dozen roses gunning to slide her and Dagwood’s Lucy-style single beds together as soon as he thinks Dagwood has strayed. A bit surprising for 1938.
The story is a bit convoluted, but the characters and the performers are so much fun. It’s easy to see why this series lasted so long. Better the Bumstead’s than Freddy Krueger.