The Strawberry Blonde (1941, Raoul Walsh)

We got a Roku and I’m filling an attached USB drive with classic movies to watch, dubbing it the “TCM drive”. Of course we always could have watched these same movies by hooking my laptop to the TV, but now it’s ever-so-slightly easier, so we celebrated by watching a couple and pretending we still get cable (I forgot to do my Robert Osbourne impression to introduce them).

Girlish weakling James Cagney is saddled with a tough-guy’s name (Biff Grimes) and an embarrassing womanizing drunk for a dad (Alan Hale, atheist farmer in Stars In My Crown). Biff’s only friends are ambitious scammer Hugo (Jack Carson, somewhat-star of Red Garters) and genial Greek barber Nick (George Tobias, in Sergeant York the same year). Cagney can’t get a girl, can’t keep a job, is studying to be a dentist because all his life his dad has blamed his poor behavior on pains in his teeth.

Cagney gets a single date with the hottest girl in town, titular blonde Rita Hayworth (Lady From Shanghai) and blows all his money on her, but as Jack Carson gets more successful, Rita ends up with Jack, and Cagney marries her pretend-feminist friend Olivia de Havilland (Cagney’s Midsummer Night’s Dream costar). Cagney is bummed, but of course Olivia is just as pretty and much nicer, so we know he’s being a dummy.

Given a vice-president job at Carson’s firm, Cagney is set up as the official scapegoat when cheap building materials lead to the death of his own dad (“my teeth don’t hurt anymore”), spends five years in prison getting his dentistry degree by mail and practicing on other inmates. He returns home to his loving wife and to the sunday afternoon framing-story, where he sees Carson as an emergency patient, and instead of killing him with nitrous oxide, realizes Cagney’s got the better life than his rich ex-friend since Rita Hayworth is a materialistic shrew.

I think Una O’Connor played a friend of Cagney’s dad and George “Superman” Reeves was a friend of Carson’s, but neither made an impression.

Based on a play from late 20’s, also filmed in 1933 with Gary Cooper and Fay Wray, redundantly in 1948 with Alan Hale Jr. and Raoul Walsh, then on TV in ’49 with Burgess Meredith, ’51 with June Lockhart and ’57 with Gordon MacRae. Adapted here by the twin Epstein brothers who wrote Casablanca and shot by James Wong Howe.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, William Dieterle & Max Reinhardt)

Wonderful adaptation, filled with Cocteau-like movie-magic. Introduced at Emory by Rushdie, who calls it “The Dream” for short, and isn’t a huge fan of James Cagney’s performance.

Katy and I already watched the McNutty version from 60-some years later, so I’m familiar with the story. Dark-haired Olivia de Havilland (her film debut, later in Gone With The Wind) is coveted by both Dick Powell (star of Christmas in July and The Tall Target) and Ross Alexander (short career: suicide), while blonde Jean Muir (star of The White Cockatoo) covets Ross. The lovers (particularly Olivia) give it their all, making their segments more welcome than Cagney’s. I noted that Kevin Kline brought “a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role,” but Cagney instead brings an entire can of ham. When he’s not wearing a donkey mask, Cagney works with slate-faced Joe Brown (the guy in love with Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like It Hot) on their play to be performed for The Duke (Ian Hunter of Hitchcock’s The Ring) and his Amazon conquest/bride (Verree Teasdale of The Milky Way).

Interference comes from fairy queen Anita Louise (of Judge Priest, bringing less personality than Michelle Pfeiffer did) and sparkly-costumed elf king Victor Jory (Power of the Press) with his loyal minion, a cackling pre-Andy Hardy Mickey Rooney. The Queen has mini-minions Moth and Pease-Blossom (both sadly unaccounted-for), Cobweb (appeared in a pile of 1950’s westerns, costarring with Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter) and Mustard Seed (Billy Barty, had already been in fifty movies as Mickey Rooney’s brother, would live to appear in such acclaimed 1980’s dwarf-filled fantasy films as Legend, Willow, Masters of the Universe and UHF).

Lost best picture to Mutiny on the Bounty, but cinematographer Hal Mohr was history’s only write-in oscar winner. He later shot Underworld USA, Rancho Notorious and a Tashlin feature. Banned in Germany for being based on the Jew-music of Mendelssohn. Reinhardt had staged the play ten or more times, left nazi germany and staged Midsummer in Hollywood, then hired to make the film alongside cinema vet Dieterle (The Devil & Daniel Webster).

Buy from Amazon:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream DVD