The Revision: Blondie & Blondie on a Budget

The poster for the Blondie movie

Blondie, created by Chic Young, debuted in 1930 and originally followed the adventures of a party girl named Blondie Boopadoop who was pursuing industrial heir Dagwood Bumstead. After some plot twists (including the addition of another love interest for Blondie), Blondie and Dagwood married in 1933 and the strip settled into its classic family comedy mode.

Chic Young wrote Blondie until his death in 1973, at which point his son, Dean, took over writing the strip while it cycled through several artists (John Marshall, who started drawing it in 2005, is the most current artist).

While the content has been updated from Blondie just being a stay-at-home mother and more and more modern technology has been introduced over the years, much of Blondie still feels stuck — in a somewhat delightful way — in a previous era.

Personally, for me, the earlier strips have more appeal than the more modern ones. As much as other artists still try to remain consistent to the style, Chic Young’s lines are just more loose and playful. I only acquired 25 Years With Blondie: A Silver Anniversary Volume by Chic Young for this, which is mostly a best-of. And that’s about the right amount of Blondie, to be honest. I like the comic and find it charming but as much as there are some continuing storylines, I don’t need a complete collection of Dagwood eating sandwiches and Blondie getting angry or jealous before her good sense and kindness saves the day. Yes, it’s repetitive, but that’s part of why it works. It’s comforting to know everything works out in the end and, despite their differences and disagreements, Blondie and Dagwood genuinely love each other.

There are 28 Blondie movies, with the first released in 1938 and the last released in 1950. They were B movies and each runs about 70 minutes long. They are, essentially, super-sized sitcoms. There is a vague continuity and narrative throughout but they don’t really need to be watched in order and you definitely don’t need to watch all of them. (I did not, although I have an entire DVD set of them.)

Blondie (1938, directed by Frank R. Strayer) takes place five years after Blondie (Penny Singleton) and Dagwood (Arthur Lake) were married. They have a dog, Daisy, and a young son they call Baby Dumpling (Larry Simms). To celebrate their fifth anniversary, Blondie decides to buy all new furniture. However, Dagwood had used their previous furniture for collateral for a loan for a woman named Elise. If Dagwood can get Mr. Hazlip to sign a valuable construction contract, the loan can be forgiven. Then Dagwood and Mr. Hazlip (although Dagwood doesn’t realize it’s Mr. Hazlip) decide to fix a broken vacuum cleaner together. This leads to mistaken identities, jealousy, stolen cars (and the stolen vacuum cleaner!), and a scene in a courtroom.

And I’m also pretty sure it’s implied that Baby Dumpling hits the neighbor kid, Alvin (Danny Mummert with a brick. It’s weirdly a lot for about 70 minutes.

Once I got into the rhythm of the jokes, this was hilarious. It has such an oddball energy that’s intentional. While everything is pretty low stakes, the cascade of problems does lead to a good deal of hijinks, and hijinks are what you want from a movie like this.

Both Blondie and Dagwood are kind of messes — she has a tendency to get jealous, he’s basically bad at everything — but they genuinely love each other and it’s sweet. Singleton and Lake aren’t a passionate couple for the ages or anything here, but they’re fun together and they play off each other well. It’s easy to understand what Blondie and Dagwood see in each other, and that also feels very true to the spirit of the comic strip.

(Blondie, for all her bubbly sweetness, is always the smartest person in the room when she gets out of her own way. Singleton plays that so well — and there’s a reason why the strip is called Blondie and not Dagwood. This is about her.)

Blondie on a Budget poster

Blondie on a Budget (1940, also directed by Strayer), the fifth of the Blondie movies, is mostly only notable for the presence of Rita Hayworth as Joan, a friend of Dagwood. Mostly, it revolves around everyone (even Baby Dumpling and Alvin) thinking Joan is hot. So of course, Blondie gets jealous. The actual plot is about Blondie wanting a fur coat and Dagwood wanting to join the trout club. Then there are hijinks. (Honestly, you can end every plot summary of the Blondie movies with “then there are hijinks.”)

To modern eyes, the plot mostly revolving around Blondie’s jealous and material desires isn’t the most enlightened, but Singleton still sells it and brings a surprising vulnerability to the role here. She’s heartbroken when she thinks Dagwood is having an affair, but of course, it’s all a misunderstanding and love wins in the end. As it always does.

I’ve watched at least four of these movies now and as much as I know what to expect with them, they’re still fun even when they’re a bit hit or miss. It’s impressive to me that Singleton and Lake continued to play Blondie and Dagwood in 28 movies over 12 years (they also played Blondie and Dagwood on the radio show from about the same time period).

Are these movies good? I guess it how you define “good” — they’re not life-changing but they do exactly what they set out to do. They are, however, great adaptations of the comic strip they’re based on.

Lake went onto star as Dagwood in a one-season sitcom version of Blondie in 1957 (by that point, he was in his 50s and it showed). There was a second Blondie sitcom that lasted half a season in the late 1960s and two animated specials in the 1980s. Since then, there’s been no more TV, movies or radio shows about Blondie and Dagwood and I think we’re overdue for a revival, honestly.

I’ll have brief reviews of the other Blondie movies I watched and a bit about the first sitcom and TV specials over at my Patreon later this week.