USA1941-1950ClassicsComedyRaoul Walsh

Raoul Walsh – The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

As if it weren’t obvious already, Raoul Walsh’s Strawberry Blonde confirms what most men have known for decades: Betty’s always a better choice than Veronica. This charming comedy starring James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, and Rita Hayworth may be over 80 years old — and it mostly takes place in the 1890s — but it’s still as accessible as ever, providing you don’t mind overused music cues and/or extended flashbacks. It’s the kind of crowd-pleasing fare that’s solid enough for “movie night” yet equally easy to enjoy as a light and breezy afternoon matinee.

Much of the film’s appeal is due to its three leads: first and foremost is Cagney as T. L. ‘Biff’ Grimes, an ex-convict-turned-dentist who’s not exactly enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon in the early 1900s. Dreading another walk in the park with his wife Amy (Olivia de Havilland) — first world problems, amirite? — he reminisces about the good old 1890s after a nearby band plays a sentimental favorite, “The Band Played On”, that reminds him of an old flame, the titular strawberry-blonde Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth). Flashing back to the past, we see the path Biff took to the present: that first glimpse of Virginia gliding down the street, a fierce rivalry with arch rival Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) to win her affections, a chance pairing with lovely Amy, the fateful event that lands Biff in jail, and other pop hits.
Though it contains a few surprisingly dark narrative twists — at least one unexpected death, and even a potential pre-flashback murder attempt when Hugo stops by Biff’s office with a toothache — Strawberry Blonde’s otherwise light tone and winning performances keep things breezy and enjoyable during this tale of a short, cocky, and kinda funny-looking man learning to live with Olivia de Havilland. It’s further buoyed and only slightly dragged down by its constant use of period-specific musical standards — most notably “The Band Played On”, which seems to playing in part or in whole at least once every 15 minutes. Those watching it for the first time may also be slightly put off by its extended flashback format, a narrative tool that’s not exactly handled with utmost care and, as a result, requires new viewers to “settle in” rather than enjoy it as a purely linear story. Yet for its already-noted strengths and several others, Strawberry Blonde is inarguably worth watching for fans of lightweight romantic comedies laced with a hint of melodrama.

A welcome change of pace for both prolific director Raoul Walsh and certified star James Cagney (who had long been typecast in serious tough-guy roles, aside from occasional diversions like the outstanding Footlight Parade), Strawberry Blonde is, for the most part, what could best be called “a breath of fresh air” and a medium-sized career highlight for all involved. True to form, Warner Archive resurrects this enjoyable show for new life on Blu-ray, pairing a predictably great new A/V restoration with a small but appreciated assortment of period-specific bonus features.

Raoul Walsh’s Strawberry Blonde is an infectiously charming and almost unavoidably sentimental romantic comedy whose trio of lead performances still make it fun to watch more than 80 years later, as its celebration of a long-gone era — the “gay 1890s”, or at least the middle and upper-class end of it — make the experience basically timeless by contemporary standards. Although its use of period-specific musical standards borders on maddeningly repetitive and the “extended flashback” format seems a little hokey, it’s almost impossible to watch this without cracking a near-continuous smile. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray keeps the party going with another outstanding A/V restoration and a handful of appropriately vintage extras. Firmly Recommended for die-hard fans and newcomers too.

The Strawberry Blonde.1941.576p.BDRip-AVC.ZONE.mkv

Container:  	Matroska
Runtime: 	1 h 39 min
Size: 	1.89 GiB
Codec: 	x264
Resolution: 	790x576 
Aspect ratio:  	1.372
Frame rate: 	23.976 fps
Bit rate: 	2 500 kb/s
BPP: 	0.229
#1:  	English 2.0ch AC-3 @ 224 kb/s (Stereo)



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