BLONDIE ON A BUDGET (Columbia, 1940), directed by Frank R. Strayer, the fifth installment of the popular family series based on Chic Young's comic strip characters, is notable mostly for an early screen appearance from the up and coming starlet named Rita Hayworth, guest starring as Dagwood's former girlfriend who comes over for a visit on a business deal.
Saving the typical routines for the finish, namely Dagwood rushing out of the house on his way to work and knocking down the postman (Irving Bacon) on the walk, the story begins at the breakfast table where the Bumsteads are gathered together with Blondie (Penny Singleton) going over the family budget. Marvin Williams (Don Beddoe), the next door neighbor, wants Dagwood to join the Swan Lake Trout Club, and membership fee is $100. The only way to join the club and go fishing with the guys is by asking Blondie for the money, but her heart set on getting a fur coat. Joan Forrester (Rita Hayworth) enters the scene, ringing the front door and attracting the attention of neighbor child Alvin Fuddow (Danny Mummert), whom Joan mistakes for Baby Dumpling (Larry Simms). While her visit is actually regarding a business deal between her and Dagwood, Blondie's jealous nature has her believing otherwise, agreeing to give Dagwood the money to join the trout club. When Dagwood and Joan leave together in her car, complications give way when Joan's car breaks down. It gets tolled to the garage, causing the couple to spend the afternoon at the movies (her treat) until the car is repaired. While at the theater, Dagwood enters a raffle, which he wins, but is in a position not to reveal how or why since he was with Joan at the time. With the winnings, he decides to surprise Blondie with a fur coat she's been wanting, having Joan trying it on for size at the department store the very moment Blondie arrives to witness this. Naturally, Blondie misunderstands, packs up her belongings, leaves a "Dear John" letter for Dagwood, and takes Baby Dumpling with her bound to find an attorney to get herself a divorce.
Amusing at times, silly at others, BLONDIE ON A BUDGET main asset happens to be youthful beauty of Rita Hayworth, six years before her super-stardom as GILDA (1946). Comedy highlights include Dagwood avoiding from being seen in public with his ex-girlfriend (at one point placing his hands over his face), with guilt setting in when at the movie theater as he sits back to see every woman seated around him in the vision of Blondie; Alvin Fuddow's attempt in pulling out Baby Dumpling's loose tooth from his mouth, demonstrating the method by attaching the tooth to a string tied to a door, with Alvin losing his tooth instead as Blondie closes the door; Daisy the pooch getting drunk by slurping some dripping leftover champagne from the bottle; and Baby Dumpling asking ticket attendants at a bus station for any old dollar bills they don't need. Don Beddoe makes a second appearance in the series as Marvin Williams. As loyal as husbands can be towards their fellow married men, his Marvin helps Dagwood, who is supposed to be at the trout club, by impersonating his voice over the telephone (with Lake's voice in soundtrack) when Blondie calls looking for him. He makes one mistake by addressing Blondie as "Lovey," which Dagwood never does. Marvin's impersonation of voices gets a bit far-fetched when he perfectly impersonates Blondie's voice for Dagwood.
One of the very few entries not to include Dagwood's boss, Mr. Dithers, nor to take place at the office. It does, however, introduce Alvin's father, Edward Fuddow, played for the only time by character actor John Qualen, appearing during the final minutes of the story. Other performers worth mentioning include Fay Helm (Mrs. Fuddow); Thurston Hall (District Attorney Bryce); William Brisbane (The Theater Manager); and Willie Best filling in for the regular newspaper delivery boy, rushing away on his bike when he sees Daisy chasing after him, believing the dog out to attack him instead of retrieving the newspaper from his hand.
At this point, the leading actors have grown accustomed to their roles, with the series improving with each passing film. Will Blondie go on with her divorce? Will Dagwood go off with Joan? Will Baby Dumpling be able to collect those old dollar bills? Will Daisy be admitted to Dog-aholics Anonomis? Find out when purchasing this movie either on the VHS or DVD format. BLONDIE ON A BUDGET is another one of the few in the series to not be restored to its original theatrical opening and closing credits when presented on American Movie Classics as part of its lineup of Family Classics every Sunday from 1996 to 2001. With or without Rita Hayworth, BLONDIE ON A BUDGET should be a satisfactory entry for fans of the series. Next installment: BLONDIE HAS SERVANT TROUBLE without Rita Hayworth. (**)