29 December 2004 | mik-19
Brilliant, crisp film-making
I have a soft spot for this movie, it makes me cry and it challenges me. It hovers eagle-like over other pieces of quaint, nostalgic Americana in its brilliant mise-en-scène by overlooked film-maker Raoul Walsh, its crisp and very acute script, and its wonderful acting.
James Cagney is the small-town dentist, just out of jail, having been framed by his business partner and boyhood best friend, Jack Carson. Carson married the local beauty, Rita Hayworth of the film's title, and left Cagney with Hayworth's best friend, the free-thinking, no-nonsense Olivia De Havilland. And now, after all these years, Cagney learns that Carson is on his way to his dentist's practice with a bad tooth-ache. What to do ...?
There is such pain underlying all the ebullient humor of 'The Strawberry Blonde', and as usual Walsh gets away with superlative results from mixing genres. From the first frames of the bulldog chasing the cat and the two different social environments on each side of the garden wall, on one side throwing horse-shoes, on the other playing cricket, Walsh wastes no time and is always to the point, telling his story.
Everybody in this movie is perfect. Hayworth waltzes through it all by way of her radiant looks, but Cagney surpasses himself as this charming bigot, always with a black eye to show for the numerous scrapes he gets into.
Olivia De Havilland deserves a whole chapter to herself. I doubt if she was ever better than as the tough kooky, Amy, who never tires of preaching women's lib to Hayworth's Virginia ("I refuse to listen to advanced ideas!"). "What did we come for if not to be trifled with?", she asks, indignantly, of Virginia, seated as they are on the bench in the park, waiting for their beaus. She calls marriage "an institution started by the cavemen and endorsed by florists and jewelers" and insists on her right to pick up men by winking at them. De Havilland is hilarious, and you also notice the vulnerability beneath the feminist swagger.
Not everybody will care for 'The Strawberry Blonde'. If you only give it a superficial look, you will find it dated and cutesy, whereas it is everything but.