In 1932, Edmund Goulding directed two films – Grand Hotel and Blondie of the Follies. While Grand Hotel won the Best Picture Academy Award and was a major success, Blondie of the Follies is an unknown film. It was finally released on DVD thought the Warner Archive Collection earlier this year and gives Marion Davies another delayed, but much-deserved moment in the sun.
The title Blondie of the Follies is a bit deceptive. It’s not as fun as it sounds, but it proves that Davies could carry the dramatic load of a story like this. There’s very little humor in it, but she does her best to dig down deep and find it.
The story, written by Frances Marion and featuring dialogue by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes author Anita Loos, centers on Lettie (Billie Dove) and Blondie (Davies). They are best friends from the working class and like to tussle in the hallway, even if they are grown adults. One day, Lettie decides to head uptown and join the Follies, leaving Blondie behind. Flashforward a few years with an iris effect and Lettie is a star with a new name. She invites Blondie to her apartment, where she meets Larry (Robert Montgomery). This sparks a love triangle, with Lottie becoming suspicious of Blondie, especially after Larry gets Blondie a spot in the Follies too.
Surprisingly, there are no complete musical numbers in the entire film, which lasts just 91 minutes. Instead, the focus is on the Melodrama with a capital M. It’s a movie desperate to pull at your heartstrings, especially with James Gleason around to play Blondie’s caring dad. (If the Best Supporting Oscars existed in 1931, Gleason would have been nominated.) You can also spot Zasu Pitts in a small role as Blondie’s sister.
The one funny bit is the film’s most famous scene, when Jimmy Durante randomly shows up to Blondie’s desperate party to sing about how you should never take your girlfriend to see the Grand Hotel and John Barrymore. Davies gets to show why she was a great comedian here, playing Greta Garbo for laughs here. If you watch the scene without knowing the story, it’d be funnier. In the movie, the scene actually plays with an air of sadness, since that whole party was a desperate act for Blondie.
I continue to be impressed by Marion Davies. Blondie really doesn’t play to her strengths as a comedic actress, but here she gives a very modern dramatic performance. She makes everyone around her better and you can feel her commitment to the story. This might not be earth-shattering material, but Davies plays it like it is.
Blondie of the Follies arrives on DVD without a trailer. The print’s a bit beat-up, but the sounds was very clear for a film of this age.
The made-on-demand DVD is only available through WBShop.com.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing the DVD to review!