Pre-Code Joan Blondell

Pre-Code Joan Blondell

14 Episodes

Classic Hollywood’s consummate scene-stealing sidekick, Joan Blondell enjoyed a successful screen career for nearly five decades, but it was during the anything-goes pre-Code era of the early 1930s—when dames, gold diggers, and good-time girls were cinematic staples—that she reached her zenith. Her vivacious energy and wisecracking persona were perfectly suited to the punchy, fast-paced style of her home studio, Warner Bros., where she was often paired with the similarly brash, dynamic James Cagney in popular hits like the mob film HE WAS HER MAN, the delightfully risqué romantic comedy BLONDE CRAZY, and the kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley musical extravaganza FOOTLIGHT PARADE. Whether lending snappy comedic support to a dramatic heavy hitter like Barbara Stanwyck in NIGHT NURSE or showing her range playing a mob boss in the all-too-rare starring vehicle BLONDIE JOHNSON, Blondell exuded an irresistible, naughty-but-nice irreverence that was pure pre-Code.

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Pre-Code Joan Blondell
  • Introducing Joan Blondell

    Episode 1

    The following interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith was recorded in 2020.

  • Blonde Crazy

    Episode 2

    Directed by Roy Del Ruth • 1931 • United States
    Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Noel Francis

    James Cagney and Joan Blondell match wits in one of the finest of their delightfully risqué early-1930s pairings. He’s a conniving bellhop and she’s a saucy chambermaid who join forces to fleece a ...

  • Millie
    Episode 3


    Episode 3

    Directed by John Francis Dillon • 1931 • United States
    Starring Helen Twelvetrees, Lilyan Tashman, Robert Ames

    Featuring Joan Blondell in a scene-stealing early supporting role, this salacious melodrama follows the tumultuous journey of its title character (Helen Twelvetrees), a small-town girl ...

  • Night Nurse

    Episode 4

    Directed by William A. Wellman • 1931 • United States
    Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Clark Gable

    Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) is an ambitious student nurse whose first assignment after graduation is tending to a couple of ill little girls. Despite their posh surroundings, the girls are ...

  • Union Depot

    Episode 5

    Directed by Alfred E. Green • 1932 • United States
    Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee

    Amid the comings and goings at Union Depot, on-the-grift drifter Chick (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and his pal Scrap Iron (Guy Kibbee) retrieve a dropped baggage-claim ticket and redeem it fo...

  • Three on a Match

    Episode 6

    Directed by Mervyn LeRoy • 1932 • United States
    Starring Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Warren William

    Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak star as three grammar school friends who remain close even as they grow into very different women in this pre-Code drama. Ten years after graduating, har...

  • Lawyer Man

    Episode 7

    Directed by William Dieterle • 1932 • United States
    Starring William Powell, Joan Blondell, Helen Vinson

    A less-than-scrupulous assistant district attorney gets the chance to regain his conscience in this briskly entertaining tale of corruption and redemption. Anton Adam (William Powell) is more...

  • Big City Blues

    Episode 8

    Directed by Mervyn LeRoy • 1932 • United States
    Starring Joan Blondell, Eric Linden, Jobyna Howland

    Bud Reeves (Eric Linden) does what any young man from a small town would do when he unexpectedly comes into money: he heads to the big city in search of fame and fortune. Amid the bright lights of...

  • The Crowd Roars

    Episode 9

    Directed by Howard Hawks • 1932 • United States
    Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak

    Director Howard Hawks brings a dynamic punch to this high-speed thrill ride set in the world of race-car driving. The fastest man on four wheels, Indy champ Joe Greer (James Cagney) has strong ideas ...

  • Gold Diggers of 1933

    Episode 10

    Directed by Mervyn LeRoy • 1933 • United States
    Starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon

    A Broadway producer has the talent, the tunes, the theater, and everything else he needs to put on a show—except the dough. Not to worry, say Ginger Rogers and the other leggy chorines decked o...

  • Footlight Parade

    Episode 11

    Directed by Lloyd Bacon • 1933 • United States
    Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler

    FOOTLIGHT PARADE is sheer cinematic joy. In this Depression-era romp, a timid stenographer (Ruby Keeler) removes her glasses and—wow!—she’s a star. A gee-whiz tenor (Dick Powell) asserts his independ...

  • Blondie Johnson

    Episode 12

    Directed by Ray Enright • 1933 • United States
    Starring Joan Blondell, Chester Morris, Allen Jenkins

    In one of her all-too-rare leading roles, Joan Blondell stars as a Depression-downtrodden orphan who, after her boss sexually harasses her, quits her job and uses her wits to rise from amateur co...

  • He Was Her Man

    Episode 13

    Directed by Lloyd Bacon • 1934 • United States
    Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Victor Jory

    For their final screen pairing, Joan Blondell and James Cagney left behind the lighthearted comedy of their six earlier outings together for a decidedly darker tale of crime and doomed romance. Made ...

  • Dames
    Episode 14


    Episode 14

    Directed by Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley • 1934 • United States
    Starring Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell

    The avant-garde imagination of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley runs riot in this fizzy backstage musical. Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler are the chorus girls who use their wit...