Blondie Has Servant Trouble (1940)

Article 2690 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-8-2008
Posting Date: 12-24-2008
Directed by Frank R. Strayer
Featuring Penny Singleton, Arthur Lake, Larry Simms
Country: USA

Blondie’s desire for a maid ends up causing Dagwood to accept a proposal to stay at a house with servants. However, what he doesn’t know is that the house is believed to be haunted…

The “Blondie” comic strip has been something of a mainstay for me all my life; I remember it being the first comic strip in that section of the Sunday newspaper, and as I grew older, I grew to appreciate how the strict 12-panel format of the strip was effectively used to convey a sort of “comic timing”. When cartoonist Chic Young died, new writers took over, the 12-panel format was jettisoned, and the strip went downhill. Since then, the writing has improved a little, and it still remains the first strip in the Sunday paper, but I’ll always miss the Chic Young years.

However, I’m not familiar with the early years of the strip, though I hear that it was one of the first strips that allowed its characters to age as time went on; the character of Baby Dumpling was allowed to grow up. However, I think this aging was eventually abandoned; currently, the Bumsteads still have two teenage children, one of whom I assume is an older Baby Dumpling with a less embarrassing name.
If this entry in the movie series based on the comic strip is at all indicative of what the comic strip was like at the time, then Dagwood’s collisions with the mailman is one of the longest running jokes in history. So I do wonder just how different the strip was in its earlier years to how it was when I first encountered it.

Apparently the strip was popular enough to have a whole series of movies based on it; this was the sixth of 28 movies made in the series, so I’m assuming the movies were quite popular as well. I suppose one challenge in making these movies was that the “Blondie” comic strip (at least during the period I remember it) didn’t really have storylines; consequently, the writers probably had to pull out a lot of standard-issue comedy plots for the series. In this case, it should be no surprise that there is a “haunted house” episode to the series, and that’s what this is. It’s also the only movie I’ve seen in the series.

So how good is it? To its credit, it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been, though an extended comic sequence involving Dagwood getting a flashlight stuck in his mouth gets my award as one of the worst gags in movie history. The characters are more or less close enough to the characters in the comic strip as I remember them; Dagwood is a bit more of a doofus, Blondie is a little more scatterbrained, and Mr. Dithers isn’t quite as cranky. For me, the biggest saving grace in the movie is Daisy the dog; the animal has some great comic moments. Outside of that, it’s pretty familiar territory for horror fans; most of the humor involves people being scared (with Ray Turner as the stereotyped scared black man providing most of the gags in this regard). The bad guy is a mad magician; if the movie had been made a few years later, it would most likely have been a Nazi. All in all, a fairly ordinary viewing experience.



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