So the MoMA, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to slide one more major retro in before the year is out: Joan Blondell, the Bombshell from Ninety-first Street, pays tribute to the late, great, working actress of the 30s and beyond, all the way up to her death in the late 70s. Blondell was born in 1906, so consider this a belted centennial, to go along with the year’s most widely and eagerly recognized milestone, namely the 1907 birth of Blondell’s Brooklyn counterpart, Barbara Stanwyck. Uptown girl Blondell broke through earlier than Stanwyck, but had a shorter run at the top of the marquee; unlike the dominating glamorpuss Stanwyck, she brought a businesslike and very period-appropriate sex appeal to her roles, most notably in The Public Enemy and Gold Diggers of 1933. She worked steadily, and didn’t stop; in her 70s, she played a grande dame playwright in John Cassavetes’s Opening Night. (No, seriously, an erstwhile Warner Brothers contractee ended up in late Cassavetes. Doing seven movies with James Cagney will keep you on your toes more or less permanently, it happens.)
The series spotlights pre-Production Code laughs and loves, Depression-era musicals, tawdry gangster flics, cobwebbed film noirs, and more; the first three nights of screenings will be introduced by Matthew Kennedy, author of a new biography. Tonight’s films are Blond Crazy, starring Blondell as a blonde, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn — she plays the slutty aunt in Elia Kazan’s film of the book.