Nightmare Alley. 1947. USA. Directed by Edmund Goulding. Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive

Joan Blondell (1906–1979) was illustrative of the strengths of the Hollywood studio system. Never getting the socko starring vehicles of contemporaries like Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford, Blondell nonetheless carved out a memorable career over half a century. As Matthew Kennedy notes in his new biography, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes, “She was one of the most reliably good actresses…—yet she was rarely showcased and never won a major award.” Andrew Sarris called Blondell “the world-weary showgirl incarnate,” but as she matured she became a creature far more complex than her flip 1930s Warner Bros. persona. This retrospective attempts to capture some of this metamorphosis, as seen in her roles for Elia Kazan, Edmund Goulding, and John Cassavetes. Though she often worked with inferior material in forgettable films, Blondell remained prolific throughout her career; she once said, “Without work, what is life?” Whether one views Blondell as the “fizz on the soda” (Eve Golden) or as the “last of the great troupers” (Seymour Krim), she embodied a spirit that was quintessentially cinematic and American to the core. Several of the prints shown in this exhibition are new and represent rare films that have long been unavailable on video. Kennedy will introduce the screenings on December 19, 20, and 21.

Organized by Charles Silver, Associate Curator, Department of Film.

Special thanks to Matthew Kennedy. Thanks also to Ned Price, Linda Evans-Smith, and Marilee Womack, Warner Bros.; Schawn Belston, Twentieth Century Fox; Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures; and Todd Wiener, UCLA Film and Television Archive.

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