Forgotten for decades until TCM resurrected him, Warren William was once one of the leading stars in the Hollywood sky. Though now known primarily as one of Errol Flynn’s pre-Captain Blood efforts, 1935’s Don’t Bet on Blondes is from start to finish William’s vehicle.
Here William is in a role perhaps ideal for his unique wit and charm, that of Odds Owen, a bookmaker of almost herculean fame, given the amount of headlines he garners. How far we’ve come as a society in that a bookie no longer commands front page headlines. After losing a bundle on a fixed horse race, Odds looks for a new racket to get into when he alights on the insurance business, which if you squint just right really isn’t that far removed from outright gambling.
Rather than more pedestrian insurance policies, Odds refocuses his firm on what can only be termed high-risk policies. Among his first policies are the insurance of a ‘husband-caller’s’ voice and a policy safeguarding the holder against his wife having twins.
Most of the story comes through Odds’ third risqué policy, which protects Colonel Jefferson Davis Youngblood, played captivatingly by Guy Kibbee, against his daughter getting married. Youngblood is what would today be called a revisionist historian, as he is writing a book claiming that the South really did not lose the Civil War. Among his most breathtaking and ludicrous claims are that Sherman’s March was, in fact, a retreat and that Grant never took Richmond. Suffice to say, Kibbee as the off-center historian is a delight to see.
Of course when the policy is taken out his daughter Marilyn (Claire Dodd) is already nigh on engaged, so Odds’ first act is to break up that relationship which he soon does. Thereafter, safeguarding Marilyn’s marital state becomes paramount and Odds’ declares that none of her suitors can be permitted to get beyond a fourth date with her.
Which brings us to the brief- though amusing- two scene appearance of Errol Flynn as David Van Dusen, one of her suitors. Through his first scene he walks Marilyn around a golf course and unlike his previous Warners effort The Case of the Curious Bride, he actually has a few lines.
Flynn’s second scene over dinner (his fourth date) with Marilyn is perhaps the comedic highlight of the picture. As their dinner progresses, Odds’ send over (count them) six visitors to the young suitor. By the end of the final visit he’s been given among other things envelopes of money and a gun wrapped in newspaper. Marilyn picks up easily on the intended message that he’s involved with the mob and quickly excuses herself.
With Marilyn now free of suitors, Odds decides to court her a bit himself, at least initially just to safeguard his own investment. Marilyn gets curious about all the added attention but finally gets the truth from Kibbee. It matters little as when the curtain closes, she marries Odds anyway.
Don’t Bet on Blondes is by no means perfect and certainly has its flaws. Perhaps paramount among those is the supporting cast, specifically Brains, Numbers, and most of the rest of Odds office. Though there are several folks attached to Odds, none of them seem to have anything really important to do. They all come and go but don’t add anything to the proceedings outside of nodding to Odds or whomever they are talking with. It would have been highly preferable if their characters had been given a bit more heavy lifting to do.
Claire Dodd plays a bit out of type, being a bit of a softie here. It’s nice to see her stretch her legs a bit creatively, but she still palls behind Warren William and Guy Kibbee. In spite of the litany of suitors however, she fails to warm our hearts enough to confirm the need for the insurance policy in the first place. She just doesn’t quite give the needed warm and fuzzy feel.
Though not among even the major supporting players, Errol Flynn merits a word or two. Here he is sandwiched in between a picture in which he played (literally) a corpse in The Case of the Curious Bride and perhaps the most successful onscreen pirate (pre Jack Sparrow) Peter Blood in Captain Blood. It is a unique (though not so much at the time) to see an actor go from a stiff to a major star within the space of a few short months.
As billed, Warren William is the centerpiece of Don’t Bet on Blondes. Though the proceedings definitely could be a bit livelier, Odds carries the picture rather will from start to finish. With a somewhat diminished female lead (at least in terms of screen time) playing against him, he readily fills for void.
Though somewhat more laid back than similar film starring Warren William like Smarty, Don’t Bet on Blondes is still highly enjoyable.