Small-time hustler and part-time bellboy, Bert Harris (James Cagney), dreams of hitting the big leagues of con artistry, even going as far as having a scrapbook of great cons. Anne Roberts (Joan Blondell) is the girl he sets his eyes on, and he gets her a job as a chambermaid. But shes a smart, tough girl who never takes any of his crap, telling him where he can go with a continual array of slaps. Eventually, and somewhat begrudgingly on Annes part, they team up to fleece former patrons of their Midwestern hotel, and later make a living from conning other lawbreakers.
Bad circumstances come along—Berts plans screwing him over rather than winning big— so Bert decides to team up with another couple, Dapper Dan (Louis Calhern) and Helen (Noel Francis), who also love to scam. Finding himself constantly rejected by the reasonable Anne, Bert falls into the arms of Helen, making Anne jealous and suspicious of their relationship.
Things escalate when Dan tells him of a great little scheme: buying counterfeit bills with their scam money and doubling it. Without a second thought, Bert latches on to it, but Anne has her reservations. Foolhardily, he steals Annes money, loses it since Dapper and Helen were using him all along, and Bert sinks to an all-time low: he steals from innocent people to get Anne's money back.
Meanwhile, a chance meeting on a train has Anne falling for stock trader, Joe Reynolds (an early film appearance of Ray Milland). Not so shockingly, Joe is a conman, but one who wears nicer suits; hes embezzled thousands, and while pretending to need Bert for a favor, he manages to let the blame fall on unsuspecting Bert.
Directed by Roy del Ruth, Blonde Crazy a.k.a. Larceny Lane (1931) is the fourth Cagney and Blondell starring vehicle, and their chemistry sizzles up the screen.
"You dirty, double-crossin' tropes!":
- Ambiguous Ending: Berts in jail and Anne promises that shes going to set things straight, but we never see if she actually manages this.
- Bath Kick: Ann does this, and the audience gets to she her shapely legs.
- Beta Couple: Dapper Dan and Helen.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Anne slaps Bert a lot. Justified since he continually flirts with her, but against Anne's sensible reasoning, she derives some pleasure from slapping him.
- Blatant Lies: To get the money for the counterfeit bill scheme, Bert uses his own, but also needs Annes cash. Not too keen on this scheme, Anne refuses to give her $5000, until Bert pretends its for something else. He ends up losing it to Dans tale, and to make sure Anne doesnt find out, he actually steals a diamond bracelet in order to pawn it for money.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Helen leaves a mean note to Bert after he finds out that they screwed him over.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Its very obvious that Bert has feelings for Anne, but he just wont admit, until its too late.
- The Con: Dan entices Bert to a scheme of buying counterfeit bills with their scam money, but he runs away with Bert and Annes money.
- The Cynic:Bert: The age of chivalry is past; this is the age of chiselry.
- Downer Ending: Berts in jail for a crime he didnt commit, by Annes soon-to-be ex-husband, Joe. At least theyre able to realize how much they love each other.
- Deadpan Snarker: Anne and Bert in spades.
Anne: Shall I do your bed?Mr. Johnson: Kinda early, isnt it?Anne: Not if youre going to bed.Mr. Johnson: Well a bed doesnt mean much to a fellow like me. Just a place to rest my head.Anne: What a treat for the bed!Mr. Johnson: Say, what about a little nip together? Just you and me?Anne: Why just you and me? What about your other friend, the little fellow over there in the green sweater? [She runs out of the room.]
- An Anne example:
- Everyone Has Standards: Anne is disgusted to find out that Bert has actually stolen something.
- Fanservice: Bert looking at Annes lingerie, and even putting her bra up to his face to see if shes hiding money there.
- A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: The hilariously dumb Johnson loses money to Bert and Annes con: a sex scandal with Anne.
- Funny Background Event: Theres a movie poster behind the quartet wisely named, "A Drama of Larcency".
- Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: The counterfeit bill scheme is the one that completely dashes all of Berts hopes and dreams; he loses all his earnings, and on top of it all, Anne.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality:
- Anne and Bert have no problem running scams on people who are con men like themselves, but its amoral to them if they do this type of stuff to innocent people. Justified in a sense since this was The Great Depression, and people felt screwed over, so why not screw wealthy people over?
- Old money bags Joe has run into a financial crisis, and instead of admitting his embezzling and losing money for his company, he uses Bert and pins the blame on him.
- Hustler: Bert thinks hes a smart Con Man, but hes not really that clever, made painfully obvious when hes betrayed not only by Dan, but also by Joe.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bert has some standards, i.e. not scamming the poor, and Bert eventually grows by fessing up his love for Anne.
- Male Gaze: Being The Pre-Code Era and everything, we have a moment where Bert checks out the derrieres of women out on the dance floor— especially easy for him since he's sitting down.
- The Mark:
- In one of Bert and Anns schemes, the rich idiot (played by Guy Kibbee, no less), is fallen pray to a sex scandal, unless he pays off a policeman whos in on the scheme (hes not really a cop).
- Bert turns out to be the mark of Dapper Dan and Helen.
- Ms. Fanservice: We see Anne taking a bath because Joan Blondell.
- Old Money: Joe Reynolds, of the crooked variety.
- Romantic False Lead: The seemingly clean, but actually worse, Joe.
- Scamming the Bereaved: Dan makes good money with this scam and he encourages Bert to join him. Specifically, the con involves pretending husbands had ordered "good luck charms" before dying. When the C.O.D. packages arrive, the widows are more than willing to pay for these "valuable" mementos. The good luck charms, by the way? They're swastikas. Yes, this movie was made in 1931.
- Too Good to Be True: What Anne thinks of the partnership between Bert and Dan.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: A lot of tension between Anne and Bert, but their relationship goes moot when Anne marries Joe.
- Verbal Tic: "Hun-eh" is Berts tic of choice.
- Women Are Wiser: Generally, Anne is the voice of reason and has more common sense than Bert, and if he actually listened to her, he wouldnt have gotten into so much trouble.