Biff Grimes (Cagney) is a young man in the early years of the 20th century, son of an Irish immigrant, who likes to get in fights, and aspires to be a dentist. Like everyone else in their New York neighborhood, he is enchanted with the lovely, lovely Virginia Brush (Hayworth). One day Hugo Barnstead, an ambitious, unethical neighborhood man who once enlisted Biff in a scheme to oversell tickets to a cruise, talks Biff into going out on a double date with Virginia and her friend Amy (De Havilland). Hugo promises Biff that Biff can have Virginia, but lies, and goes off with Virginia himself, leaving Biff in the company of Amy. Biff isn't too happy about this, and is even less happy when Amy startles him with her surprisingly liberated opinions.
Hugo, who is always taking advantage of Biff in ways large and small, eventually marries Virginia, gets rich, and lords his success over working-class Biff. Biff winds up marrying Amy, and they are happy—until Hugo reinserts himself in Biff's life and takes advantage of Biff in a much more terrible way.
The Strawberry Blonde was the only film de Havilland and Cagney starred in together despite both being Warner Brothers contract players for nearly a decade. It proved a huge career break for Hayworth, who soon became a big star. It was The Remake of a 1933 film called One Sunday Afternoon starring Gary Cooper, and would be remade again in 1948 as One Sunday Afternoon.
- Annoying Laugh: Nick goes out on a date with a girl who has an insanely annoying high-pitched giggle.
- Awful Wedded Life: The end reveals that for all their material wealth, Hugo and Virginia's marriage has devolved into sour, angry sniping and mutual hatred. That's why Biff decides not to kill Hugo—he realizes that he is a happy man and Hugo is not.
- Babies Ever After: In the last scene Amy reveals that she's pregnant.
- Berserk Button: Biff goes bananas when an obnoxious preppie asks the band to play "The Band Played On". He's still bitter about losing Virginia.
- Best Served Cold: Biff plans to kill Hugo in revenge, and it takes him several years to get his chance. However, when he sees the Awful Wedded Life Hugo and Virginia live, he accepts that being happy is the best revenge.Biff (to Nick): You remember what they said in Sunday School? "Vengeance is mine, thus sayeth the Lord"? I guess He had better plans than I could have ever thought up.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Seemingly sweet and innocent Virginia is revealed to be a grasping, selfish schemer, and a nagging shrew of a wife.
- Casanova Wannabe: Biff's ne'er-do-well father is constantly trying to seduce the married women of the neighborhood, and apparently always failing.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hugo engages in graft and kickbacks as the head of a shady construction company, and he uses substandard construction materials, which cause one of his buildings to collapse.
- Dutch Angle: Used for the shot in which Biff finds out that Hugo Barnstead is the patient coming to get a tooth pulled.
- Fall Guy: Hugo hires Biff for a well-paying but do-nothing job in which all Biff does is sign contracts he doesn't understand. It turns out that Biff is Hugo's fall guy in case the authorities ever catch on to Hugo's fraud and graft. They do, and Biff goes to jail.
- Funny Foreigner: Biff's Greek friend Nick, with his accent and his malapropisms."She's got belfries in the bats."
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: As part of her faux-sophisticated act, Amy asks Biff for a cigarette. Later she admits that she only put one in her mouth once and didn't like it. At the end, Virginia asks Biff for a cigarette and smokes it, showing how coarse and hardened she's become.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: Amy strongly implies that she likes to have sex with men, much to Biff's horror. Later, she recoils in fear when Biff takes her seriously and starts kissing her in the park, revealing that she made it all up.Biff: Well, wouldn't you like a nice, young man to marry you someday?
Amy: No, not particularly.
Biff: So you don't believe in the institution of marriage!
Amy: An outmoded, silly convention started by the cavemen and encouraged by the florists and jewelers. After all, what's marriage?
Biff: Wouldn't you like to have a home and kids?
Amy: Certainly I would, but that doesn't mean you have to go through all the...
Biff: You mean - -?
Amy: Exactly. [she winks]
- Head-Turning Beauty: Gorgeous, gorgeous Virginia, which is only logical as she's played by Rita Hayworth. When someone spots Virginia walking down the street, all the men lounging in Nick's barbershop rush outside to get a look at her.
- How We Got Here: The movie opens with Biff finding out that Hugo's coming to him to have a tooth pulled. Biff starts plotting to murder him with nitrous oxide. The film then jumps back to the beginning of the story.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- Biff's best friend Nick, a Greek immigrant with a heavy accent, hears some Germans talking and says "Boy how these foreigners murder the English language."
- Despite telling Hugo that she will meet him and a friend in the park with Amy, Virginia refuses to admit that she made a date, because good girls don't make dates.
- I Have to Wash My Hair: Virginia says "A cousin of mine arrived unexpectedly from Scranton" after Biff tries to get her to agree to another date. Finally she agrees to meet him "three weeks from Tuesday", only for Biff to find out that day that she married Hugo Barnstead.
- Institutional Apparel: Biff's prison outfit, which is used for a gag. Biff takes up dentistry again while in jail. In one scene he enters his prison dentistry practice, takes off his prison shirt, and puts on his dentist's coat—which is the exact same shirt.
- Match Cut:
- From a roaring lion that Biff and Virginia see at the zoo to a bellowing barbershop singer at the beer garden where Biff and Virginia go afterwards.
- From Biff hauling a wheelbarrow in prison to Amy pushing a wheelchair in a hospital.
- Moral Event Horizon: Weaselly Hugo crosses it when his shoddy construction materials cause a building to collapse, killing Biff's father. Then it turns out that Hugo only hired Biff to set him up as the fall guy if anything went wrong. Biff goes to prison.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The sign outside his dental practice gives his name as T.L. Grimes, but Biff is only ever called Biff.
- Straw Feminist: Amy makes a big show of talking about how women should be liberated both politically and sexually, shocking Biff. But she's just talking, and she instantly agrees to forget about all that feminism business when Biff asks her to be his steady.
- Time Passes Montage: Biff's years in prison are illustrated with a montage in which he studies dentistry while Amy's working as a nurse.
- You Won't Feel a Thing!: After Biff realizes how miserably unhappy Hugo's life has turned out, he can't bring himself to kill Hugo with the nitrous oxide that Hugo asked for—but he does take the opportunity to surprise Hugo and yank the tooth without anesthetic.