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Carryin' the Torchy; Torchy Blane
Topic Started: Oct 17 2014, 03:59 PM (809 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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In my never-ending quest to not get back to the Charlie Chan series I'm writing about, I've picked up the Torchy.

Miss Blane was the featured character in nine mysteries churned out quite quickly from 1936 to 1939; in seven of nine, she was played by Glenda Farrell, who did a swell job, too.

Smart Blonde (1936) Dir. Frank McDonald

I watched the first one in the series a few years ago and liked it, mostly for Glenda. It had a nice script, though, with a good mystery, and was enhanced by a good cast. I watched it again this week, and enjoyed it even more, so I watched it again. Yes, watching a Torchy Blane twice in a row is preferable to watching a Chan once, in case you were wondering.

So, a gambling maven/sports impresario is making arrangements to sell out to a rival; the rival is gunned down. Clearly, SOMEBODY didn't want that sale to go through. Was it the sports guy's trigger-happy bodyguard? His fiance? Her brother? The singer at his club, who secretly loved him? A rival bidder on the business, pissed because he couldn't make the deal? Or.... somebody else????

Granted, the film is only 59 minutes long, but it dashes from scene to scene and suspect to suspect with the pace of a Columbia serial. Never mind blink and you miss something, catch your breath and you'll miss something.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Torchy, trying to get entrance to a murder scene: "You don't understand! I'm from the Herald! I'm Torchy Blane!"
Cop at the door: "I don't care if you're Flaming Youth, you still can't go in!"

The big (BIG) drawback of the film, to me, is Barton MacLane, nobody's idea of a romantic leading man, I shouldn't think. He's loud and mean to Torchy and doesn't appreciate her help on the case, even though she oozes common sense and keeps telling him he's barking up the wrong tree time and again as he picks up the wrong suspect.

Wini Shaw is the singer, Robert Page and Charlotte Wynters (Mrs. Barton MacLane) are the brother-sister who work for the sports guy, and Addison Richards is the sports guy. Tom Kennedy is the comic relief idiot cop.

Fun movie, even twice.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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riddlerider
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FWIW, Smart Blonde is the only entry in the series that actually adapts a story from Frederick Nebel's MacBride-Kennedy saga in the pulp magazine Black Mask: "No Hard Feelings," which appeared in the February 1936 issue. And it's a very close adaptation too, using much of Nebel's dialogue and most of the character names. The main deviation, of course, is the sex change given to the demon reporter.

Nebel's Steve MacBride is as gruff, tough and cynical as they come, but he doesn't have Barton MacLane's thuggish mien. In fact, in the pulp stories he's a family man with a wife and teenaged daughter.

I've always felt that Smart Blonde's fidelity to the source material made it the best of the Torchy Blanes. IMO the later entries magnified the formula's weakest characteristics and wasted too much footage on comedy. That doesn't mean I don't find them entertaining, but they definitely squandered the series' promise.
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Laughing Gravy
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Fly Away Baby (1937) Dir. Frank McDonald

This'll be a short review, 'cause I hated this movie.

A jeweler is murdered and Torchy thinks she knows who did it, but her boyfriend the cop disagrees, so Torchy decides to prove her theory in order to get her man freed up to take her to the altar, but to obtain that proof, Torchy has to join her suspect on an around-the-world-race that is going to end up in Frankfurt, Germany with another murder.

Torchy spends the first ten minutes of the film bitching and kvetching at her boyfriend because he's spending more time with a murder investigation than he is with her. Um, she IS aware she's marrying a HOMICIDE DETECTIVE, no? I mean, this isn't a case where we can suspend disbelief and go along with the premise that Lucy can put on a brunette wig and Ricky won't recognize her when she comes to an audition; this is a movie full of unlikeable, stupid characters and even the usual charm of a Warners B (nice zeppelin stock footage!) can't pull it out of the fire of aggravation in which it's mired. And again, I hate Barton MacLane's character; alas, in this film, I hated Torchy's, too.

Abysmal film.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Laughing Gravy
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The Adventurous Blonde (1937) Dir. Frank McDonald

The third film in the series is the first one I didn't hate, mainly because Glenda and Barton spend considerably less time bitching at each other. Also, I liked the plot: other reporters are jealous 'cause they think the cop is feedin' exclusive stories to his fiance Torchy, see, and so they set up a fake story, with the murder of an unpopular actor. When the guy winds up REALLY dead, though, things get complicated.

Million-dollar Dialog:

Cop to the dead actor's wife: "Mrs. Hammond, do you know any women who would call your husband 'Darling'?"
Mrs. H: "At least a dozen women."

Bobby Watson, George E. Stone, and William Hopper are amongst the other reporters. I hope the series continues to improve.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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It's been a while, but I remember enjoying this series until the last few installments, when the scripts started presenting Torchy as a mere female out of her depth. That the romantic leads were a bit obnoxious instead of stylish and smoochy made for an interesting change from the usual detecting couple.

Maybe I'm too susceptible, but I tend to like series that mess with the cliches. Michael Shayne's relentless pursuit of a payday, Perry Mason (Warren William version) as an outright shyster, Miss Marple (Rutherford version) acting like (and being treated like) Mrs. Peel, etc.
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Blondes at Work (1938) Dir. Frank McDonald
63 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
On DVD as part of the Torchy Blane Collection from Warner Archive

Torchy Blane and her boyfriend the cop agree that she'll find her future scoops without any help from him, but when a department store heir is stabbed to death, Torchy finds she needs - and has - a mole in the local precinct.

Hey, since the onscreen relationship between Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane has been sinkin' the series for me thus far, having the two of 'em try to stay away from each other is a big, big plus for this installment. Not that I liked it all that much (although I'm a Farrell fan), but I disliked it far less than the earlier ones. Tom Kennedy as the slow-witted cop could use some comic relief help in the series, methinks.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Sgt. MacLane: "You know, I wish we could find ONE murderer that would give the Police Department a little cooperation!"

It's the fourth of nine in the series; I dunno, maybe 'cause I like Glenda so much, but this has been a disappointing boxed set, all things considered.





"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Torchy Blane in Panama (1938) Dir. William Clemens
59 min. / B&W / 1.33:1
A First National Picture

A bank robber shoots a teller and escapes with $90,000, joining a group of "Leopard Lodge" members on board a cruise ship from NY to LA through the Panama Canal. This leopard has two tails, though: Torchy Blane is back on the case, joined by her boyfriend the cop and Gahagan the nincompoop, who dances the rumba.

No idea what this is all about, but with the fifth film in the series, we have a new director and Lola Lane and Paul Kelly (both for the only time) as Torchy and McBride. They're okay, and Kelly is an improvement, but Lola is no Glenda. The movie is routine or slightly better (the exotic locale, all filmed via rear-screen footage, helps) and Gahagan gets an awful lot of the screen time to make up for the newbies in the cast. Anthony Averill is the slick villain; Larry Williams is the rival newshound.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Reporter, meeting her for the first time: "Torchy Blane?"
Gahagan: "Who do you think it was, Torchy Song? HAW! I oughtto be on the radio!"

The series continues to be unexciting; no matter who plays them, the relationship between the cop and his girl (which is generally nasty and non-stop sniping interrupted by brief scenes of a smooch and "let's get married!" "aw, do you mean it?" stuff) are the big drawbacks of this series. I'm still looking forward to Glenda's return in the next one, though.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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I liked the Torchy films, boyfriend and all, but still wonder what was going on behind the scenes.

Were the films doing badly enough that the studio thought a pair of conventionally pretty leads was in order? If so, then why bring back Farrell and MacLane for three more rather than drop the series? I like to think the public demanded the real Torchy.

I got the impression in the last few films that the scripts were purposefully Putting Woman In Her Place as a broad who should be staying at home while men handle the big stuff. Farrell's last entry has Torchy getting with the pre-feminist program.

The final Torchy is a full reboot, with non-abrasive Jane Wyman.

A little like the Perry Mason movies, where Warren William left and the gleeful shyster characterization gave way to bland young men who didn't tussle on the carpet with Della Street.
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Torchy Gets Herman (1938) Dir. William Beaudine
Warner Bros.
64 min. / B&W / 1.37:1

Hey, Glenda and Barton are back!

A T-Man comes to town tracking a big-time counterfeiter who's planning to pass bad money at the race track, so MacLane helps the T-Man to get an in at the track, not knowing that that's no T-Man at all, that IS the counterfeiter! And the plan almost works thanks to that idiot Tom Kennedy, but, well, Glenda gets Herman, although who Herman is, we never learn. Weird, eh?

Nice to have our real stars back; I wouldn't have mind if Miss Lane and Mr. Kelly had worked out, but they didn't. As I've said ad nauseum, my big prob with this series has been that all our leading couple do is fight and occasionally talk about getting married, so the plot of this one - Barton's undercover, so Glenda can't go near him - is a welcome, welcome respite, and just the kinda script *I* would've submitted. As usual, Tom Kennedy the cop gets a ton of screen time, but since there's not a bunch else going on, that's okay, I guess. Willard Robertson, whoever he is, is the counterfeiter.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Torchy, telling off her editor/boss when he kills her story for national security: "So they've got you muzzled! Well, listen big boy, they are not gonna muzzle me! I'm a newspaper woman with a set of old-fashioned morals and ethics that tell me I have an OBLIGATION to my READERS!"

I remain not too impressed with this series but it's so good to have Glenda, whom I like, back and to keep her away from her "fiance" so this ranks as possibly my favorite so far, for what that's worth. She'd be back for two more films, with a new Torchy in the finale of the series. Hmmm.

Sure wish I knew who this guy Herman was, though.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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I just finished a comment and noticed I was repeating myself almost verbatim from earlier in the thread. So never mind.
Edited by CliffClaven, Jun 10 2018, 10:46 PM.
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Laughing Gravy
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S'okay, not too much any of us can say at this pernt about the installments in this series.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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