Friday, December 29, 2017

INSPIRATIONAL HEROES BLOGATHON: Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane


The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette's Soliloquy are hosting the Inspirational Heroes blogathon from December 29th to January 1st. From the every man to the superhero, what movie and character makes you cheer? Click HERE or HERE for what inspires fellow movie fans.


"When I grow up I want to be Torchy Blane!"
- Caftan Woman

Somewhere in my fevered imagination, despite that fact that in many shopping establishments I am offered a senior's discount, I still dream of being Torchy Blane, a girl reporter with a flair for fashion and a Nancy Drew complex. Inspiration coming to us when we need it, channeling the many admirable attributes of this fictional character, especially her perseverance and determination, have stood me in good stead every now and again.

Warner Brothers popular B movie female leading character began life on the page as a hard-drinking male reporter. Popular and prolific pulp purveyor Frederick Nebel's MacBride and Kennedy stories about a cop and a reporter were retooled to suit a cop and his girlfriend. It was a tweak that worked, and would work equally well in 1940 when Howard Hawks turned The Front Page's Hildy Johnson into a woman for His Girl Friday.

No one will ever accuse Warner Brothers of letting actors sit on their hands. An actor from childhood, Glenda Farrell joined the studio in 1931 for Little Caesar and over the next decade made 43 films, including 7 of the 9 Torchy Blane movies.


"Not many actors could talk. So they shoved the ones that came from Broadway into everything. It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, "What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing - this one or that one? All I shouted for was a day off. We got it Sunday, but I had to stay in bed that one day to get ready for the next six days of shooting. I wonder if Jack Warner appreciated his movie-acting family."

- Glenda Farrell quote on the IMDb

Torchy was a smart and independent career girl. Brave to the point of foolhardiness, Torchy followed her stories wherever they led, no matter how dangerous. She was persistent in her pursuit of the truth, often to the dismay of her supportive boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride (Barton MacLane). Comic assistance to both Torchy and Steve is in the form of police driver, and poetry spouting cop Gahagan played by Tom Kennedy.

Glenda's titles in the Torchy series are 1937: Smart Blonde, Fly-Away Baby, The Adventurous Blonde, 1938: Blondes at Work, Torchy Gets Her Man, 1939: Torchy Gets Her Man, Torchy Blane in Chinatown, Torchy Runs for Mayor.

In 1938 Warners mixed things up with Lola Lane and Paul Kelly in Torchy Blane in Panama. Audiences were not mixed up, they wanted Glenda. In 1939, the studio tried another pairing with Jane Wyman, who played a hatcheck girl in Smart Blonde, with Allen Jenkins in Torchy Blane - Playing with Dynamite. By that time Glenda Farrell had left the studio to continue her film, stage, and television career. Torchy was left to late night TV and memory, but she made a lasting impression.


Let's look at a typically fast-paced and fun entry in the Warner Brothers series. The Adventurous Blonde was released in 1937 and was the third of three Torchy Blane films released that year.


Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane as Torchy and Steve
This time they're really going to do it.

Torchy and Steve are getting married, and is the Lieutenant taking a ribbing from the guys. He is also getting a dressing down from his superior, and it's all about Torchy. Captain McTavish (Frank Shannon) wants Torchy's editor to move her to the Woman's Page because police reporting isn't the right spot for a girl.

Captain McTavish: "I hope you convinced her to give up her job."

Steve: "Her job! Say, she'd rather give me up."

The other reporters are beefing that Torchy's relationship with Steve gives her an unfair advantage.

Steve: "Sure they are because Torchy's too smart for 'em."


William Hopper, Charlie Foy, Bobby Watson, George E. Stone
Jealous newshounds plot against Torchy.

A few of her fellow reporters are green-eyed and have convinced themselves that Torchy's success is due to her "in" with the police force via Steve. They plan to pull a little joke on Torchy by coming up with a fake murder for her to report and then making her look the fool. For their stooge they select a fading actor who needs publicity for an upcoming show. This matinee idol is a married man, but has a reputation for womanizing. A lot of people do not like him and much to the surprise of the jocular members of the Fourth Estate, the intended phony victim ends up dead. Or as one reporter puts it "Once an extra, always a ham."



Glenda Farrell, George E. Stone
Torchy is hot on a clue.

Torchy discovered the body and is now on the case. She persistently follows the clues from telegraphers to soda jerks, from actors to wives. Torchy patiently and methodically sifts through the motives and opportunities of the various suspects. Torchy manipulates the authorities, even her beloved, to ferret out the culprit. Torchy successfully fends off many attacks on her character and career that are raised against her efforts. It takes guts to keep on going in the face of insurmountable odds.


Glenda Farrell, Raymond Hatton
Torchy's editor sends her to Cleveland on an assignment. 

What about the wedding you ask? Well, Torchy and Steve had a misunderstanding, and then Torchy was sent out of town on an assignment. The plane took off before Steve could reach the airport. Better luck next time!

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Torchy Blane's characteristic tenacity and against-the-odds career inspired me, and others. Jerry Siegel credited Torchy, as well as actress Lola Lane's name, as the influence behind The Daily Planet's star reporter and Superman gal pal Lois Lane.



Please enjoy these in-depth articles on the life and career of Glenda Farrell from The Thoughts and Ramblings of Hardwicke Benthow, Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy and Glenda Farrell: In Her Own Words.










20 comments:

  1. Hi Caftan Woman, it has been a while since I saw a Torchy Blane movie—they used to be on tv every Sunday morning on a UHF channel, back in the day! Glenda Farrell was beautiful and smart, loved reading the quote you included how hard the contract players worked during the heyday of the studio system. They were so prolific!
    Need to seek out Torchy again soon thanks to you!
    - Chris

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    1. Thanks so much for reading. I'm glad I dredged up some fond memories.

      The Torchy movies are still fun and polished. In the studio era it seems everyone needed to know how to do their job well, whether it was a prestige picture or something from the B unit.

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  2. Never seen any of these movies, but when I wrote about Joan Blondell a couple of years ago I watched a few clips of Farrell and her in some films. Based on that, I could imagine her as a proto-Lois Lane.

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    1. Glenda and Joanie made quite the team. Sarcasm deluxe! Those fast-talking, attitude-filled actors under contract at Warner Brothers set a style that is not easy to duplicate.

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  3. My credit card company is going to thank you. After I finished your excellent post, I started searching for a Torchy Blane collection, and I found a (really expensive) one – priced in US dollars, sadly. Oh well! The sacrifices one must make for classic film...

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    1. Sorry about that. I make the same sort of sacrifices, no matter how steadfast I tell myself I will be. Oh well.

      If it's not too late to cancel, you can perhaps count on a sale, or TCM, or YouTube, or a lottery win.

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  4. I've had Torchy on my radar for a few years, but I must confess that I didn't feel a vital need to watch the series until reading your post. It sounds pretty amazing! I love that quote from Steve about Torchy being smarter than the other reporters. How refreshing!

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    1. It is refreshing in movies from the 1930s to have a man be so supportive of his "girl's" career. I think you'll get a kick out of the movies.

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  5. I still don't recognize Glenda Farrell, but I feel sure I've seen her in something... Barton MacLane, on the other hand, I do recognize. And is that the same William Hopper who was Raymond Burr's sidekick on Perry Mason?

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    1. A few of Glenda's movies that may have crossed your path: Little Caesar, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Lady for a Day, The Talk of the Town, Susan Slept Here. She may start to haunt your dreams.

      Indeed, the young dark-haired gentleman gained his greatest fame as Paul Drake.

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    2. I've seen Little Caesar. Of the rest, Fugitive and Wax Museum are ones I would definitely watch if I came across them.

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    3. I thought that was how it might work out. "Fugitive" is astounding and heartbreaking, and "Wax Museum" is something I always turn to during Hallowe'en.

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  6. I had only vaguely heard of this series of films, but I can imagine once I start watching I'd really enjoy them, rather like the "Saint" and the "Falcon" series. But having a woman taking the lead is a sure bonus. Thanks for shining the light on Glenda Farrell, who is such a strong screen presence, and this series!

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    1. Truly, it is a treat to have a leading lady in a continuing series. Glenda is one of those gals we can all imagine as our best friend, as well as an inspiration.

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  7. I just read an interview with Joan Blondell in the book Conversations with Classic Film Stars. She said that she and Glenda Farrell were the female version of Abbott and Costello. The only female team doing full length comedies. Between that and your review, it sounds like I will have to add the Torchy Blane films to my list.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hooray!

      Glenda and Joan made 9 movies together and their timing was impeccable. It seems like each generation has to learn anew just how great gals are at the comedy game.

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  8. I'd never heard of Torchy Blaine before, but you can bet I'll be on the lookout for her movies from now on! They sound terrific, just the sort of thing I enjoy :-)

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    1. Truly, the Torchy series is definitely your cup of tea!

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  9. I enjoy the Torchy Blane movies (wish the studio had made more of them). My favorite character is Tom Kennedy's Gahagan and the "poetry" he writes. Glenda Farrell's wise-cracking interaction with him is a delight.

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    1. Come to think of it, Gahagan and his poems is pretty inspirational as well.

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