Tag Archives: joan blondell

I’ve Got Your Number (1934), technology, & working girls

17 Sep

ivegotyournumber1Despite my about-to-be-made-evident pleasure in watching I’ve Got Your Number (another DVR leftover from TCM’s Glenda Farrell day in late August), I will make no claims to its greatness or breaking of ground; only to its non-murderous hard-boiled Warner Brothers glories and its unwitting tribute to a now non-existent segment of what is still a giant industry.

The last time I had my telephone repaired, a teenager in a polo shirt and ill-fitting khakis took money from me after I handed him a now useless piece of wastefully-constructed and fragile plastic and he handed me an identical but at least temporarily useful piece of otherwise identical plastic. He then reminded me to go to the online survey mentioned on my receipt, which would help “them” (still not sure who “them” is) make my experience better.

Sidestepping the nonsense of that statement, I should here note that at no point in that or any exchange in that kid’s day(s) as a telecommunications expert was a millionaire saved from electrocution by a lineman played by Pat O’Brien. Nor was fraudulent medium Glenda Farrell exposed via a telephone repair call, then taken out to a nightclub by Allen Jenkins. Nor did a gang of gangster swindlers use switchboard operator Joan Blondell to…do anything, because a switchboard operator? A lineman? There are precious few.

ivegotyournumber2My father has a big box of conical glass insulators from telephone poles (as seen above) in the basement, next to the spittoon and the four-sided stovetop toaster. Pretty sure those oddly beautiful little functional items are no longer standard issue.

And without insulting the importance of this by understating, I should just say that keener historians than I have written much on the subject of the place of the switchboard operator in the history of women’s employment. It was a huge job opportunity – huge – underpaid and as strict as a chain gang, but neither a schoolroom nor a kitchen. Obviously its restrictions had either loosened up a bit by the 1930s or the sauciness of your Warner Brothers dames was just not constrainable by any natural force. But clearly a gal had to keep an eye on the hotel switchboard and not get distracted by some friendly pan with pomaded hair or her time among the employed was in for a wow finish. Or words to that effect.

(There are also elevator operators in this, with the clicky-thing they used as a signal. That’s long gone. We watched The Thomas Crown Affair recently, about which more soon, and there was one there too, so they lasted at least until 1968 Boston. There are pay phones in that one, too.)

I don’t bemoan all technologies when they pass – probably it’s better that cell phones provide little opportunity to electrocute (though too many buffoons use them at gas pumps). I don’t even entirely bemoan the loss of some human jobs, supporting as I do a Buckminster Fuller/ Vonnegutian “fart around” worldview.

But I do regret that we’re rapidly losing the collective memory of how this technology affects and affected the daily lives of those who used it. And I don’t mean BuzzFeed posts about what video game controllers looked like when I was a kid. I mean things like this.

ivegotyournumber3(It’s also worth noting that we once lived in a world where Pat O’Brien could be a successful romantic lead. Ponder that.)

Smart Blonde (1937) & Kansas City Princess (1934)

2 Sep

torchy blaneOne may quote the sort of easy bumper sticker feminism thing about Ginger-backwards-in-heels if one likes, but I suggest (humbly) that it’s way more impressive to board a moving train in a mid-calf skirt, as Glenda Farrell does at the beginning of Smart Blonde, the first of the Torchy Blane movies.

Last week brought a Glenda Farrell Day to the tail end of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” which means all seven of her Torchy Blane (say that name out loud as many times as you can – its entertainment does not stop) outings are nestled comfortably on our DVR.

Like all the best of the genre, the Torchy Blanes mean a tight-but-standard mystery plot (impressions taken off of notepads, questions over numbers of bullets in revolvers, amateurs who are inevitably right and police detectives who are inevitably wrong) buoyed by snappy comebacks and the fun quirks of our side characters. Think not-so-good-as-Thin-Man-but-still-no-slouch.

For example, I watched this yesterday and can barely recount Clue #1 regarding the murder, but can quote swaths of the love/hate/peevish/peckish flirtations of Torchy & Det. Lt. McBride (Barton McLane) and the general 1930s-Warner-Brothers-ness of every other exchange (including the rapid fire telephone salutation that’s already a household favorite: “Maxie? Torchy Blane!”). Add the dimwitted cheerfulness of Det. Gahagan (possibly the best character in any such franchise, recurring or otherwise) and a splendid Doff (in quotes, no less) from a very young Jane Wyman and the reasons for my love of this little eight-minute egg of a movie is clear.

“You don’t understand – I’m Torchy Blane!” (weird hand gesture)

“I don’t care if you’re flaming youth.”

(Irritated facial expression of Dame being shut out by Oaf.)

k c princessThe other Farrell we watched in the heat-avoidance this weekend was Kansas City Princess, the basic stats of which read like a me-pleasing textbook case: 1930s Joan Blondell (check, and frankly you can stop the checklist already with that) and Glenda Farrell (check) are manicurists/roommates (low-end career gals of the Depression on the go – check), one seeking romance with a two-bit thug (played for comedy – check), the other an unrepentant gold digger (“Girl’s gotta have three things nowadays: Money, Jack and Dough.”) williMBDKACI EC027ng to make out with Hugh Herbert at the end of the picture if the financial situation requires it (double check). Stir in a dishonest and kind of incompetent French private eye (“Duryea never fails!”) an ocean liner crossing, and 30s girl scout disguises guaranteed to put off any creep who might suggest that such a thing would be in some way “hot” (dude, you’ve already got Joan Blondell here. Why do you need to go and make it weird?).

I don’t suggest that either of these little flickers is going to be restored by Scorcese anytime soon – Kansas City Princess starts to lag when the usual running-in-circles business begins in act three – but the sideways anthropology they provide  mixes so nicely with that special Warner Brothers breed of gleeful snark, particularly the Dame-heavy variety. This is what my Sunday afternoons were built for.