Tag Archives: torchy blane

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.