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Thursday, 1 November 2007

Smart Blonde (1937) Frank McDonald

Promoter Fitz Mularkey is about to sell his entire realm: his racetrack, his boxing arena and his nightclub. The strange thing is that he chooses to sell to George 'Tiny' Torgenson for a cool million dollars when other people are bidding up to $200k more. Torchy Blane of the Morning Herald jumps out of a cab and onto a moving train to interview him and finds that he seems to be one of the good guys. Unfortunately as he's about to give her a lift to her paper, he's shot dead in front of her giving her both a scoop and an investigation in one.

It's been a couple of years since I've seen a Torchy Blane movie and I've only seen the end of the series. Here's the beginning: five of the first six back to back on TCM. For some reason the second movie is missing but I guess I'll catch that one later. The Torchy movies are great fun, with decent acting for mystery B movies and sparkling scripts. Sure, they're fluff but they're really good fluff. Glenda Farrell played Torchy in seven of the nine movies and she was perfect for the part. Her portrayal inspired the character of Lois Lane in the Superman comics, though the name came mostly from Lola Lane, who only played the part in one of the remaining two.

Bizarrely, the other actress who played the part was Jane Wyman who's also here as the hatcheck girl at the Million Club, Mularkey's hot spot. She swaps stories with Torchy and suggests that she'd make a good newspaperwoman, idle talk perhaps but prophetic. She was still mostly uncredited at this point in her career but she's great as the talkative Dixie and the role may well have helped her start getting credits.

The scripts tended to see Torchy solve cases right under the nose of her policeman fiancee, Steve McBride, with the only difference here being that they don't become engaged until the end of the film. Barton MacLane played McBride in all the films that featured Glenda Farrell as Torchy and he's always reliable. MacLane was a regular in Warner Brothers movies of the thirties and forties, to the degree that this is my 27th of his films and I'm still only 12% into his career.

This isn't a stunner but it's a solid opener to a series which was still solid eight films later. Farrell and MacLane bounce off each other wonderfully and the plot is decent without being too much of a surprise. It's good to see an intelligent female lead and it's good to see the dumb comic relief cop not actually being inanely stupid, just not as bright as the lead. Think of it like a Superman movie without Superman, where Lois Lane (the only real character in the Superman stories anyway) was the focus: in other words, an improvement.

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