Sunday, November 10, 2002


In this B-movie series, Glenda Farrell plays Torchy Blane, a spunky blonde reporter who hounds cop Barton MacLane to get the dope on high profile crime stories, and who also manages to outwit the police and solve the crimes ahead of them. She did several films in the series, though Lola Lane and Jane Wyman also played the role.

SMART BLONDE (1937) is the first in the series, and it has a memorable fast-paced opening as Torchy, riding in a cab, races a train, then jumps out and hops on the caboose in order to get an interview with a big shot financier. He's headed to town to buy some sports and gambling assests from a local bigwig who is selling out to please his high-toned fiancee. As the two get off the train, he's shot dead and Torchy helps MacLane gather clues and suspects, and solve the crime. As often happens, about halfway through, I lost track of the mystery, but the movie remained watchable. Farrell lacks the spark that someone like Joan Blondell or Ann Sothern or even Una Merkel might have brought to the role. In "don't blink" moments, you can see Wayne Morris and Jane Wyman.

TORCHY BLANE IN CHINATOWN, from 1939, was the seventh in the series (they cranked out nine in just two years' time). Leonard Maltin doesn't like this one at all, but I enjoyed it even more than the first one, although (or maybe because) Torchy seems to be reduced to a supporting role in her own series. In this one, a group of men who were involved in the quasi-legal smuggling of Chinese jade are threatened with death by a local Tong-like family. One by one, despite police protection, each predicted death comes true. MacLane's character is constantly doing the wrong thing, but he seems to get more screen time than Farrell, who cracks the case. An interesting supporting cast, including James Stephenson, Henry O'Neill, and especially handsome Patric Knowles, helps this one rise above its own "averageness" for me. Also, I could keep track of the mystery, and I even figured it out ahead of either MacLane or Farrell (which must mean that a precocious 8-year-old could figure it out). I wouldn't call these must-see movies, but they were fun and, at around an hour each, they never bog down.

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