Charmed by Torchy

A wisecracking, beautiful newswoman, Ms. Blane was a B-movie winner

Torchy Blane in Chinatown. Photos courtesy of Warner Home Video
Torchy Blane in Chinatown. Photos courtesy of Warner Home Video

“Gahagan, I wantcha to go out and rent me a bloodhound,” Torchy Blane snaps at the dim-witted New York cop.

As usual, Torchy, the beautiful, wisecracking Manhattan newspaper reporter, is going after a scoop for the Daily Star, which involves using a bloodhound to track a gang of counterfeiters to their hideout in the country.

Also as usual, Torchy is well ahead of her gruff detective boyfriend, Steve MacBride, and his sidekick-driver, Gahagan, in solving the crime.

This episode of the 1930s Torchy Blane B-movie series, Torchy Gets Her Man, recently aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The comic-mystery caper involves fake money being passed at a racetrack and thugs posing as Secret Service men. The “bloodhound” turns out to be a German shepherd that understands only German commands!

Now I suppose you have to be a classic movie nut like to me to appreciate such humor. But I make no apologies. It’s a carryover from my youthful movie-going days in the late-1940s and early ’50s watching The Bowery Boys and Charlie Chan series, which were equally inane.

But beyond nostalgia, I have a penchant for the witty, fast-paced dialogue of that era.

Sashaying into the Star newsroom — passing reporters banging on typewriters, the teletype machine clackety-clacking in the background — Torchy approaches her editor and pitches her story about the counterfeit ring.

Having been warned by the police to keep it out of the news, he turns it down.

Torchy blasts back: “So they got you muzzled, have they, Big Boy? But they’re not gonna muzzle me. I’m gonna crack this case wide open. … I’m an old-fashioned newspaper woman with an obligation to my readers. … And if you don’t print the story, I’ll take it to a paper that will!”

The series was a surprise hit for Warner Brothers. Nine Torchy Blane films were made from 1937 to 1939, Torchy Gets Her Man, being the sixth. Considered “B movies” — running just 90 minutes — they were usually one-half of a double feature.

Glenda Farrell starred in numerous Torchy Blane movies, including Torchy Runs for Mayor. Photos courtesy of Warner Home Video

Leading the cast as Torchy, actress Glenda Farrell portrays her not as a comic character, but a full-blown intelligent woman, like the actual reporters who interviewed Farrell during her stage and movie career. Legend has it, Torchy was the model for Superman’s Lois Lane of the Daily Planet.

Stern-faced Barton MacLane as Torchy’s perennial fiancee, perfectly complements her sassy wisecracking personality. Fans so objected when the two were replaced by other actors, Warner Brothers brought them back together again.

Character actor Tom Kennedy plays Gahagan. Big, dark-haired and rumple-faced, Gahagan smokes cigars, bumbles along, stealing every scene he’s in — and often “feels a poem coming on”: “When your head is all amuddle and your words are all ajar and you got no one to cuddle, you’ll find joy in a cigar.”

All of this begs the question: What makes each of us laugh? A point to ponder. But for now, I’m grateful TCM revived the Torchy series.

Laughter is something we all need more of these days.

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].