Fly Away Baby
The Torchy Blane series placed ace reporter Torchy Blane smack in the middle of a man's world and in every new installment she proved smarter than any male counterpart she can find. The series was produced at a time when great roles for women appeared on the marquee several times a week instead of once or twice a decade, as it seems now. When the series went into production, Glenda Farrell had already made a reputation for herself as a tough talking, no-nonsense character actress in movies such as Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), where she played the fast talking friend of star Fay Wray. It was no surprise then to anyone that Farrell would play the part.
After the success of the first in the series, Smart Blonde (1937), a second movie, Fly Away Baby was quickly put into production. It gave Torchy the chance to once again show up the police and solve the crime all on her own.
The movie opens with the murder investigation of a banker who's been shot and $250,000 in jewels that have been stolen. Reporters are trying to get inside but police investigator and Torchy's boyfriend, the aforementioned McBride, isn't letting anyone in, especially female reporters. One of his officers, Gahagan (Tom Kennedy), is keeping guard but Torchy fools him and gets inside. Once in, it's revealed that she and McBride are engaged to be married and Torchy wants the license. The problem is there's a murder to solve, too, and Torchy's itching to investigate.
At first she prompts McBride with the proper questions to ask the suspects (questions he can't think of on his own) before getting tired of this and setting out to investigate on her own. She finds the murder weapon before anyone else (so fast McBride half-jokingly asks her if she committed the crime) and soon develops a theory that puts the police to shame.
From there arise a dozen complications and a variety of red herrings until, finally, Torchy finds herself competing in an around the world race just to catch the killer (don't ask, it's a Torchy Blane movie). Telling any more of the plot would spoil too much of the fun and if the Torchy Blane movies are anything, they're fun. Directed with a briskness by Frank McDonald, a contract director for Warner Brothers, Fly Away Baby, like the other movies in the series, is a no frills mystery, produced for the purpose of entertainment, not high art. It's not about the great cinematography or editing or music, it's about watching the wonderful Miss Farrell show up the police and the bad guys while charming both.
It took a while for the studios to figure out what to do with Farrell. She started out doing small roles in drama, including the part of Paul Muni's devoted girlfriend in the social drama masterpiece, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and the object of Edward G. Robinson's eye in Little Caesar (1931). Then came The Mystery of the Wax Museum and her fast talking charms were finally apparent. Farrell would play the same type of character, in one variation after another, for most of the rest of her career.
Torchy Blane became Farrell's greatest character and she ended up playing the role seven times out of nine movies. They replaced her with Lola Lane for the fifth movie but brought Farrell back for the sixth, seventh and eighth. When she backed out after that, Jane Wyman got the role for one more movie but without Farrell, it didn't prove a success. It's nothing against Lane or Wyman, terrific actresses both. It's just that when it comes to Torchy, there's only one and her name is Glenda.
By Greg Ferrara