Blondes at Work
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"BEWARE! SNAPPY, SNOOPY BLONDE AT WORK!" and "Torchy Blane always gets her man...in trouble!" read the promotional poster taglines for Blondes at Work (1938), the fourth in a series of nine films about newspaper reporter Torchy Blane (Glenda Farrell) and her boyfriend, police Lt. Steve McBride (Barton MacLane). Based on stories created by Frederick Nebel about a drunken male reporter "Kennedy of the Free Press," the character was changed by Warner Bros. into a brassy, wise-cracking blonde who is constantly coming up against obstacles relating to being a woman in what was, in the 1930s, a man's profession.
Blondes at Work was a very fast shoot, going into production on October 1, 1937 and wrapping exactly one month later. Directed by Frank McDonald (who mostly worked in "B" films) and with an original screenplay by Albert DeMond, the film has Torchy getting the scoop on the disappearance of Marvin Spencer (Kenneth Harlan), owner of the Bon Ton Department Store. It's Torchy who discovers that Spencer has been murdered before all the other reporters and before the police. When a suspect is arrested and put on trial, Torchy has her doubts about who really killed Spencer. Like many "B" films, the plot was recycled from an "A" picture. In this case, it had been made before as Front Page Woman (1935), starring Bette Davis.
In the cast were old reliable supporting players like Donald Briggs and former boxer Tom Kennedy, who played McBride's dim-witted assistant Gahagan. Also in the film was a very young Carole Landis, playing a department store model. Landis was at the beginning of her career and was often used by the studio to play small roles. She would find stardom a few years later at Twentieth Century-Fox.
The Torchy Blane films were cheap second features that would play with more expensive "A" films, moving along at a lightning-fast pace and coming in at around one hour total running time. Glenda Farrell also worked lightning-fast, as Warner Bros. often had her working in four films, "A's" and "B's" simultaneously. Farrell and her co-star, Barton MacLane, might have been the stars of the Torchy Blane series, but in "A" pictures, they played supporting roles.
Blondes at Work was just a blip on the film critics' radar when it was released on February 5, 1938, with Daily Variety plainly dismissing it. "Her amazing reportorial skill will make working newspapermen writhe but will make no diff at the box office to the non-enlightened public."
After four films, Farrell and MacLane took a break from the series later in the year, being replaced by Lola Lane and Paul Kelly in Torchy Blane in Panama (1938), before returning for three more films. When Glenda Farrell chose not to renew her contract with Warner Bros., the last film in the series, Torchy Blane...Playing with Dynamite (1939) starred Jane Wyman and Allen Jenkins.
By Richard Harland Smith
Sources: Backer, Ron Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood Beifuss, John Oh Boy, What a Story! - The 'Torchy Blane Collection' Is Now on DVD Good, Howard Girl Reporter: Gender, Journalism and the Movies The Internet Movie Database Paris, James Robert and Leonard, William T. Hollywood Players, the Thirties Torchy Blane http://www.thrillingdetective.com/torchy.html