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Torch Singer
Remind Me

Torch Singer

Told that she's "hard" in Paramount's Torch Singer (1933), Claudette Colbert responds, "Sure I am. Just like glass. So hard that nothing can cut it but diamonds. Come around with a fistful sometime -- maybe we can get together." Colbert's sexy, assertive performance in this unwed-mother drama qualifies her as one of the "Complicated Women" in TCM's festival of that name, inspired by Mick LaSalle's book Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood.

Colbert plays Sally Trent, who is destitute when she gives birth to a daughter and is forced to give the child up even though the father (David Manners) is a wealthy man. Under the name of Mimi Benton, Sally climbs to fame first as a sexy nightclub singer and then as the much-loved hostess of a children's radio show. Her character's double career gives Colbert an opportunity to sing (in her own throaty voice) both torch songs such as "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love" and children's songs. A tag line in the movie's ads read, "Lips that had kissed more men than she could remember...crooned lullabies no one could forget!"

Despite the movie's short running time (72 minutes), Colbert also manages to weave some comedy scenes into the soapy story, which has her using the radio as a means of finding her long-lost daughter and eventually confronting the child's father. Upon completion of filming, Colbert presented Manners with a signed photograph inscribed, "To David, from the other end of the comedy team -- Claudette." Many years later, Manners recalled of his fun-loving costar that "When we tried to do a scene, we broke up laughing."

Also in the cast are Polish actress Lyda Roberti, who was to die tragically five years later of a heart attack at age 31; Baby LeRoy, who became the youngest actor to receive star billing in a film and retired from movies at age 4; and Ricardo Cortez, who had been groomed as a possible successor to Rudolph Valentino and went on to enjoy a subsequent career as a leading man and character actor. Cortez would later say of Torch Singer, "I remember that film chiefly because of Claudette.... I saw her transform the picture through sheer dynamism and force of personality."

Producer: Albert Lewis
Director: Alexander Hall, George Somnes
Screenplay: Lenore J. Coffee, Lynn Starling, from play by George Perkins
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Original Music: Ralph Rainger
Costume Design: Travis Banton
Principal Cast: Claudette Colbert (Sally Trent/Mimi Benton), Ricardo Cortez (Tony Cummings), David Manners (Michael Gardner), Lyda Roberti (Dora), Baby LeRoy (Bobbie), Charley Grapewin (Mr. Judson).

by Roger Fristoe