Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Torchy Blane Series: Part 2 (-1938-)

Blondes at Work

The police and papers are at loggerheads regarding the constant scoops Torchy Blane gets, so Steve McBride's boss tells him to cut her out of the loop. He tries, but trough a clever ploy, she turns Gahagan's diary into a steady stream of new information on cases, specifically the murder of department store manager Marvin Spencer...

What I was most looking forward to from this entry in the series was the progression of Torchy and Steve's relationship after the last movie. It's the kinda thing where at this point, it can't really progress without the series ending, due to the clear conflict of interest. For that reason, I wish the series didn't place so much emphasis on this plot point, and that way it could've just gone on for longer with no trouble.

Moving on to the bigger story. It's a real let-down. For the first 20 minutes, we know nothing about the murder victim besides his occupation, nor why anyone would want to kill him. Before that point, all the focus is given to Torchy and Steve's 'game of wits'. From then on, things don't improve, and we learn very little more besides the location of the murder weapon. The police are convinced the one suspect is the killer, and as far as the audience is concerned they may well be, because we've seen nothing to indicate it's anyone else. But then again, we don't see anything indicating it's even Maitland Greer, who seems to first appear a whole 40 minutes in, simply having been spoken of before then, leaving me wondering who he even was. By the end, I was lost. The trial segment is confusing, with Torchy's plan being needlessly complicated, and making little sense until we finally realize what it was all about in the last two minutes...Yeah, you heard that right. The last two minutes! As far as the cast knows up to that point, Greer is still the killer, leaving me to wonder if the movie's going to unfurl a twist, explain it, AND have a denouement, all in under 120 seconds, or perhaps Greer really is the murderer, and the writer didn't care to write a mystery this time round the garden. I won't say which, but needless to say, the ending is disappointing as hell , and really needed more time and foreshadowing, then it might've been more successful.

Torchy is a real bitch in this movie. Using the info she secretly acquires to further her investigation and ultimately show Steve up is all fine and dandy, but publishing it in her paper?! Teresa, dude, that is not cool! She does it the whole movie, often screwing things up for the police, like causing a suspect to go on the run.

Steve is ok, though it's a shame he and Torchy don't interact much, and he's perpetually pissed off at her in this entry. Gahagan is used well, and I hope he does become the next S.S. Van Dine! He has an optimism that'd be arrogant if he wasn't so doofily naive. The discovery of his unhelpfully helpful diary is amusing. I was hoping Steve would use it to feed Torchy false info on the case, but what he actually does still works.

While the overall plot didn't impress much, the dialogue remains snappy. Cop: "Say, she's got something buzzing in her bonnet."-Steve: "Yeah, and the chances are I'll get stung by it.".

One interesting thing here is that the film shows a Chinese laundryman in a good way! To explain, there were of course plenty of Chinese laundromats, which is where the common stereotype of the time was borne from, so simply showing one isn't racist or stereotypical. It all depends on the framing, and in the case of Blondes at Work, the laundryman we see speaks good English, wears a suit and tie, and isn't demeaned for his position. What a relief!

The acting's bearable. The three leads continue to be exceptional. Rosella Towne is ok except when she has to be emotional. Then she's hilarious. Her trigger-happy friend (Betty Compson) is squeaky-voiced like she just stepped out of a low-rent gangster flick, but otherwise competent in her one and only scene. Donald Briggs is likewise competent as Greer, but gets almost nothing to do but look slightly smug. John Ridgely is a welcome addition as the rookie beat cop that Torchy enlists the help of, but he's out of the movie early on.

Blondes at Work is underwhelming compared to the previous movies. It's not as enjoyable or clever, or as fun. It feels meaner. It's even irksome down to the title being pluralised! And why isn't Torchy's name in the titles yet?! This isn't about the Bumsteads!...

Torchy Blane in Panama

In the middle of a parade, a bank is robbed and the teller killed. $70,000 dollars has been stolen, and the trail of clues Torchy and Steve find lead them to believe the thief will safely exchange the money down in Panama. They go on a luxury cruise heading for South America, and have reason to believe the murderous robber might be taking the trip with them...

Say, would you agree that actors are chumps? Easily replaceable lightweights. After all, the faces aren't what the common rabblerousers in/from the streets come to see! They come for our writing, and only that...I mean, writers hardly deserve that much either, but at least they have the quiet dignity to always stay behind the camera. Well, except for that uppity Viña Delmar dame!...

Yeah, the above is pretty much what the makers of this film thought. They genuinely thought Glenda Farrell and Barton Maclane were disposable! I suppose the opinion must've been that 'The Torchy Blane series is a great success, raking in heaps of cash, but some of that goes to the salaries of our two leads, and now that they're big-name, we could do with finding some cheaper alternatives.'. This went about as well as you can imagine, and the fan outcry was large enough that the original actors were back by the very next movie.

Lola Lane and Paul Kelly are immediately wrong for the role, and when they introduce themselves as their respective characters, my response to the screen was "No you are not". They have none of the chemistry that Farrell and MacLane had right from the get go, or that they'd built up over the course of three further movies. As things go on, the two actors eventually get at least a little rapport (or maybe I just got used to them), but it's for naught seeing how they'll be gone by the next film.

Getting to the plot, it's another disappointment. It's not even a whodunnit! The murder victim is a random bank teller who was shot by a robber, and we find out who he is only 20 or so minutes in. No misdirect, no twist showing him getting murdered, with us now wondering who knocked him off. The investigation also doesn't get started until a fair ways in, and the extent of it is looking at people's money, then having a hunch this one guy's no good. The larger plot wasn't all that thrilling either. It turns out this nefarious bank robber is stealing this money to!...errr, get rich, I guess. No real motivation beyond "MONEY!".

One little thing that bugged me was how Steve feels defeated when he hasn't spotted the stolen money along the trip through Central and South America, even though the whole point of Torchy's theory is that the thief won't spread it out until he's in Panama. Not close to. In!

The ending is utterly standard, but I did like Torchy's clever idea.

The dialogue here isn't nearly as clever in previous entries. It's strange to see it take such a downturn along with the casting change. Gahagan's poem at the end isn't too bad though, and closes out the movie/film well.

Some of the barbs against Gahagan feel just plain mean-spirited, especially since he's at his most useful/proactive here. Thankfully these stop after a while, and the film is better in this department than Blondes at Work was. Gahagan's subplot is pretty amusing, even though we all wish his putting the moves on the lovely señoritas wouldn't be ruined by that asshole journalist Canby. At least he gets his own back by the end though, and overall, the character has quite a meaty role this time round.

Speaking of Canby, he's a bit of a superfluous addition, but I don't begrudge his presence too much, because he's another character the cast can interact with, and bounce dialogue off. The remainder of the characters are pretty unexplored, most notably the villain. The only saving grace with him is the actor portraying him, which I'll get to in a second.

The movie looks good for the most part, but some scenes look a bit underfunded. Only about 15 minutes at most are set in Panama, too, with the story taking almost zero advantage of the setting. Torchy's workplace (what little we see of it) is way smaller and cheaper looking, and all previous continuity has been all but forgotten, which gets distracting at times, but for the most part things are pretty standalone.

As for Lola Lane and Paul Kelly, they're not bad, just in over their heads trying to play these already perfectly-played characters. They're a bit awkward to begin with, but once you get used to 'em, they're not all bad. The actor playing the villainous bank thief seemed familiar to me for a while, but a couldn't place him. Then, close to the end it hit me-Anthony Averill! I noticed he was in the movie thanks to the credits, but my watching those and the movie itself was separated by nearly a week, so I'd plum forgotten.

Torchy Blane in Panama is probably worth just skipped, but if you like Ted Kennedy and his character, then there's a bit to enjoy...

Torchy Gets Her Man

A notorious counterfeiter, Bailey, is in town, and has set his sights on the local racetrack as a good place to spread his funny money, using his cover as a secret service agent to fool the police, getting chummy with Steve McBride. He didn't count on the snooping Torchy Blane though, and while she's at first simply dogging his tracks to find out what juicy story Steve isn't telling her, she soon realizes what's really going on, and vies to stop it with the help of an on-break Gahagan...

Torchy Gets Her Man opens with a warning sign right from the start, with the simple credit that this production is directed by William Beaudine. Dear God, no! Now, don't get me wrong, I like William Beaudine, but, err, he wasn't known for being hired for A-list productions. Not at this point in time, anyway. To me this signaled there'd be a drop in both budget, and A-picture status. Did this fear come true, though? No way! This is just as good as previous outings, and actually better than the last two. Its plot is interesting, it's got some twists and turns, and culminates with a pretty satisfying ending, too.

After the last movie, it seems clear that murder-mystery wasn't writer Albert DeMond's forte, and that's also apparent with this movie, as there's not even a murder in it! It's purely a crime. This didn't really bother me this time round, as from the get-go it makes no bones about being anything else.
After his first job on the series resulted in Torchy Bane in Panama, I was skeptical, but I'm now willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, and chalk that up to...*does further research* Oh, bugger. You ever have that experience where you write literally an entire paragraph, only to then realize it's all based on erroneous info? Panama was written by George Bricker. DeMond wrote Blondes at Work! That movie still kinda sucked, so I guess my point still stands, but goshdamn do I hate it when this happens...

Just as/with the last movie, Gahagan gets plenty to do here, possibly moreso than any other film in the series, and he's much appreciated. I didn't realize until hours after watching, but his ending wasn't as unlucky as I expected! We see him making loads of cash at the races, but because of the status quo, I assumed he'd be out of pocket by the end of the film, probably because of his winnings being counterfeit (though that'd be the racetrack's problem, not his, and he'd still be entitled to the money), but he actually gets to keep it all! Steve doesn't get as much screentime, nor a whole lot of interaction with Torchy, but he gets enough, and the film is only an hour long, after all.

The villain of the piece is the best so far in the entire series! Perhaps it's because he gets more screentime and development, since we know he's the bad guy from pretty much the start. I also liked the dynamic he has with Steve, pretending to be a new friend and trusted confidant. It reminded me of the Enzo Castellari film Eagles Over London.

Finally, the MVP by far is Blitzen! He's an amazing dog, and his canine sleuthing is lots of fun to watch, adding something new to the story as well. And yes, he is a German Shepherd. They really do make the best police dogs!

Following Panama, the Daily Star's offices are back to normal, looking like an actual newspaper den rather than one small cramped room with a single guy in it. Overall this looks much better than that movie, and it looks like care was made in putting it together.

I was really worried about the direction of the Torchy Blane series after the casting shake-up, but luckily it's endured. Sure, Blondes at Work wasn't very good, and nor was the following entry, but it's well and truly back on its feet by Torchy Gets Her Man...

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