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During the pre-World War II period, 'newspaper reporter' was one of the few roles in American cinema that positively portrayed women as intelligent, competent, self-reliant, and career-oriented -- virtually equal to men (in stark contrast to real-life society, at that time). Of these role models, "Torchy Blane," was perhaps the best-known. The typical plot of movies featuring the character have the resilient, very-fast-talking Torchy solving a crime (the central element of the film's plot) before her less-than-perceptive lover -- the loud-mouthed police detective, Steve McBride -- can.
Torchy was loosely based on the male character, "Kennedy," in the MacBride and Kennedy stories by Louis Frederick Nebel; although, Torchy was more compatible with the Hays code, than a faithful on-screen adaptation of the drunkard Kennedy would have been.
Farrell had played a fast-talking reporter in an earlier Warners film, Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), and it's likely her portrayal in that chiller led to her casting as Torchy; certainly, the characterizations are almost identical--though admittedly both roles fit neatly into Farrell's well-established persona of the brash, wise-cracking "dame."
In all but two of the films featuring the character, "Torchy Blane" was played by Glenda Farrell; Steve McBride, by Barton MacLane. Lola Lane played Torchy in Torchy Blane in Panama with Paul Kelly as McBride.
In the final film of the series, Torchy Plays with Dynamite, Jane Wyman (who, coincidentally, had played a bit part in the series' first film,) played Torchy, and Allen Jenkins was Lt. Steve McBride. A leftover Torchy Blane script was adapted into Private Detective, also starring Jane Wyman.
The only actor appearing in all nine Torchy Blane films was Tom Kennedy as Gahagan, McBride's slow-witted cop sidekick given to bursts of poetry.
The Nancy Drew films in 1938 and 1939 were based in part off of the films. The hairstyles of Nancy (played by Bonita Granville) and Torchy were very similar, both almost always wore a hat, both were accompanied by their boyfriends, and were told multiple times to stay off the case (although they never did).
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel cited Glenda Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane as his inspiration for the personality of the character of Lois Lane, and the name of Lola Lane (who also played Torchy Blane) as his inspiration for Lois' name. Joanne Siegel, Jerry Siegel's wife and the original art model for Lois Lane, also cited Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane as Siegel's inspiration for Lois Lane.
|Released||Film title||Run time||Starring as|
|Torchy Blane||Steve McBride|
|1937||Smart Blonde||59 min||Glenda Farrell||Barton MacLane|
|Fly-Away Baby||60 min|
|The Adventurous Blonde||61 min|
|1938||Blondes At Work||63 min|
|Torchy Blane in Panama||59 min||Lola Lane||Paul Kelly|
|Torchy Gets Her Man||63 min||Glenda Farrell||Barton MacLane|
|1939||Torchy Blane in Chinatown||58 min|
|Torchy Runs for Mayor||60 min|
|Torchy Blane ... Playing with Dynamite||59 min||Jane Wyman||Allen Jenkins|
As of 2009, Turner Classic Movies have made a number of original trailers freely available online at their web site.
A DVD box set of all nine features has been released by Warner Archive.
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