Friday, March 13, 2015

Blondes At Work (1938)

(Warning: This review contains spoilers.)

This is a weird one.

Marvin Spencer, owner of the Bon Ton Department store (not the one from Fibber McGee & Molly), is murdered. A big police investigation begins with Lt. McBride in charge. Reporter Torchy Blane is still out there, scooping everyone, one step ahead. (McBride and Torchy - still not married.) It all culminates in the "Trial of the Century." Or, at least, "the trial at the end of this movie."
 Torchy, lose the hat.

My description of the plot above is vague because Blondes at Work (the 4th Torchy film in about one year) isn't about the mystery. The Spencer investigation isn't terribly interesting. There are only two suspects and one of them is put on trial. The explanation for the murder is tossed off in the exact opposite way that everything was explained in Fly Away Baby. (That one had rapid fire, exciting realizations. This one has McBride casually describing what happened. Torchy nods along and occasionally interjects.) The mystery simply doesn't seem to be all that important.

 She's thinking about trading hats

This movie expands upon an element in the first half of the previous film, The Adventurous Blonde. Everyone thinks that McBride is giving his fiancee, Torchy, inside info so she can get the Big Scoops. I thought we'd resolved the issue in that movie. With the answer being: No. Torchy gets the scoops because she's a very good reporter. Apparently, someone felt that this needed to be dealt with in more detail so that's what Blondes At Work is all about. Frankly, I wasn't thrilled.
 What is Torchy's favorite food?

Once again, McBride is accused, by his boss, of giving Torchy inside info. McBride cuts Torchy's supply off. But, somehow, she remains on top of everything. Constantly scooping the police and their investigations. Extras from The Daily Star seem to be coming out hourly. How does she do it? Like the first film in the series (Smart Blonde), Torchy's investigations are followed at first. Then, McBride's sort of take over. But, in this film, there isn't much investigation going on. First, they talk to one suspect. Then, the next. It becomes all about Torchy being one step ahead.
 A room full of tough broads

And all this is fine and dandy. Torchy should be one step ahead. She's good at her job and she takes risks. But, then, the series shoots its whole premise in the foot with Gahagan's Diary. Now, Gahagan has spent three movies spouting poetry. So, why shouldn't be have a diary? But, his diary is not filled with poetry. It's filled with all the top secret info he found out during the day. And guess who sneaks into his car and reads it? Torchy. Can you see why this might be disappointing?
 That darn diary

Torchy is not getting all the hot leads through investigating. She is breaking into a police car and reading a diary filled with all her "hot leads." That's bad enough. But, Gahagan's Diary? Gahagan is the big, sweet, nice guy. Why him, Torchy? He always liked you? It's like discovering that The Count on Sesame Street  didn't go out and learn about numbers and counting on his own. He broke into Grover's townhouse and copied all of that monster's math notes, passing them off as his own. It's disappointing.
You were able to lose the first hat. How did you find this one?

The film almost gets away with it by having McBride cut off that avenue of information near the end and Torchy still has a final coup at the close of the trial. But, then it pulls out the narrative pistol and takes aim at its other foot. And it does not miss. Torchy hears that the verdict is going to be guilty and phones in the scoop. Then, she fakes a not guilty scoop so a rival paper will put out the wrong headline. (Sort of like what those reporters did to her in the previous film.) So far, so good.

But, it all ends with Torchy being arrested for Contempt of Court and put in jail. The final scene is her in jail, with McBride, waiting to go in front of the judge. McBride tells her how the mystery resolved itself. And, we see The Daily Star headline announcing the outcome...  and it's written by "Torchy Blane." McBride submitted the story under her name. The movie ends.
 Framed by Lola Lane

I don't know. This one left a sour taste in my mouth. The structure of the film reminded me of The Guermantes Way, the third volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. That book spends what, to me, seemed like an inordinate amount of time with the de Guermantes, an unpleasant couple. Page after page made me think "Where is this all going?" And then, right at the end, there's a moment that sums the whole thing up and it is so perfect, so awesome, that it justifies everything. Blondes At Work is sort of like that because the mystery is pretty useless and so much time is spent on the police wondering "How is Torchy doing all this?" In the final scene, I hoped that there would be a moment that would make all this worthwhile. There isn't. It simply puts Torchy in her place and makes McBride the Big Man. And, to add insult to injury, Glenda Farrell will not be around for the next film.
I'm not sure if this guy is funny or not. (I'm not counting the combover.)

Blondes At Work is, technically, really no different from the other films in the series, just the tone and the De-emphasis of the mystery portion. It's always nice to see the characters but I can't say that I was altogether happy at the end of this film. Maybe a reboot (of sorts) will haul me back into it. Bring on, Lola Lane! Torchy #2.

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