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Torchy Blane in Panama

Torchy Blane in Panama(1938)

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teaser Torchy Blane in Panama (1938)

Pulp magazine writer Fred Nebel conceived of investigative reporter Torchy Blane as a man, but Warners performed a gender swap to create a snappy series heroine for their contract player Glenda Farrell. The spirited Ms. Farrell was perhaps less romantic than Joan Blondell. But she could dish witty and naughty dialogue at a dizzying pace. She had already played snoopy, funny news hens in several pictures including the classic Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). The 'Torchy' films proved so popular that when Farrell became unavailable for one episode, the studio substituted Lola Lane, the older sister of Rosemary Lane and Priscilla Lane. Torchy Blane in Panama also changed the actor playing Torchy's policeman boyfriend Steve McBride, replacing Barton MacLane with Paul Kelly. Actor Tom Kennedy was retained as Steve's comical aide Gahagan, a supremely dumb cop. The erratic story begins with a bank robbery in which a teller is killed. Torchy deduces that the thief is hiding among the members of the Royal Order of Leopards, and is with the lodge revelers on a boat excursion to the Canal Zone, a good place to exchange the stolen cash. To catch up with her rival reporter Bill Canby (Larry Williams), Torchy parachutes out of a plane and boards the Panama-bound steamboat in mid-voyage. As Torchy zeroes in on the thief, she also hopes for a marriage proposal from Steve, who is on the trail of the thief as well. The short feature never takes itself seriously, but does find the time for some stock-footage glimpses of the Panama Canal. Two songs are provided courtesy of composer Harry Warren. Glenda Farrell returned promptly for the next series chapter, Torchy Gets Her Man (1938). But Lola Lane's one appearance as Torchy Blane did have a lasting influence. When inventing a female reporter to be a love interest for their new comic strip superhero Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were reportedly influenced by Glenda Farrell's performance, and Lola Lane's alliterative name.

By Glenn Erickson

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