Monday, June 30, 2008

Glenda Farrell, 1904-1971

June 30 marks the anniversary of one of my favorite B actresses of the 1930s, Glenda Farrell. Farrell was quite popular for about a decade, usually getting billed well below the stars when she was in a "prestige" movie. But her characters always brightened the screen, being bold and brassy, and just plain fun.

One of the "benefits", if you will, of not getting starring roles, is that you show up with smaller roles in a lot of movies; Farrell made some 55 appearances in the 1930s. Many of the films are excellent A-list material, such as Lady For a Day, in which she plays the nightclub owner Missouri Martin; or I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, in which she sends Paul Muni back down the river for a second stint on the chain gang; and even her first screen credit, as Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s moll in Little Caesar. Even when she only had a tiny role, as in 1942's Johnny Eager, in which she plays the wife of a cop and only appears for a brief scene or two, she still shines.

Farrell did get to star in a series of B movies, too, as the wisecracking lady reporter Torchy Blaine. The movies are, as is usually the case in the B series of the 1930s, formulaic and short, but Farrell's boldness is fun to watch; often times it seems as though she has more cojones than any of the male characters! Farrell had earlier played a similar reporter in 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, which is the original version of the movie Vincent Price would later star in under the title House of Wax. The original might be better, in no small part thanks to Farrell, whose reporter drives quite a bit of the action.

Farrell's next movie to show up on TV is apparently Hollywood Hotel, as part of TCM's monthlong salute to big bands every Wednesday in July; Hollywood Hotel kicks off the proceedings at 8:00 PM ET on July 2. But a number of Farrell's movies, including most of those mentioned here (the exceptions are the Torchy Blaine movies and, surprisingly, Johnny Eager), are available on DVD.

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