Sunday, November 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Torch Singer (1933) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Claudette Colbert gives a tour de force performance in TORCH SINGER (1933), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Colbert carries almost every scene in the movie playing poor young Sally Trent, who as the film begins gives birth to a baby girl in a hospital charity ward.

Sally was abandoned by the baby's father but she and her newborn daughter, also named Sally, make do for a year or so rooming with Dora (Lyda Roberti), who Sally meets in the hospital; Sally cares for Dora's baby boy while Dora's at work. But when Dora loses her job and disappears from the scene -- we're later told she married -- things go south for Sally quickly.

Sally approaches a relative (Ethel Griffies) of little Sally's father for help but is turned away. With no other recourse, she signs the baby away for adoption.

Within a handful of years Sally transforms herself into glamorous nightclub singer Mimi Benton. Thanks to her relationship with a radio executive, Tony (Ricardo Cortez), Sally also falls into a job starring as "Aunt Jenny" on a children's radio show.

Eventually Mike (David Manners), little Sally's father, reappears on the scene, having spent several years in China. Between Mike and the radio show, Sally just might be able to track down her little girl, who's about to turn five years old.

I first saw this film in 2009 and had a marvelous time returning to it. Some aspects of the story are admittedly improbable, but Colbert sells every single scene, from despondent young mother to glamorous chanteuse. As I noted in my 2009 review, it's truly an Oscar-worthy performance.

I also especially like that Sally has uncliched relationships with both Tony and her maid, Carrie (Mildred Washington). It's implied that Sally might be Tony's mistress, but they're also simply good friends; Tony is supportive of Sally both personally and professionally. It's wonderful seeing Cortez, who often played villains (i.e., MIDNIGHT MARY), in such a caring role.

Sally and her maid Carrie seem more like friends than employer/employee. The engaging Washington sadly died the week this film was released.

It was a particular treat to see Cora Sue Collins as little Sally in the movie's final scenes. I've been fortunate to see Collins in person on multiple occasions, most recently at an event at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in June of this year. What a thrill to be in the presence of someone who worked with Colbert, Garbo, and so many greats as a youngster! Collins turned 94 this year.

While the acting is strong and the screenplay by Lenore Coffee and Lynn Starling is engrossing, there are some odd aspects to the film. The idea that Sally could use her radio show to track down one particular little Sally out of all the children in New York requires a suspension of disbelief.

More significantly, the film seems somewhat truncated at its 71-minute running time. Dora, a significant character, disappears with just a couple of explanatory lines here and there; Sally/Mimi seems to race to the top careerwise in about a minute's time; and at the end viewers are left to wonder what on earth might have happened to little Sally's adoptive parents. None of this, however, diminishes either Colbert's power or the movie's sheer entertainment value.

TORCH SINGER was directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes. It was filmed by Karl Struss. Colbert's gorgeous gowns were designed by the great Travis Banton.

The supporting cast includes Charley Grapewin, Virginia Hammond, Helen Jerome Eddy, Albert Conti, Sam Godfrey, and Florence Roberts. Toby Wing can be spotted as one of the group hanging out in Sally's apartment. I didn't notice Dennis O'Keefe, who is listed by IMDb as a nightclub patron, but I thought I might have recognized an uncredited Bill Elliott in the nightclub!

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks and sounds terrific. Disc extras are a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and a gallery of 10 movie trailers, most for films starring Colbert.

TORCH SINGER is a must for fans of Colbert and pre-Codes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Vienna said...

Love that song, ‘Give me Liberty or give me love’. As you say, nice to see Ricardo Cortez in a supportive role .

1:29 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Claudette's talent shot by Struss and gowned by Banton? Must-see.

PS: Back in '33 we could easily miss a skinny young Dennis O'Keefe, but never Bill Elliott.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, that song really adds to much to the movie, doesn't it?! And Cortez is great fun to watch.

Claudette in Banton must always be seen, Caftan Woman! And I loved that about Bill Elliott. Any time I watch a '30s movie like this I'm on the lookout for him and O'Keefe, especially in nightclub scenes! They both showed up in nightclubs so frequently LOL.

Best wishes,

11:13 AM  

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