Torch Singer (1933)

Torch Singer 1933 Claudette Colbert

Usually, a baby being born is a joyous occasion.  But not for Sally Trent.  Sally’s boyfriend Mike (David Manners) has left for China, unaware he had a baby on the way, leaving Sally alone, broke, and with no other choice but to give birth in a charity hospital.  She has a baby girl, also named Sally, and makes friends with Dora (Lyda Roberti), who is in the same boat as her.  Sally and Dora get an apartment together, help take care of each other’s babies, but when Dora moves out to get married, Sally is right back where she started.  She does anything she can to get money to take care of her daughter.  She even resorts to visiting Mike’s family, but they won’t help her.  Sally is left with no other choice but to put her daughter up for adoption.  She only asks the nun to make sure her baby’s name will always be Sally.

With her daughter gone, Sally becomes a popular nightclub singer under the name Mimi Benton.  Now she’s got a swanky apartment, a maid, fabulous gowns, and a boyfriend, Tony (Ricardo Cortez), who runs a radio station.  On the night a children’s’ program was set to debut at Tony’s station, Mimi happens to see the show’s star get a vicious case of stage fright.  Mimi steps in and handles the whole show like a true professional.  The sponsors love her and she’s given a contract on the spot.  The radio show becomes a huge success, even if Mimi performs it from her apartment, drink in hand.  But when she receives some fan mail from a little girl named Sally, she realizes that her daughter might be listening to her show.  So Mimi comes up with an idea for a contest where she picks a name (of course the name is Sally) and asks everyone with that name to write in with their birth dates and she would send them a doll on their birthday.  But when Mimi gets a surprise visit from Michael and she tells him she had a baby, he also wants to seek his daughter out.  Without telling Mimi, he finds their daughter and adopts her.  Mimi finds out when she gets a letter from a Sally with the right birthdate and goes to deliver the doll in person.

I loved, loved, loved Claudette Colbert in Torch Singer!  She did some of her best work ever early in the movie when Sally is completely alone and vulnerable.  There’s nothing overly dramatic about the scenes where she is putting her daughter up for adoption, the emotion is played just right.  She came off as very maternal, which is something we see again later in Since You Went Away.  But when she becomes Mimi, boy, do you believe that she’s the life of the party.  With those gowns and that presence and attitude, I wanted to go to a party with Mimi!  Lydia Roberti, Ricardo Cortez, and Mildred Washington also made for a fantastic supporting cast.

This movie really had me going up until the incredibly unbelievable ending.  It was such an incredible stretch of the imagination, especially for a movie that had so many honest and realistic scenes in it.  But I haven’t let that ending deter this movie from becoming a repeat viewer for me.  I think if it had a weaker lead actress, this would have been a rather forgettable movie, but Claudette really made it work.

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