Torch Singer (1933) Poster

(1933)

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The low down on the high life in New York
A2ZJerry13 May 2003
The soap suds reach almost to the ceiling in "Torch Singer" but that's part of the fun. Claudette Colbert and the rest of the excellent cast have a grand old time as they work their way through the somewhat rusty plot. Colbert sings a couple of songs and wears some smashing gowns as she portrays a chorus girl with a heart of gold who's forced to give up her baby daughter and become a torch singer to earn a living in Depression-era New York. In no time at all she's the toast of the town, with a fancy apartment, a maid, and a boy friend who's a big radio executive. She covers up her need for her daughter by drinking, dancing and carrying on, and does it ever look like fun. But it all works out in the end, and with only minutes to spare.

Look for Lyda Roberti, the Polish bombshell in the first part of the movie as Colbert's friend and roommate. Roberti died tragically young, with only a few films to her credit, notably "The Kid From Spain " and "Million Dollar Legs," in which she played Mata Machree, The Woman No Man Can Resist. "Torch Singer" is kind of tame for a pre-Code feature but it's fun and well worth watching.
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8/10
A great Claudette Colbert Pre-Code
FERNANDO SILVA17 July 2004
This 1933 Paramount film, is a sophisticated and greatly acted drama, with the Depression as background and a powerful performance by the great comedienne and actress, Claudette Colbert, as a chic "fallen" woman. I'd even dare to say that this one pleased me even more than that other favorite 1934 tearjerker, "Imitation Of Life".

Awesome Miss Colbert's costumes, designed by the best Hollywood costume designer of all time, Travis Banton, to "showcase" her "conversion", when she turns into the successful "Torch" Singer-Mimi Benton-of the Title.

Great performance by latin-named, but European born, Ricardo Cortez, as Miss Colbert's lover and mentor and a good one too by David Manners, as the rich guy, who "unwantedly" & "unknowingly" disgraced Miss Colbert's life.

Nice acting by beautiful Mildred Washington, who plays Miss Colbert's maid, and "punchy" Lyda Roberti, who plays an earthy woman who befriends Colbert in the beginning of the film. Ethel Griffies, gives a good "nasty" performance, as Manners' stiff-upper-lip, aristocratic, embittered aunt.

Mention apart deserves Charley Grapewin as the mischievous sponsor of Miss Colbert's Radio Show. He delivers some great lines!

I won't add anything more about the plot of the movie, 'cos you oughta watch it for yourselves! A must see for Pre-Code and 1930's film lovers!
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8/10
Jilted Claudette in Excellent Tour de Force
sobaok10 February 2002
It's fun to see Colbert warbling the blues (several times) and kiddies lullabies in this well made and directed soap. Unwed and unable to manage she gives up her baby and becomes a disreputable torch singer and the hottest attraction around. Colbert goes from forlorn unwed mother to Mae-Westian blues singer in a captivating role. "Realization" puts her "back on track" to find her daughter. All this in 72 minutes! Good support from Lyda Roberti, Ricardo Cortez and David Manners. It's a shame this isn't available on video.
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8/10
A neglected Claudette Colbert gem
warrenk-220 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"Torch Singer" is a modest pre-Code gem that showcases Claudette Colbert's fine performance as a Good Woman who, after having a baby out of wedlock, becomes a pretty good Bad Woman.

Pre-Code films often offer powerful glimpses into women's lives, even in melodramas, and "Torch Singer" is no exception. I especially like the frank manner in which the pregnancy is presented, and also the relationship that develops between Sally and Dora, two young mothers in the same situation who befriend each other.

****SPOILER****

We are introduced to Sally Trent (Colbert) as she enters a charity hospital to have her baby after an affair with Michael Gardner (David Manners), a wealthy Bostonian who has left for China. In the hospital, Sally meets Dora (Lyda Roberti), another mother without a husband. The two women join together as a family of four until Dora is forced to leave after quitting her job because of sexual harassment from her boss. Alone, Sally struggles unsuccessfully to provide for herself and daughter, whose name is also Sally. In desperation, she visits the wealthy aunt of her child's father, pleading with her to take her daughter, even offering never to see the girl again. When the aunt refuses, Sally gives up her child for adoption at the charity hospital, relinquishing all rights, only asking that the Mother Superior keep Sally as the girl's name.

After several rough years, Sally Trent emerges at Mimi Benton, a notorious but successful torch singer, hardened by life but financially well-off and in control of the many men who desire her. By accident she also becomes Aunt Jenny, the hostess of a children's radio program sponsored by Pure Foods. As Aunt Jenny, Mimi tells bedtime stories filtered through her personal experiences and sings torch-inspired lullabies while encouraging the children to keep healthy by drinking Pure Food's Ovaltine-like Oltina.

During an inspired transition in character, which Colbert manages exquisitely, Mimi realizes that her daughter may be one of the many children who listen to Aunt Jenny on the radio, prompting her to encourage girls named Sally to write to Aunt Jenny. When she receives a letter from a Sally who may indeed be her daughter, Mimi rushes to meet her. The little girl turns out to be African American, not the Caucasian child of the Sally/Michael union. I braced myself, expecting a moment of condescension, but it didn't happen. Colbert brilliantly underplays, staying in character as Aunt Jenny, betraying none of Mimi's deeply felt disappointment at not finding Sally. Mimi gives the little girl a fancy box of chocolates, sits down next to her, and warmly begins telling her one of Aunt Jenny's stories as the scene ends. The unexpected integrity of this sequence surprised and gratified me, as did its subtlety, a quality sometimes lacking from more serious films exploring racial issues a couple of decades later.

The pre-Code ethic provides another refreshing element. Sally/Mimi is never forced to apologize for the life she leads. If she suffers, it's part of the situation, not because she has to be punished.

"Torch Singer" is one of the few films in which Colbert had the opportunity to show off her not-too-bad contralto. She sings several songs including "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love," suggesting that even voices got cleaned up after the enforcement of the Production Code.

Like many of her contemporaries, Colbert could be sexy in pre-Code films in a way she rarely could in '30s films made under the constraints of the Code. In the scene in her dressing room where Mimi tells her wealthy Bostonian about having gone through hell ("It's a nice place, you must go there someday."), dressed in a shimmering Travis Banton gown and wearing dangling earrings, Colbert is a knockout.
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6/10
Colbert is always super, but this film could have been much better
mmipyle9 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Watched "Torch Singer" (1933) with Claudette Colbert last night. I've seen this a few times before, but not for some time. Along with Colbert, Ricardo Cortez, David Manners, and Lyda Roberti headline the cast. I watched it from the new release in the set "Universal Pre-Codes", a set interesting for the fact that NONE of them are Universal! Universal simply owns the lot now. "Torch Singer" was made at Paramount. Anyway, this one really shows how a budget that gets used up fast causes a ridiculously quick ending that nearly doesn't make sense! It's a pre-code in the real sense of the word: Colbert becomes pregnant, has a baby, the father is in China and doesn't know about the baby, neither is married, of course, etc. She moves in with another lady (Lyda Roberti) who has just had a baby similarly, and she stays there until Roberti loses her job and is forced to move out. Colbert now must give up the baby and make some kind of living. She becomes a torch singer, a famous one at that, and begins a romance with Ricardo Cortez. This goes on and on until David Manners shows up late in the film. He's the father of Colbert's baby. Now - - miracle of miracles - - he's also adopted HIS own baby in the interim. Of course, there's more to the story, with a radio program that helps Colbert find her baby and Manners and so forth - but, in the end all this happens and the film ends abruptly. What happened to Cortez???? Why was Lyda Roberti only in the film for two scenes? Why was David Manners not introduced until nearly the end? A botched job of editing, if you ask me. A botched job of supporting the finances obviously. This could have been a much, much better show than what finally ends up in the sprockets. It's certainly not bad. Nothing with Claudette Colbert is ever bad. She's wonderful. But - this show should have been much better.
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10/10
Soapy Showcase For Colbert
Ron Oliver18 April 2004
An unwed TORCH SINGER uses her children's radio show to search for her illegitimate daughter.

Claudette Colbert has a fine time in this Pre-Code melodrama playing a distraught female who covers up for the necessary separation from her child by embracing a life of empty decadence. While highly fanciful--the heroine is both sultry nightclub chanteuse and kindly kiddy radio hostess--the plot is still most enjoyable, with Colbert wringing every bit of pathos from her character's plight.

Ricardo Cortez plays the refreshingly decent producer who assists Colbert to become a celebrity. David Manners ably plays her long-lost lover. Peppery Lydia Roberti is most enjoyable as a high-spirited young mother; her character is sorely missed when she disappears early in the film. Old Charley Grapewin adds some spark as the flirtatious breakfast cereal tycoon who sponsors Miss Colbert's radio show.

A quartet of character actresses lend able support in small roles: Florence Roberts as a sympathetic nun; Virginia Hammond as Grapewin's suspicious wife; Mildred Washington as Miss Colbert's energetic maid; and aristocratic Ethel Griffies as Manners' inflexible aunt. Baby LeRoy, nemesis of W.C. Fields, appears in only one scene as Miss Roberti's infant son.

Movie mavens will recognize unbilled Scots actress Margaret Mann as a nanny.
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10/10
Don't let any man make a sucker out of you
overseer-312 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Torch Singer (1933) is a precode mixed bag of reality and froth. Claudette Colbert's character, Sally Trent, an unwed mother, at first steals your heart away with her desire to properly care for and love her infant girl, also named Sally. When destitution during the Depression forces her to give her baby up for adoption she transforms herself into morally loose and flirtatious torch singer Mimi Benton, who appears at the hottest nightclubs and on the radio. From poverty to riches along the way come a string of men (only hinted at, never shown), even though deep down she continues to love the man who abandoned her, the father of her baby, Michael Gardner (David Manners).

Mimi happens to be at the radio station when a new performer who is supposed to do a new children's' show freezes up. She runs into the studio and takes the woman's place as "Aunt Jenny". The sponsor likes what he hears and suddenly Mimi has a lucrative contract in the role. After receiving fan letters from children, including a five year old named Sally, Mimi realizes that she can use this medium to try and contact / locate her daughter.

Meanwhile Michael, her old love, returns from China, and seeks her out. Since she had changed her name Sally now known as Mimi is hard to find. Finally he finds her and confronts her, but she spurns his declarations of love. She tells him she had his child and he is shocked, now determined to find the child himself.

Torch Singer has a most implausible, unrealistic ending: where in the world are little Sally's adoptive parents and why would they simply relinquish her to a man claiming to be her biological father? We aren't told anything about how she was raised for five years, only that now Michael has custody of her. It's really laughable. I know they wanted to end it all with a nice big bow wrapped around it, but really, couldn't a more realistic ending have been inserted?

Best scene in the film is when Sally has signed the papers to give up her baby for adoption. Claudette plays this scene with real emotion. The scene boasts one of the best lines in the history of cinema: "Don't ever let any man make a sucker out of you. Make him know what you're worth. Anything they get for nothing is always cheap." A lot has changed since 1933, but some truths like that are eternal. If only Sally, aka Mimi, had taken her own advice she would have saved herself a lot of heartache and grief.

Performances worthy of note here are handsome Ricardo Cortez as Mimi's business manager and friend, Lyda Roberti as another unwed mother friend of Sally's, and splendid woman of color Mildred Washington as Carrie, Mimi's maid, who is very pretty and manages to steal a few scenes. Unfortunately Mildred died the same year Torch Singer came out, or I am positive today we would remember her name right alongside Hattie and Butterfly.

8 out of 10.
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They Don't Make Movies Like This Anymore!
msladysoul14 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Great pre-code Hollywood musical/drama classic. One of Claudette Colbert best before "It Happened One Night". Great songs, Great acting. Claudette Colbert is beautiful with her full face. If you catch this, you're lucky. Claudette Colbert Sally Trent gets pregnant out of wedlock tries to take care of her own baby, but times get tough unwillingly gives her baby up for adoption agreeing never to see the baby again. She find jobs as a Torch Singer and becomes famous calling herself Mimi Benton. She also became Aunt Jenny a singer and bedtime singer on a radio show, a letter that comes through from one of her letter fans named Sally reminds her of her own daughter Sally, then through the radio show she tries to look for her daughter, she ends up finding her daughter, but not before the father of the child does. Also starring Ricardo Cortez, Lyda Roberti, David Manners.
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7/10
A woman made hard by the circumstances of her life
bkoganbing20 April 2013
For only a 72 minute movie Torch Singer packs quite a lot into the film with Claudette Colbert playing the starring role of an unwed mother who is forced to give up her daughter as she can't locate the baby's father David Manners and his rich family won't give her the time of day. She supports herself by becoming a nightclub singer and according to a recent biography of Claudette Colbert she actually sung her own numbers which were written by songwriting team of Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger for the film. Claudette's scenes with her child, her prospective in-laws and with the nuns running the adoption facility are heartbreaking and touching on melodrama.

A case of 'mike fright' scares off the prospective host of a children's radio program and sultry torch singer Claudette substitutes as the story lady who sings lullabies and tells fairy tales. Which gives her a day time career as well as a nighttime one as long as she can keep the secret. In the meantime the show affects her and decides to seek her child.

Claudette proves to have a nice style as a singer much as Susan Hayward did when played Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow. And she treads on Barbara Stanwyck territory as a woman made hard by the circumstances of her life.

Ricardo Cortez who after the silent screen days ended where he played Latin lovers as a poor man's Rudolph Valentino, in sound either played smart alecks or downright heels. I was fully expecting him to be a heel in this film, but he turns out to be a nice guy as a radio executive who sympathizes with Colbert and her situation.

Lyda Roberti also makes an appearance here playing a fellow unwed mother who rooms with Colbert for a while. Her character has all too little time in Torch Singer, I wish we saw more of her.

Claudette Colbert whose career in 1933 was really beginning to take off moved a bit higher with this film. It holds up very well for today's audience.
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7/10
Claudette Colbert tries her best in sudsy soaper!!!
kidboots30 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
With this sudsy woman's picture complete with songs, Claudette Colbert proved there was no genre she couldn't do well - she even handles the songs okay.

Sally Trent (Claudette Colbert) meets Dora (Lyda Roberti) at a maternity hospital and they become friends. Dora has a little boy and Sally, a little girl, but although at first she tries to make a go of it, Sally is , at last, forced to put her baby up for adoption.

Trying to rebuild her life and career - after many tryouts she is told she must learn to suffer!!!! She then refines her singing to become a "torch singer" (a woman who sings of love gone wrong). She picks up a manager, Tony (fascinating Ricardo Cortez) and soon becomes "Mimi" - the most notorious torch singer in town!!!! When she fills in for a woman with "mike fright" she picks up a new career and is a sensation as "Aunt Jenny" on a daily children's radio show. Cards and letters pour in, including one from a little girl called Sally - it brings back memories of her own little girl. She then uses the radio show in her quest to try to find the child she gave up for adoption four years before. She finds her, as well as Mike (boring David Manners), the father of her child. Yes, the ending is unsatisfactory but it would have pleased audiences at the time.

Baby LeRoy's name was featured quite prominently in the credits but he only had one scene. He was riding on the crest of a wave then, being Paramount's great find of the year but unfortunately he stopped being quite so popular when he grew up - which was within a year or two. Cora Sue Collins, who played Sally's little girl (in a quite self conscious way, I thought), because she wasn't under contract to any studio spent most of her career way down the cast list playing "little girls". Her most prestigious role was in "Queen Christina" (1933) where she played Garbo as a child and her most memorable came at the end of the thirties as Amy Lawrence, Tom Sawyer's little girlfriend before Becky Thatcher moved into town. I would definitely have liked to see more of Lyda Roberti. I was hoping she would reappear but she never did. Her delightful way with the English language gave the movie a much needed brightness.

The song "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love" became a popular song hit of the day, with recordings being made by Bing Crosby and Annette Hanshaw.
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7/10
early tour de force for Colbert
mukava99118 June 2009
This is a touching if not extraordinary film about a woman who has a child out of wedlock, gives it up for adoption and suffers a great deal despite achieving wealth, glamour and fame first as a nightclub torch singer and then as a children's radio personality. This may have been Claudette Colbert's first great cinematic tour de force, gorgeously photographed by Karl Struss (through whose lens she also appeared to huge advantage in Sign of the Cross and Four Frightened People), sheathed in a variety of Travis Banton gowns and singing rather ludicrous songs by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin in her own voice and let's give her a nod for that! The role is as juicy as can be, giving her the opportunity to essay mother love, humiliation, anger, despair, bitterness, drunkenness, nobility, eroticism - you name it. What a showcase! The screen bursts with life when she is at its center. The other performers, including an underused Lyda Roberti as a fellow unwed mother and a stiff David Manners as the father of the child, serve as window dressing. The only standout aside from Colbert is Ethel Griffies as Manners's stodgy, coldhearted aunt; acting like hers, in the grand old fashion, died decades ago but not until talkies captured the work of some of its practitioners, and it is still a treat to watch.
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10/10
'The Sins of Mademoiselle Claudette' Brilliant Colbert "Women's Picture"
HarlowMGM27 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
TORCH SINGER is from 1933 and stars Claudette Colbert just before she broke into superstardom in 1934 with three landmark motion pictures IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, CLEOPATRA, and IMITATION OF LIFE. This film has, until recently, been seldom seen compared to her later films but this is an emotion-packed, beautifully acted film.

I've always considered Claudette Colbert one of the two or three greatest actresses from the golden era of Hollywood and even this early in her career, she was flawless. Colbert stars as a chorus girl whose wealthy playboy of a boyfriend David Manners impulsively skips the country on her, unaware he is leaving her with child. Destitute, Colbert regretfully signs away her rights to the child at the Catholic charity hospital which apparently is affiliated with an orphanage. Now "free" of motherhood, Colbert climbs to metropolitan stardom as a torch singer in nightclubs, earning a bit of infamy as a playgirl via the press. At the radio station managed by her quasi-beau Ricardo Cortez, she stumbles upon a young woman set to star in a new children's show as "Aunt Jenny" who has a bout of enormous mike-fright who panics just before the broadcast. As a lark, Claudette steps up to the mike and wings it, beautifully ad-libbing her way through the fifteen minutes. Claudette as Aunt Jenny is a sensation, bringing in stacks of fan mail from children and high ratings. Initially bemused by her celebrity, she suddenly sobers when she realizes the show may be a means of reuniting with her now five-year-old daughter. And as it happens, her old boyfriend David Manners is back in town, determined to find the girlfriend he left behind.

Although packaged in a "pre-code" DVD set, this movie isn't about sex, it's simply a blunt look at one unwed mother's life. It's a soap opera/"women's picture", and an extraordinary one. Other than Manners' cold aunt, there really are no villains here, just flawed people who make mistakes, just like real life. The whole cast is wonderful. I've never seen David Manners more appealing, nor Ricardo Cortez, who plays an atypically mild-mannered role. Lyda Roberti is a hoot as a young widow who befriends Claudette early in the film and there is nice work by a character actress as the compassionate Mother Superior who is in charge of admissions. The kids are adorable in this movie! Baby Leroy is Roberti's child and the little girl who plays Claudette's daughter Sally looks amazingly like one would think a baby of Claudette's would. There's also an enchanting scene in which Claudette meets with one young fan whom she hopes is her daughter who turns out to be a African-American child.

I've been a Claudette Colbert fan for decades but have never seen this movie until this year. TORCH SINGER immediately goes on to my list of favorite Colbert films. There's not another actress from her era who could have so beautifully played this young woman so well, from her frightened abandonment to her devastating poverty to her sardonic partying to her bitter reunion with her ex-lover to her loving interaction with the children, Claudette is true and honest every moment and thoroughly believable. Many an Oscar has been given to much less impressive performances. TORCH SINGER is one of the best soap opera films ever made and that's largely due to Claudette Colbert's bravura performance.
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A Bedtime Story
lugonian14 June 2009
TORCH SINGER (Paramount, 1933), directed by Alexander Hall and George Somnes, from the story, "Mike" by Grace Perkins, gives indication as a musical drama starring torch singer Helen Morgan, but, while Morgan, best known for her early work in Rouben Mamoulian's APPLAUSE (Paramount, 1929), might have stepped into this particular role with conviction, especially when songs are concerned, the leading role went to none-other than Claudette Colbert, with screen personality most associated with comedy than singing. The finished product, however, is not so much a musical, in spite of songs thrown in, but a Depression era theme of a poor woman's rise to success, unable to forget her past concerning that special someone she hopes to meet again.

Following the opening credits with titles over blazing fire, this hot item begins with Sally Trent (Claudette Colbert), a show girl by profession, arriving at St. Ann's Hospital, registering as a free clinic patient, where she soon gives birth to her illegitimate daughter. While there, she befriends Dora (Lyda Roberti), a young Bronx widow who gives birth to a little boy, Bobby. Upon their release, the two mothers help each other by sharing an apartment together and watching each other's babies while looking for work. With Dora finding a new husband after losing her job, Sally struggles on her own after landlady evicts her for non payment of rent. Unable to care for Little Sally, she comes to the rich aunt (Ethel Griffies) of the man who fathered her child for help, but is refused. Sally makes the supreme sacrifice by giving up her child to the sisters of St. Ann's Hospital, with the condition that she'll never see her daughter, again. The next few years finds Sally, now known professionally as Mimi Benton, torch singing in restaurants and night clubs before being discovered by Tony Cummings (Ricardo Cortez), who arranges her new career singing on radio for Andrew Judson's (Charley Grapewin) Pure Food Broadcast. Mimi soon finds further success hosting as Aunt Jennie on a children's radio program telling bedtime stories. In spite of her fame and fortune, and fan letters from children, Sally, a/k/a Mimi, starts yearning for her daughter, using her radio broadcast to regain custody of her, while the father of her child, Michael Gardner (David Manners), who had been away in China during her pregnancy, makes every effort to find her.

The supporting players consists of Florence Roberts (Mother Angelica); Mildred Washington (Carrie, the maid); Virginia Hammond (Mrs. Julia Judson); Helen Jerome Eddy (Miss Spaulding); William B. Davidson and Toby Wing in smaller roles. Ricardo Cortez, noted for playing heals or villains, is surprisingly effective as a loyal friend for a change, while David Manners, usually the good guy, as a rich young lad unaware of his child's existence. Appearing 40 minutes into the start of story, Manners is given little to do in the process, as with Lyda Roberti, whose character disappears shortly before the plot gets underway.

In a role that might have dramatically suited Paramount's own drama queens as Sylvia Sidney or Tallulah Bankhead, TORCH SINGER is made credible by the casting of Colbert, shortly before reaching super star status in 1934, vocalizing such tunes as: "Here Lies Love," "I'm Waiting For You," "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love," "Sail, Baby, Sail," "You Can Depend on Me" and the reprise of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love." For her introduction during the opening minutes in the hospital, she comes close to becoming recognizable without makeup, especially during her moments of labor pain.

When this long unseen drama was selected as part of Turner Classic Movie's spotlight on "Complicated Women" broadcast May 13, 2003, host Robert Osborne, during his after movie profile, mistakenly gave credit to Baby LeRoy as Colbert's long lost son (an error commonly found in other related sources), instead of rightfully naming those who played her daughter, Shirley Christensen (the baby), and Cora Sue Collins (the child). Not broadcast since its TCM premiere, TORCH SINGER was brought back in circulation again when distributed on DVD in 2009 by MCA Universal.

With TORCH SINGER being one of the many prime examples on how unwed mothers are portrayed during Hollywood's pre-code era, and this being Colbert's preparation for another self sacrificing mother role in IMITATION OF LIFE (Universal, 1934), the movie itself is basically weakened by unbelievable circumstances taking place after such a fine start. Regardless of its flaws, TORCH SINGER is a worthy rediscovery. (**)
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Excellent Early Colbert
GManfred6 April 2010
Hollywood sometimes went pretty far afield to find offbeat plots and Torch Singer is one the most offbeat you will see. It starts off soapy and ends up as a love story of sorts and in between there is some comedy and some musical numbers - something for everyone. I kept waiting for it to descend into bathos and tears but Claudette Colbert was so excellent that she singlehandedly kept the show afloat.

Ordinarily I don't care for Colbert much but I found new respect for her acting ability and was amazed to learn she sang her own songs in this picture. Other readers have rehashed the story but I just want to add a few words about the supporting cast. It was refreshing to see Ricardo Cortez in a role that was not sinister - in fact, he was kind-hearted and almost tender. I can never get enough of Lyda Roberti, who I thought had a future as a top film comedienne but died too soon. Here she's only on screen for about 15 minutes. In a night club scene you can get a glimpse of Dennis O'Keefe behind David Manners' shoulder.

This picture was headed for a sub-par rating from me as it is a very odd and contrived story, but as reported it was salvaged by Colbert's performance. Just enjoy it and don't ask too many questions.
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7/10
Claudette Colbert Sizzles
evanston_dad20 October 2014
Claudette Colbert sizzles in this "women's film" about a girl gone bad who's forced to give her illegitimate baby up for adoption and then sets out to find her years later after she's become a famous nightclub singer.

This is melodrama good and proper, folks, so be prepared to suspend your disbelief if you're going to have a chance at enjoying it. But if you give in, you might just find what I found in this film, a sexy, sometimes funny, sometimes truly affecting story about a mother's love with an absolutely sensational actress making sure you buy it hook, line and sinker. Colbert is marvelous, and I couldn't take my eyes off of her whenever she's on the screen, which fortunately is most of the time.

Grade: B+
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Colbert is great, the movie a clumsy production (there were even two directors)
secondtake24 September 2011
Torch Singer (1933)

A hobbled movie if you expect something naturalistic and moving, but Claudette Colbert is so convincing and terrific she almost compensates. A Depression-era tale of an affair that produced a baby, and then the mother having to struggle alone trying and failing to raise it. It takes off from there, as Colbert as the mother makes good with her life in other ways. The baby of course is still in the back of her mind, and causes a couple of dramatic twists later on.

The plot is a huge contrivance, and so you have to jump in and see it as a kind of morality tale, packaged a little too neatly and with some comic and tragic episodes almost too forcefully inserted. It's all interesting and fun, though, and Colbert really is a versatile and heartfelt actress here.

The one thing she may not do so well for modern audiences is sing so well, and as the title suggests, this is a key part of the middle of the movie. The orchestras are great, and the parade of side characters rather convincing as we go along, however. The sudden reappearance of the father, and the rather neat coincidences that follow, were way too much for me to swallow, however, especially the patched-on ten second last scene, which could have at least had some honest drama to it. You'll see.

It's probably the ending most people wanted to see, however, and a justification of what had happened earlier (all of which is a kind of taboo just a year later when the Hays Code would have made an out-of-wedlock birth a more serious offense). I think it's handled here in a believable way, however, at first, so thank goodness it was finished before the artifice of the later 1930s took over these kinds of themes.

The movie also has some nice (if neatly packaged) insights to the crude beginnings of commercial radio, which was always live, and which amounted to some people standing in front of a microphone. This was much like television was in its first years after WWII, with live broadcasts the necessity. And Colbert sings her own songs in this movie, for better or for worse. A total period effort, in tone and in content.
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6/10
Suffering in silence, sequins and satin....
mark.waltz17 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
What's an unwed mother to do when her reputation proceeds her, the father of her child is a member of the upper-crust and his snooty aunt wants no part of the child (also named Sally), and the widow with a baby born on the same day as her whom she rooms with suddenly gets married and moves away? Claudette Colbert's Sally is on the verge of turning into Marlene Dietrich in "Blonde Venus" as she faces not only homelessness but obvious other sinful methods of making a living. Actually, this movie is a lot better than that more famous Dietrich tearjerker, even if it has so many implausibilities you could fill a pad of post-its with them. Rather than turn to the obvious occupation of streetwalker, she ends up singing in some shady cafés, moves up to some more glamorous nightclubs, and is eventually singing on a stage made up to look like a giant piano.

One of many movies made on this theme (a woman sinks to degradation thanks to the absence of some man who leaves her in the family way), "Torch Singer" is truly a hoot and one of the better of this genre. Colbert looks totally ravishing whether in her down-on-her-luck dowdy duds or clad in fur. "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love", her repeated anthem, shows off Colbert's fine pipes, and it is surprising that she didn't do more musicals. No matter how ridiculous the plots of these films got (especially here with Colbert's desire to find her child by making a plea for all girls named Sally to write in to the program to get a free doll) they usually come out all right, and this works because Colbert really makes you root for her.

Taking a break from his usual scoundrel, Ricardo Cortez plays a much more well-rounded character who is totally likable, and equally as noble as any of these long-suffering heroines that wrapped around a street lamp in order to prevent their babies from starving. The handsome David Manners is the man Colbert believes ran out on her, while "Uncle Henry" Charley Grapewin is very amusing as the sponsor of the kiddies' show Colbert ends up being hostess of.

Virginia Hammond gets deliciously knocked down a peg or two as Grapewin's "slightly" younger wife who obviously feels threatened with Colbert taking her meal ticket away from her, and Lyda Roberti is also memorable as Colbert's widowed friend who helps her out after she has the baby. Other memorable performances are by Florence Roberts as the kindly nun and Ethel Griffies as Manners' domineering aunt. It's interesting to note that Griffies, only 55 when this was made, usually played characters much older than herself, and would continue to work for many years later. Also of interest is Mildred Washington as Colbert's devoted beautiful black maid who sadly died the year this was made at the age of 28. (She seems a natural for roles like the role that Fredi Washington played in "Imitation of Life").
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6/10
Not bad but a bit soapy
MartinHafer16 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is a decent Claudette Colbert film but its plot is very unusual to say the least. It begins with an unmarried Claudette going to a charity hospital to have a baby!! This certainly is NOT typical of most of her films and it's obvious by this plot device that this must be a Pre-Code film. That's because films made after the tougher Production Code were enacted would never have allowed the main character to have a baby out of wedlock. Such happenings wouldn't be seen again in films until the 1960s and beyond.

Soon after the baby is born, struggling Claudette finds she can't afford to take care of the child so she regrettably puts it up for adoption. Years later, she's now a successful torch singer AND she stumbles into a career as a children's radio personality. Despite her life going so well, the film gets very weepy as Claudette is being torn apart by the absence of her child. In fact, she spends most of the rest of the film pining and searching for the girl. Not surprisingly, by the end of the film she has gotten both the child AND the girl's birth father--leading to a contrived but very emotionally charged ending (have a Kleenex nearby).

Overall, it's a good but odd film. This sort of long-suffering mother role is more like what you might expect from Barbara Stanwyck and it seemed strange having Colbert in such a role. Negatives include a rather contrived plot and tons of pathos--which might turn some off. Positives are Colbert's performance as well as a touching finale. While not a must-see or one of her best films, it's worth a look.
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8/10
Colbert at her best
touser200427 February 2017
Excellent performance by Colbert who plays the part of a naive chorus girl who gets pregnant .Unable to provide for her daughter she has no choice but to give her up for adoption. Within a year her fortunes change and she becomes a very successful Torch Singer but is now a cynical soul who hides her softer side . After doing a good turn she lands the part of a children's radio presenter but this reminds her of the loss of her daughter.Knowing she is now wealthy enough to provide for her daughter ,she embarks on a plan to find her. Colbert plays the different emotions of her character with great skill ,changing from the happy go lucky prankster (when taking over the mike at the radio station),then the bitter ex girlfriend,and finally ,to the despairing mother who feels she will never see her daughter again. It was clever how she tried to track down her daughter using the radio show but the film failed to develop any strong attraction between Sally and Mike which made the ending unsatisfactory. Even a small speech by Sally confessing she had always loved him would have improved the film appreciably. This film more than any other,highlights the true versatility of one of Holywoods great actresses.
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5/10
The Code wasn't so bad for everyone
LuvSopr18 September 2015
While there were many actresses who shone in pre-Code films and were inhibited by the shift to stricter censorship (Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Harlow, among others), Claudette Colbert may not have been one of them, if this film is any indication.

Colbert was a warm presence, a sly comedienne, a likable and brittle by turns actress who always filled out every scene. What she was not - to me anyway - was brazen or bawdy or hysterical. And too much of this film is an attempt to give her that type of material. I also don't think some of the songs suited Colbert's voice. I can't help wondering if other actresses turned the part down.

The best parts of the film are Lyda Roberti as the woman she lives with during the brief period where they are raising their out of wedlock children (Roberti sadly disappears early on), a scene of Colbert singing a lullaby to a baby, and a startling scene, one that does show the strengths of the pre-Code era, where a little girl who is the same age and has the same name as the daughter Colbert gave away contacts her radio show. Colbert goes to the girl's neighborhood, she walks out...and it's a little black girl. Rather than being treated as a joke, or an excuse for eye-popping stereotypes, Colbert has a sweet, short conversation with her and gives her some candy. It's a nice moment.
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6/10
Mother-love junk, but with one important asset
marcslope7 July 2014
And that's Claudette Colbert, playing a not entirely plausible good-woman-turned-tough-cynic, who suffers, wisecracks, repents, and, most surprisingly, sings. That's clearly her voice taking on some decent Rainger-Robin songs, and it's a true, throaty, expressive contralto. Why didn't Paramount, which so often exploited the cheery, joie-de-vivre aspects of the Colbert personality, put her in more musicals? She's a natural. And she emotes touchingly in the soapier sections of this one, including a really devastating scene of her giving up her child. The story doesn't make a lot of sense, least of all the David Manners character, a Boston blueblood who is first portrayed as a rotter but turns out to be wonderful. Nor does Ricardo Cortez fit in easily, as Colbert's radio-manager boss; the script seems to want to suggest a romance for them, but never gets around to it. And the plot gymnastics toward the end, which are determined to give Colbert and Manners a happy ending whatever the cost to logic, are just impossible. Still, it's nicely pre-Code, never condemning Colbert for having a child out of wedlock, and quite a showcase for her many talents.
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5/10
Not well written.....
AbundantDay24 January 2012
I agree with several other posters about this movie. It is not well written. It doesn't always flow well. I think that Claudette Colbert's acting is the only saving grace. I love everything she's in but this is my least favorite of her films. She still does a great job. But I was surprised she would be given a singing role. Her voice was atrocious and she had many singing parts. What I did enjoy about the movie was the subject matter. It evokes sympathy for this young mother and we want to see her dream come true. But I agree that the ending was completely unrealistic and I feel the latter part of the movie needed more work. It's watchable but I would never view it again and can't really recommend it. I would rate it lower but I'm giving it a five because Claudette's acting is good.
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