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Thelma Todd Movies: Remembering Comedy Actress Whose Death Remains Controversial

Thelma ToddIt's Thelma Todd day on Turner Classic Movies. As part of TCM's “Summer Under the Stars” series, about a dozen Thelma Todd shorts are being shown this afternoon, in addition to six features this evening. [Thelma Todd schedule further below.]

I'm unfamiliar with Todd's film career. I've seen her in a few supporting roles (Roy Del Ruth's The Maltese Falcon, the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business) and that's about it.

Anyhow, since either ZaSu Pitts or Patsy Kelly can be found in most of the Thelma Todd shorts, they must be worth a look.

As for this evening, the one definite recommendation I have is The Maltese Falcon / Dangerous Female (1931), which I find infinitely more entertaining than John Huston's celebrated 1941 remake. Pretty much everyone else will disagree, I'm sure, but that's how it goes…

Ricardo Cortez, The Maltese Falcon Dangerous Female

Best of all is Ricardo Cortez's spot-on Sam Spade. Unlike Humphrey Bogart's tough-talking gumshoe, Cortez's Spade displays a mix of sliminess, slyness, slickness, sensuality, and, gasp, integrity. I say “gasp” because Cortez's characters usually came across as anything but ethical.

Also, being a pre-Code production, The Maltese Falcon gets away with certain elements less evident in the 1941 remake, including the daddy-son relationship between Dudley Digges and his “gunsel” Dwight Frye.

Also in the enjoyable cast: Bebe Daniels, Otto Matieson, and Una Merkel.

People talk about Hollywood having no imagination nowadays, what with all those remakes and reboots, etc., etc., coming out. And to think that within a decade, The Maltese Falcon reached the screen three times, courtesy of Warner Bros.

In addition to Cortez and Bogart, there was also Warren William in the 1936 cheapo “reboot” Satan Met a Lady, co-starring Bette Davis.

At the age of 29, Thelma Todd died under mysterious circumstances on Dec. 16, 1935. Her death was ruled a suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, but many believed it was actually murder related to the goings-on at her nightclub/restaurant “Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe.”

Thelma Todd, Groucho Marx, Monkey Business
Groucho Marx, Thelma Todd in Norman Z. McLeod's Monkey Business

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

3:00 AM Broadminded (1931)
A rejected suitor leaves town and gets mixed up in an international chase. Cast: Joe E. Brown, Ona Munson, Bela Lugosi. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Black and white. 72 min.

4:15 AM Son Of A Sailor (1933)
A lovesick fool bumbles into espionage and finds a stolen plane. Cast: Joe E. Brown, Jean Muir, Thelma Todd. Dir.: Lloyd Bacon. Black and white. 73 min.

5:30 AM REAL MCCOY, THE (1930)
Charlie pretends to be a hillbilly to impress country girl Thelma Todd in hopes of making her his girlfriend. Cast: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd Dir: Warren Doane BW-21 min.

6:00 AM Short Film: WHISPERING WHOOPEE (1930)
Charley hires three “party girls” to help him land a business deal. Cast: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd Dir: James W. Horne BW-21 min.

6:30 AM Short Film: DOLLAR DIZZY (1930)
Two millionaires try to escape the suitors out to marry them for their money. Cast: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, Edgar Kennedy. Dir.: James W. Horne. Black and white. 26 min.

7:00 AM Short Film: HIGH C'S (1930)
An entertainer serving in World War I puts music before military service. Cast: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, Carlton Griffin. Dir.: James W. Horne. Black and white. 29 min.

7:30 AM PIP FROM PITTSBURG, THE (1931)
Charley agrees to go on a blind date to a dance to help out his friend. Concerned it will be a big disaster like his last blind date Charley tries to be as off putting as possible and goes all out trying to make himself look bad. He is rude to her on the phone, refuses to shave, wears his friend's old suit and even eats garlic. Unfortunately for him, however, his date turns out to be the lovely Thelma Todd. Cast: Charley Chase; Thelma Todd Dir: James Parrott BW-21 min.

8:00 AM Short Film: NICKEL NURSER, THE (1932)
A millionaire hires an efficiency expert to get his daughter in line. Cast: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, Billy Gilbert. Dir.: Warren Doane. Black and white. 21 min.

8:30 AM Hips, Hips, Hooray (1934)
Two salesmen try to market a flavored lipstick. Cast: Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Ruth Etting. Dir.: Mark Sandrich. Black and white. 68 min.

9:45 AM Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)
Two nitwits are mistaken for the king's physicians in medieval England. Cast: Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Thelma Todd. Dir.: Mark Sandrich. Black and white. 72 min.

11:00 AM Short Film: CATCH AS CATCH CAN (1931)
ZaSu Pitts is a hotel phone operator who finds love in a wrestler with a little matchmaking help from friend Thelma Todd. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, Big Boy Williams Dir: Marshall Neilan BW-20 min.

11:30 AM Short Film: RED NOSES (1932)
Comedic duo Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts get sent to a spa while recovering from being sick, but it turns out not to be the relaxation they need. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Dir: James W. Horne BW-21 min.

12:00 PM Short Film: SHOW BUSINESS (1932)
Comedic duo Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts travel along with their musical monkey to a show but their antics on the train antagonize the show director. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Dir: Jules White BW-20 min.

12:30 PM Short Film: ASLEEP IN THE FEET (1933)
Comedic duo Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts try their hand at being charitable by working at a dance club to raise money for a friend. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Dir: Gus Meins BW-19 min.

1:00 PM Short Film: MAIDS A LA MODE (1933)
Hal Roach's comedic duo Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts find themselves in a jam when they get caught by their boss at a party. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Dir: Gus Meins BW-18 min.

1:30 PM Short Film: Bargain of the Century (1933)
Hal Roach's comedic duo Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts find themselves in a jam once again when they are the cause of a police officer losing his job. Cast: Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Dir: Charley Chase BW-19 min.

2:00 PM SOUP AND FISH (1934)
In this Todd/Kelly short, the girls crash a high society party and have trouble fitting in. Cast: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd Dir: Gus Meins BW-18 min.

2:30 PM ONE HORSE FARMERS (1934)
The girls buy a farm in Paradise Acres and get scammed. Cast: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly Dir: Gus Meins BW-17 min.

3:00 PM OPENED BY MISTAKE (1934)
Patsy looses her job and needs a place to stay over night after getting kicked out of her apartment. She convinces Thelma to let her spend the night at the hospital where Thelma works as a nurse. Cast: Patsy Kelly, Thelma Todd Dir: James Parrott BW-19 min.

3:30 PM SING SISTER SING (1935)
Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly move into an apartment together and become roommates. They end up driving each other crazy and Patsy moves out! Cast: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly Dir: James Parrott BW-20 min.

4:00 PM Short Film: HOT MONEY (1935)
In this Todd/Kelly short, Patsy and Thelma come across some much needed money that happens to be stolen. Cast: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly Dir: James W. Horne BW-17 min.

4:30 PM TOP FLAT (1935)
In this Todd/Kelly short, Thelma tries to convince Patsy that she's struck it rich. Cast: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly Dir: William Terhune BW-19 min.

5:00 PM Monkey Business (1931)
Four stowaways get mixed up with gangsters while running riot on an ocean liner. Cast: The Marx Brothers, Thelma Todd, Rockliffe Fellowes. Dir.: Norman Z. McLeod. Black and white. 78 min.

6:30 PM Horse Feathers (1932)
In an effort to beef up his school's football team, a college president mistakenly recruits two loonies. Cast: The Marx Brothers, Thelma Todd, David Landau. Dir.: Norman Z. McLeod. Black and white. 67 min.

7:45 PM Short Film: Another Fine Mess (1930)
Two vagabonds move into a deserted mansion and pretend to be its owners. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Thelma Todd. Dir.: James Parrott. Black and white. 28 min.

8:30 PM Short Film: Chickens Come Home (1931)
A man risks his marriage to help his best friend deal with blackmailers. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Thelma Todd Dir: James W. Horne BW-30 min.

9:15 PM Devil's Brother, The (1933)
Two wannabe bandits are hired as servants by the real thing. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Dennis King, Thelma Todd. Dir.: Hal Roach. Black and white. 90 min.

11:00 PM Short Film: Bohemian Girl (1936)
Two pickpockets raise a stolen child, not realizing she's royalty. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Thelma Todd. Dir.: James W. Horne, Charles Rogers. Black and white. 71 min.

12:15 AM Maltese Falcon, The (1931)
In the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon, detective Sam Spade investigates the theft of a priceless statue. Cast: Bebe Daniels, Ricardo Cortez, Dudley Digges. Dir.: Roy Del Ruth. Black and white. 79 min.

1:45 AM Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)
A woman doctor decides to have a baby without benefit of marriage. Cast: Kay Francis, Lyle Talbot, Glenda Farrell. Dir.: Lloyd Bacon. Black and white. 72 min.


         
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1 Comment to Thelma Todd Movies: Remembering Comedy Actress Whose Death Remains Controversial

  1. Neal Culver

    I am one who will agree with the author's preference for the 1931 version of the Maltese Falcon. Ricardo Cortez was excelent as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels interpretation of Miss O'Shaughnessy is much sexier than Mary Astor's.