Although her career spanned less than a decade, Thelma Todd made more than 60 features and two-reelers. Very few of these, however, are available on tape. The best bet is to catch Todd on the late-late show.
Here are a few of Todd’s better-known films.
She has a rare good-girl role in 1927’s silent Western Nevada, based on the popular Zane Grey novel. A young Gary Cooper stars as Nevada, a bad boy trying to go straight who protects a young rancher (Todd) and her brother from cattle rustlers. William Powell (“The Thin Man”) plays a good-guy rancher who actually is the leader of the cattle rustlers.
Todd is Cary Grant’s two-timing wife in the saucy 1932 comedy This Is the Night. Grant, in his film debut, plays a javelin thrower who returns to his home in Paris after winning at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and discovers his wife in the arms of a carefree Parisian bachelor (Roland Young.)
The actress gave two of her best performances in the Marx Brothers’ film classics, 1931’s Monkey Business (MCA/Universal Home Video) and 1932’s Horse Feathers (MCA/Universal Home Video).
In “Monkey Business,” the four Marx Brothers--Groucho, Zeppo, Harpo and Chico--all stowaway on a luxury liner. Groucho sets his sights on vampy passenger Todd. In real life, Groucho also carried a torch for Todd.
“Horse Feathers” is a wacky bit of nonsense that finds Groucho the president of Huxley University. When Huxley tries to develop a football team to beat rival Darwin University, Todd is hired to keep the minds of Groucho and his football star son (Zeppo) off football.
The Marx Brothers weren’t the only famous film comedians who employed Todd as their foil. She worked with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 1929’s Unaccustomed As We Are, 1930’s Another Fine Mess, 1931’s Chickens Come Home, 1933’s The Devil’s Brother and 1936’s The Bohemian Girl (Media Home Entertainment). The last was released posthumously.
Todd also co-starred opposite bellowing, rubber-legged Joe E. Brown in the 1931 comedy Broad Minded (which boasts Bela Lugosi in a cameo as a man who’s hot dog is stolen) and in 1933’s amusing Son of a Sailor. (The latter airs from time to time on TNT).
Todd was at her vampish best in the Buster Keaton 1932 talkie, Speak Easily (another TNT favorite), in which Keaton plays a dimwitted college professor who becomes involved with a group of actors heading for Broadway.
Todd played another vamp in 1933’s Sitting Pretty, with Jack Oakie, Jack Haley and Ginger Rogers. The musical-comedy is about two songwriters who go to Hollywood, where they meet a good girl (Rogers) and a bad girl (Todd).
In 1934’s Hips, Hips, Hooray (Blackhawk Catalogue), Todd owns a failing beauty business until she teams up with two hot-shot salesmen (the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey) who are selling flavored lipstick.
Todd also appeared with the Schnozzola himself, Jimmy Durante, in the 1934 comedy-drama Palooka (Video Yesteryear, Congress Video). Durante sings his signature tune, “Ink-A-Dinka-Do.”
Keep your eyes peeled for Todd in such films as the original 1931 The Maltese Falcon, a.k.a. Dangerous Female (Film Classics Exchange), with Ricardo Cortez as a womanizing Sam Spade; a 1932 comdey-drama Call Her Savage, which was Clara Bow’s ill-fated comeback vehicle, and the acclaimed 1933 drama Counsellor-at-Law, starring John Barrymore as a successful Jewish attorney who discovers his wife has been unfaithful. William Wyler directed. (The film airs on KDOC).