Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This pre-Code film has a cult following; I'm happy to have seen it, and the truly perverse leading lady character is fun, but I can't get enthused enough to join the cult. Bail bondsman George Bancroft (whose character name is Bill Bailey) is a slimeball, using gifts to judges, lawyers, and cops to wield influence. Frances Dee is a socialite with a masochistic taste for danger; when she's arrested for thrill-shoplifting, Bancroft gets her off. Her father says she has an absolute "underworld mania," but we also discover she gets quite excited watching the scantily clad Hawaiian dancers at a party ("Pagan, almost savage!" she moans to Bancroft). Judith Anderson, a night club owner and Bancroft's buddy/mistress (kind of like Belle Watling is to Rhett Butler), is not happy to see him get involved with Dee. Anderson's kid brother (Chick Chandler) is arrested for being involved in a daring bank robbery; Bancroft puts up bail, but when Dee meets Chandler, she's fascinated with him. When the case against Chandler looks like it's going to be airtight, Bancroft encourages Chandler to skip bail. Chandler does, and asks Dee to give Chandler a lump payment while getting rid of some worthless bonds. She double-crosses both men, giving Bancroft the bonds and keeping the money for herself. This leads to distrust among all the main characters, attempts at revenge, and an assassination attempt against Bancroft via an explosive billiard ball. The film is fast paced throughout, and gets even faster in the last 20 minutes or so. Bancroft makes for a colorless lead, though Anderson (in her first film) and Chandler are fine, and Dee is excellent as the perverse rich girl; my only complaint about her is that she doesn't get more screen time. In the last scene, Dee crosses paths with a beat-up woman who has just left an apartment where she had answered an ad for a model, but was assaulted instead; Dee gets a wild gleam in her eyes and heads off to the apartment, in search of more thrills. Also with Blossom Seeley as a nightclub singer and Lucille Ball in a one-line role as a racetrack floozy. [FMC]

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