Tuesday, September 07, 2010


When the governor orders a panel to study the problem of girl runaways, his own daughter (Ann Dvorak) decides to find out the facts for herself by sneaking away and going on the road "undercover.” She meets up with a group of girls, including snarky Helen Mack (whose favorite expression is a snarling "Fade!" when she wants someone to go away) who takes a liking to Dvorak, butch-looking Lola Lane, and innocent Marjorie Cooley, who is carting around a box with a wedding dress, claiming she's going to be married on Tuesday but didn't have bus fare to get to the wedding--I was never sure whether she really had a wedding to go to or was just delusional. The girls are camped out under a bridge but get arrested and tossed in jail where they start a rowdy food fight and get hosed down by an officer. The lot of them are put on a train to be shipped out of the county, but Mack gets in a fistfight with a cop; he winds up falling of the train (to his death, I believe, though that's left rather ambiguous) and Mack and Dvorak jump off and go on the run. With the last of her money, Dvorak springs for a square meal and motel room for them, and they get some help from a friendly truck driver who transports them to a female hobo camp in the woods where they run into Lane, who tries to boss everyone around. A sickly Cooley shows up, dying soon after, providing a tender moment when the girls hold an impromptu funeral, and the usually rough-and-tough Lane leads the hymn singing. The ending fizzles out a bit with the governor coming to Dvorak's rescue and proposing a series of "girl's castles" to be built to give homeless young women an alternative to the road.

This social issue B-movie would make a nice second feature to WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD. Though this one is set several years after the height of the Depression, the plotline and context are the same: young women are running away from home, usually because of family money problems, and riding the rails just like runaway boys and hobos. Oddly, despite the potential here for sexual exploitation, there are very few men in this movie and virtually no threats of molestation or physical harm, except from the police. The truck driver (Eddie Laughton) looks like he'll be a threat, but he's actually an unrealistically nice guy. Dvorak, Mack (both pictured above with Bruce Bennett as a cop), and Lane all do nice jobs, especially Mack who makes her character interesting and sympathetic even though we know little about her. The happy ending here, as in WILD BOYS, is improbable, but Hollywood had to have some sunlight break through the gloom. [TCM]

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