Appellate Judge Tom Becker asks himself, who they are?
Our review of Women's Prison, published May 3rd, 2007, is also available.
Four "B-Movies" masquerading as noir.
"You're like a sickness. I was sick!"
Beefy tough-guy cop Tony Cochrane (William Gargan, Miracle in the Rain) is having a flaming fling with the rich and sexy Jill Merrill (Janis Carter, Lady of Burlesque). But it's weighing on him—at home, he's got faithful wife Martha and cutesy son Johnny. Jill laughs nastily when her guilt-ridden swain tries to break it off, but just as they go for one last tawdry time in his car, they witness a crime, a young woman beaten to death. As a cop, Tony should be on the case, but as a cheating husband, it's worth his while to keep his mouth shut—but can Tony watch an innocent wino go to the chair for his sins?
"You killed him!"
Voluptuous waitress Mary Adams (Cleo Moore) is routinely abused at her job at a waterfront restaurant. Worse, her insufferable boss once cheated her father and now holds Mary in emotional bondage. Fed up, she steals $25K that he earned through some shady dealings. She buries the money in the woods, confesses to the police, and does some short time in the slammer. Upon release, she finds yet another waitressing job, this time for crude but fatherly gambler Dragomie Damitrof (Hugo Haas, who also directed). When Damitrof finds himself in a jam, Mary tells him about the money. But when she thinks Damitrof has ripped her off, the buxom towhead vows vengeance.
"Leave her alone! Why don't you leave the poor kid alone!"
After killing a child in a car accident, middle-class housewife Helene Jensen (Phyllis Thaxter, No Man of Her Own) is stunned to find herself an inmate in the house of corrections. This women's prison is connected to the men's prison, and the guards are always on-guard to protect against lawless carnal knowledge. Unfortunately, a crafty male-con sneaks in to see his inmate wife, and before you can say "throw them in the hole," our lady prisoner is hefty with child. While the prison doctor (Howard Duff, The Late Show) favors a lenient approach to this and other disciplinary problems, the ladies' warden (Ida Lupino, The Devil's Rain) is a vicious, venal, vindictive sort—and the idea of anything involve intimacy and men just makes her icy demeanor frostier.
"Where there's money, there's Lila. Green becomes me."
Reluctant floozy Lily Krenshka (Cleo Moore, yet again) is saved from a trip to the hoosegow by a kindly but disheveled photographer (Raymond Greenleaf, Monkey on My Back). Lily becomes the photographer's assistant and teaches herself how to do great things with a camera. Soon, she's rechristened as "Lila Crane"—predating Hitchcock's heroine by four years—and then she's off to New York, where she sleazes her way up the snaps ladder by becoming a "flash girl," taking pictures of society folks in a nightclub. Lila supplements her meager flash-cash by selling "sensational" shots to a corrupt columnist. Because she's a woman—and a bodaciously formed bleached blonde one, at that—she can't break into serious journalism, but she does take up with a serious journalist, the pure-hearted and ambitious Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna, The Flamingo Kid). Eventually, Lila—who's not above using compromising photos to further her career—finds herself in possession of a photo that could cause serious injury to someone who was kind to her. Will she do the right thing and suppress the snap—or is her heart pumping gold instead of red?
If they'd called this set "A Quartet of Modest but Entertaining Black and White Films That Are Over 50 Years Old," it would have been a harder sell—and required a larger keepcase—but would have been more accurate than Bad Girls of Film Noir 2. These are neat little movies, but except for Night Editor, their noir cred is questionable, at best.
In the middle of a kiss…MURDER
Night Editor is really the only "true" noir here, a cheap, tough little mystery drama featuring a flawed hero mixed up with a sexy and dangerous broad, and a neat series of double and triple crosses. The film is based on a radio program in which the Night Editor of a newspaper told stories in the newsroom, so the NE himself has little to do other than show up in a couple of scenes that bookend the action.
Gargan is just right as the homely, damaged hero, and Carter oozes upscale slime as the wicked femme fatale. At a tight 68 minutes, this is a satisfyingly nasty little thriller, complete with sharp dialogue, edgy camerawork, cool twists, and a decidedly downbeat point of view.
The remaining three films feature forgotten '50s bombshell Cleo Moore, who is well-showcased in One Girl's Confession and Over-Exposed, and offers a decent supporting turn in Women's Prison.
I confess I'm the kind of girl every man wants—but shouldn't marry!
One Girl's Confession teams Moore with frequent director/co-star Hugo Haas. Haas was a Czech national who was a pretty well-respected filmmaker in his home country. He fled the Nazis in the '30s and ended up in Hollywood, where he played bit and supporting roles throughout the '40s. In the '50s, he became a one-man band movie maker, producing, writing, directing, acting in, and sometimes composing the score for a number of sub-B level melodramas. Moore starred in seven of Haas' 14 mini-opuses, becoming a skid-row Dietrich to his overwrought von Sternberg. Haas has yet to be "rediscovered" on home video, which is a shame. If One Girl's Confession is any indication, he's a cult sensation waiting to be unearthed.
The film is an odd morality drama. If it's noir, then it should have its own classification: Seinfeld noir, a noir about nothing. Mary's story is pulpy soap, and the thing that should be driving it—the stolen and buried cash—takes a backseat, surfacing every now and again when Mary ponders if she can use her ill-gotten stash to make a life for herself with hunky fisherman Johnny. When things get rolling at the end, and Mary believes she's been double-crossed, it's too little too late, and it all plays out like an extended joke with a not-very-sharp punchline. Conflicts arise and are summarily dispatched with—Mary steals the money with no trouble, goes to prison a while, gets out, finds out the man she robbed has moved to South America, easily gets another job with the benignly lecherous Damitrof, and so on. It's all engaging enough, but it meanders when it should sprint, with the parts more interesting than the sum.
Sensational scandal rocks Women's Prison!
While it can't hold a candle to that quintessential women's prison saga, Caged, Women's Prison is an entertainingly sleazy and snappy film in its own right. Instead of a sadistic matron and a benevolent warden, Women's Prison gives us an all-out loony warden and some soft-centered but cowed female guards.
As the malevolent Amelia van Zandt (!), Ida Lupino is a creepy hoot. This villainess' weakness isn't that she falls for the wrong guy—it's that she can't fall for any guy. Yes, the fatal flaw is frigidity, so while evenings cuddling by the fire don't float her boat, the screams of tortured inmates make her tingly.
While it offers plenty of memorable characters and situations, Women's Prison lacks a solid point of view. There are just too many stories crammed into the 79 minute running time: new fish Helene Jensen's rocky introduction to the system; male prisoner Glen Burton (Warren Stevens, Forbidden Planet) trying to get to see his wife; said wife (Audrey Totter, The Blue Veil) dealing with a behind-the-wall pregnancy after her husband succeeds (a remarkably frank plot development for a '50s film); Lupino's lunacy; Duff's attempts at reform; plus dozens of character bits from the other inmates. It's a good time, though, and well worth seeing for its cast, which also includes Jan Sterling (The High and the Mighty), Vivian Marshall, Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life) as "Polyclinic Jones" (named after the hospital where she was birthed), and the ubiquitous Cleo Moore.
Camera…Curves…and No Conscience!
Less a noir than a "woman's picture," Over-Exposed stars Moore (again) as a grimier, more buxom version of the shopgirls Joan Crawford played in her salad days.
Over-Exposed is a cheesy yet entertaining showcase for Moore, and she's really very good, often rising above the slightly silly, dated material. Despite short-shrifted plot turns involving blackmail and duplicitous scheming, and as many excuses as possible to present Moore in skimpy outfits, the film is not nearly as lurid as it would like to be. In the end, its proto-feminist pretensions—a woman making it on her own in a man's world—naturally give way to the more traditional "happiness is a warm dude" ending. Still, it's fun watching Moore navigate the waters of tabloid and social politics, though Crenna's clean-cut good guy is a bit bland.
But Moore really shines here, and her "ruthless" climb to the top is depicted nicely. Of course, she uses her well-developed form to forward her career, often taking semi-provocative pictures of herself. It's interesting to see this early version of the concept of personal branding, and a scene with Moore giving a remote interview from her home/workspace to a live TV show makes the film feel almost contemporary.
The four films are spread across two discs, with Night Editor and One Girl's Confession, along with "Remember to Live," a TV drama from The Ford Television Theatre starring—surprise!—Cleo Moore on one, and the other films and their trailers on the other. The films look pretty good, with softness and bits of print damage here and there, but nothing you wouldn't expect to see on low-budget films made more than five decades ago. Audio is decent, if unexceptional. It's too bad the supplemental material is confined to a couple of trailers and the less-than-compelling "Remember to Live." A little commentary from someone, particularly someone familiar with Moore's work, would have been welcome.
And speaking of Moore, why didn't Sony just release Night Editor on a different edition, add a fourth Moore feature, and make this set a "tribute" to the actress? Barely remembered now, she made around 20 cheapie films between 1948 and 1957, with significant roles in around a dozen of them. Barely any of these have DVD releases. Moore had an appealing presence and a curvy form, but she was no dumb blonde. A collection of her remaining films with Haas would be welcome.
Noir? Nyet! But four fun, obscure films nonetheless. A little more guilt would have helped this package, but it's still worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice, Night Editor
Perp Profile, Night Editor
Distinguishing Marks, Night Editor
• Bonus TV Episode
Scales of Justice, One Girl's Confession
Perp Profile, One Girl's Confession
Distinguishing Marks, One Girl's Confession
Scales of Justice, Women's Prison
Perp Profile, Women's Prison
Distinguishing Marks, Women's Prison
Scales of Justice, Over-Exposed
Perp Profile, Over-Exposed
Distinguishing Marks, Over-Exposed
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