Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ladies of Washington (1944)

LADIES OF WASHINGTON is a moderately enjoyable 61-minute "B" film from 20th Century-Fox.

The film is set in jam-packed Washington, D.C., during World War II. Rooms are difficult to come by, so when Ensign Carol Northrup (Trudy Marshall) chances to meet an old acquaintance, Gerry Dailey (Sheila) and learns Gerry needs a place to stay, Carol offers Gerry a bed at the boarding house where she lives.

The place is packed, with young women piled into bunkbeds and sleeping in hallways, but they're all kind and generous -- when they're not snooping through a newcomer's suitcase and admiring her wardrobe. Unfortunately Gerry doesn't reciprocate the friendship offered by her new roommates, especially as she's preoccupied with other matters.

In short order Gerry makes a half-hearted attempt at suicide after her older boyfriend, Dr. Crane (Pierre Watkins), ditches her when his wife (Nella Walker) finds out about the relationship.

While recovering at the hospital, Gerry meets Dr. Hugh Mayberry (Ronald Graham) and Dr. Stephen Craig (Robert Bailey). She dates Stephen, who is charmed by Gerry, but when she spots dashing and mysterious Michael (Anthony Quinn) in a bar she accepts his card, ditches Stephen, and calls Michael for a date.

Michael claims to work with newspaper gossip columnists but believe it or not, he's really a foreign spy...and he wants to break into Dr. Crane's office. Gerry, wanting revenge on her one-time boyfriend, helps Michael, but there's a shootout with the night watchman and Michael is shot. When Michael flees the scene, Gerry calls Dr. Craig to help him, insisting he not be taken to the hospital...Stephen complies and Michael dies.

Amazingly that's only about 2/3 of the movie...there's a huge amount of plot crammed into an hour! It keeps things moving, although the film sacrifices quite a bit of character development to the fast pace of the story, especially factoring in that the movie has a large cast.

The spin on the wartime housing situation is fun, following in the footsteps of THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and preceding THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944) by a few months. That was the aspect of the film I found most appealing, and I enjoyed looking around the interesting boarding house sets.

The boarding house girls are pretty but only Marshall really stands out, attractive and confident as the kindhearted Carol. Marshall was the mother of the late actress Deborah Raffin.

I really enjoy Sheila Ryan, seen earlier this year in FINGERPRINTS DON'T LIE (1951), but her character here is pretty over the top, up to her eyeballs in problems from the outset. Given the way she uses alcohol and sleeping pills, it's amazing she still looks as beautiful as she does! And small wonder, after the cascade of self-created problems she experiences, that she is carted off to a sanitarium at the end for some R&R.

Graham and Bailey are pleasant but fairly nondescript as the lead male doctors. Familiar faces like Bess Flowers, Byron Foulger, Mary Field, and Jody Gilbert are welcome as they pop up one by one.

In the end the film could have been better, but I nonetheless found it a pleasant diversion.

The movie was directed by Louis King, whose work included previously directed an excellent "B" film, PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), starring Patricia Morison.

The screenplay was by Wanda Tuchock, who cowrote a favorite pre-Code melodrama, FINISHING SCHOOL (1934). It's a remake of FREE, BLONDE AND 21 (1940), written by Frances Hyland, which has a fun cast including Lynn Bari, Mary Beth Hughes, Joan Davis, and Elyse Knox; that version was directed by actor Ricardo Cortez.

Charles Clarke filmed the movie in black and white.

LADIES OF WASHINGTON is available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives. It may be purchased as either a single title or as part of a three-movie set. The print and sound quality are excellent. There are no extras.

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