Friday, June 10, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Lady Gangster (1942)

This week I've been enjoying catching up with several early '40s "B" films, starting with James Craig and Bonita Granville in SEVEN MILES FROM ALCATRAZ (1942), then moving on to Tom Conway and Audrey Long in A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE (1944), Jane Wyman and Wayne Morris in GAMBLING ON THE HIGH SEAS (1940), and Julie Bishop and Michael Ames in I WAS FRAMED (1942).

My week of "B's" wraps up with LADY GANGSTER (1942), starring Faye Emerson. Like most of the "B" films I saw this week, LADY GANGSTER remakes an earlier film. I wonder how many times audiences of the era saw a "B" movie and thought "This story seems so familiar!"

In this case, LADY GANGSTER remakes the pre-Code LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (1933), which had starred Barbara Stanwyck. The two films were based on a play by Dorothy Mackaye and Carlton Miles.

In this compact 62-minute version, Emerson's Dot Burton helps a gang rob a bank, but slowly starts to think better of it.

Dot ends up serving time in jail; old friend Kenneth Phillips (Frank Wilcox), a radio broadcaster, wants to help her reform, while the crooks (including a young Jackie Gleason!) want to know where she stashed the $40,000 they stole.

This isn't the world's greatest movie but it zips along quickly, has an interesting cast and great shots of the Warner Bros. backlot -- some of which were probably borrowed from other movies. Like LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT, the film has an odd prison setting, where the ladies fix up their rooms with curtains, bedspreads, and furniture. (I suspect a couple of overview shots of the prison interior were borrowed from the earlier film.) Curiously, at least from today's perspective, no one seems concerned that they could potentially use knitting needles and irons as lethal weapons!

Perhaps the most baffling thing about the movie was the casting of Frank Wilcox (seen at left) in a leading man type role. Wilcox was a capable actor and bit player with a long career but he seemed all wrong to be wooing the hard-boiled, sassy Emerson; perhaps because of the mismatch, the relationship is depicted in a very restrained, sedate fashion.

Julie Bishop, just reviewed here in I WAS FRAMED, has a small role as Dot's prison confidante; Ruth Ford (later Mrs. Zachary Scott) and Dorothy Adams are Dot's jailhouse enemies.

A young William Hopper (PERRY MASON), billed as DeWolf Hopper, plays Ken's friend. The cast is rounded out by Roland Drew, Virginia Brissac, Dorothy Vaughan, Vera Lewis, Ken Christy, and Herbert Rawlinson.

The striking Faye Emerson appeared in numerous films over half a decade, from 1941 to 1946; I particularly liked THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944), as Eleanor Parker's best friend, and DANGER SIGNAL (1945) with Zachary Scott. She married Elliott Roosevelt, son of the President, in 1944. After a few years off the screen she returned for the moving GUILTY BYSTANDER (1950), again working with Zachary Scott; she also did quite a bit of TV work through the '50s.

LADY GANGSTER was directed by Robert Florey. It was filmed in black and white by Arthur L. Todd.

For some reason this Warner Bros. film fell into the public domain. It's available on DVD from numerous companies, including Alpha.

I saw the film thanks to Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website.

Wouldn't it be great if the Warner Archive would put out multiple volumes of hour-long "B" movies, similar to their pre-Code and Western collections?! The upcoming 4-Film Lee Tracy RKO Collection fits that description, and I'd love to see more of the same!


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