Tag Archives: babes behind bars

Hold Your Man (1933)

“You know you wouldn’t be a bad-looking dame, if it wasn’t for your face.”

hold your manSet during the depression, the 1933 film Hold Your Man from director Sam Wood begins by focusing on the feet that pass by on a street corner. A wallet lands in the middle of the feet and two men begin to argue about who found it. This scene is the introduction to the film’s rogue with the “crooked smile,” Eddie Hall (Clark Gable).

On the lam from the police, ladies’ man and smooth-talking grifter, Eddie Hall meets wise-cracking, tough-as-nails, good-time-girl Ruby Adams (Jean Harlow). The sparks fly between these two major Hollywood stars as they verbally spar back-and-forth in Ruby’s apartment, and although they both try to come out on top from the exchange, it’s a draw. Eddie’s good looks and charm don’t get him far with this dame, and Ruby makes it clear that she’s not a sap to be taken advantage of. Inside Ruby’s apartment, Eddie catches sight of a photo from one of her male admirers, but then as he walks around, he sees a large collection of photos of men all signed with good wishes. The implication is clear: Ruby has been around. Eddie and Ruby meet once again at the Elite Club. Ruby is there on a date with the aim of getting some money for her pain and suffering. While she’s  obviously bored to tears by her date, Ruby comes to life when Eddie shows up masquerading as an old friend. The film’s best, witty scenes occur early in the film as the two main characters get to know each other.

The film sinks after the second half as the plot morphs into a maudlin tale of redemption. The script, written by Anita Loos, sparkles for the first half, but then the dialogue loses its pep and slides into the ordinary with the result that the film’s great first half was as funny as its second half was disappointing. Ruby’s image of the wise-cracking dame fades rapidly just as it seems she needed her claws the most, and the tale’s conclusion comes wrapped up tightly with a conventional, saccharine-sweet final scene.

Hold Your Man is one of six films made by Gable and Harlow, and it follows on the tail of Red Dust. While the first half of Hold Your Man matches Red Dust for entertainment value, the second half did not. This is not Harlow’s best by any means as she just doesn’t make a very good victim and she’s at her tenacious best when unleashed in a role that’s worthy of her.  Hold Your Man, by the way, is a pre-code film. The Hays code wasn’t enforced until 1934, but even so the redemptive ending and conversion by domesticity really smacks of someone trying to keep those censors happy.

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Filed under Comedy, Jean Harlow

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

 “Don’t worry about my conscience, sweetheart.”

ladies they talk aboutThe pre-Hays Code film Ladies They Talk About stars Barbara Stanwyck as Nan Taylor–a gun moll who helps knock off a bank. When the robbery goes sour, Nan is caught. Anti-crime crusader, Dave Slade (Preston Foster) rages against Nan from his pulpit, but when he meets her in person, he recognizes her as a childhood friend. She was the daughter of the town deacon, and he was the son of the town drunk. A romance is kindled, and Slade is prepared to pull strings to save Nan, but when she comes clean about the robbery, Slade is horrified. Nan goes off to jail, but their paths are destined to cross again.

This is a splendid role for Stanwyck. She switches her behaviour back and forth–depending on the audience she’s playing to. In one scene, she’s ushered in the district attorney’s office, where she coyly displays her legs while playing the innocent victim of circumstance. When the district attorney tells her she’s “wasting that panorama” Nan immediately drops the coy act and slides back into her tough gang girl demeanor.

A great deal of the film is spent inside San Quentin. While the men’s prison is shown as militaristic, the women’s prison is depicted as a social club with cliques. There are all types in here–including one prisoner who’s besotted with Slade, and also the motherly Aunt Maggie who insists her only crime was she ran a beauty salon. There’s even a pet Cockatoo brought in to make the female prisoners behave, and some scenes focus on the female prisoners adjusting their undies. Class politics exist within the jail–an upper-class woman totes her Pekingese around while expecting to get her laundry done free by the ‘maid’ Mustard. Nan soon finds her footing in jail and declares, “I never let anything lick me yet, and I never will.” Unfortunately, the lead male role just can’t get the backbone to hold his own against Stanwyck, but it matters little since this is her film anyway. Directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley, Ladies They Talk About is a delightful film for Stanwyck fans.

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Filed under Barbara Stanwyck

10 Violent Women (1982)

 Death by High Heel

10-violent-womenTed Mikels, director of a long list of cult classics, including The Doll Squad also directed, wrote, and starred in the film 10 Violent Women–a tale that follows the exploits of a group of women who try working for a honest living but then rapidly turn to a life of crime.

The film begins with the 10 women (I could only actually count eight) working in a mine with a male boss. The women turn on him after his careless use of dynamite, and this female revolt is the first step taken in their criminal life. From the mine, there’s a leap to a robbery at a jewelry shop, and during the robbery, the women steals a priceless scarab ring that belongs to a wealthy sheik. This sets the sheik on the trail of the all-female gang, but in the meantime, the women try to convert their loot to cold cash using the services of Leo the Fence (Ted Mikels).

For anyone who loves camp or who can appreciate a cult classic, 10 Violent Women has a lot to offer for the first third of the film, but then goes downhill from there. The film is basically a prison exploitation tale, but the prison scenes are relatively tame (and often much too badly lit) for anyone to get excited over the action behind bars. And that’s really too bad, because the film, badly acted with a plot that weakens as it progresses, steadily goes downhill after Mikels leaves the set in a rather ignoble–but at least wildly original–fashion.

The very best thing the film has going for it, is the idea that men have all the power, and the only way these women are going to get a chunk of the action is to take it … from the men. The men are the power figures here–the mining boss, the police, the security guard, the jewelry shop owner, the fence and the sheik–all men–and all easy to outwit, beat-up, tie up, etc etc. The strongest, hairiest men turn to blubbery jelly (“Let’s put him out of his misery”) once they fall into the hands of these “violent women.” But the problem with this idea–the subversion of the male power structure by violent women–is that it falls apart once the women end up in an all-female prison, and that’s when the action becomes tedious and dull. I was hoping for another Switchblade Sisters but unfortunately, 10 Violent Women did not maintain its early camp promise. But there are scenes of girl fights, water pistol duels and the world’s worst flamenco dancer, so depending on your interest in such things, you may or may not want to see 10 Violent Women. DVD extras include film commentary from Ted Mikels, a trailer reel and filmography.

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Filed under Cult Classics