Tag Archives: delinquent dames

Problem Girls (1953)

“One step before the state asylum.”

Problem Girls (1953) from director Ewald Andre Dupont is a B film. Make no mistake about that. Why bother watching it you ask? Easy: its HCF (High Camp Factor) joined with its theme of Delinquent Dames. How could I resist?

Problem Girls begins with a voiceover narration from John Page (Ross Elliot), and in this sequence, he explains that the jungles of Burma and a Japanese concentration camp are NOTHING compared to the dangers he faced at The Manning School for Girls.

Yes, it’s post WWII and Page is all set to be a certified psychiatrist. All he has to do is sit for the board exams, but in the meantime, he needs a job and so he takes a place at the exclusive Manning School for Girls. Here he can’t practice medicine, but he’s supposed to act as a therapist. Well he’s landed at the right spot because everyone at the school is either DERANGED, DISTURBED or DELINQUENT.

Although Dr. Manning (Roy Reigner) is the nominal head of the school, he’s too drunk to function. Page is employed by the shapely closet dominatrix-type Miss Dixon (Helen Walker), a woman who has the hots for the biceps belonging to instructor Max Thorpe (James Seay). Thorpe is married to a young girl who’s kept drugged and locked up in a room upstairs. What the hell is going on?

What I enjoyed so much about the film (and this added substantially to its camp factor), is that all these crazy things are going on and everyone acts as though it’s normal. The faculty is laced with psychos, murderers, and various antisocial types, but Page (who never cracks a smile or looks in the least uncomfortable ) sits through dinner as though everything is perfectly normal. He doesn’t question why these people are employed to collectively teach the delinquent debutante pupils, and neither does he stop to speculate where he fits into Dixon’s little schemes. Soon Page is up to his neck in intrigue and in cahoots with murderous professor Richards (Anthony Joachim), Page is sneaking around the school shooting up students with sodium pentothal.

As for the pupils, well they consist of spoiled rich girls who’ve “embarrassed” their families in one way or another. The girls are a motley assortment of psychos, nymphos, pyromaniacs You get the picture.

The film’s plot is fairly sedate given the raw material, and the girls are never fully unleashed. Put this film in the hands of John Waters and no doubt we’d see some results. As it is, Problem Girls could have been a lot more interesting, wilder film. There’s a couple of girl fights, a tepid riot but the best scene occurs when the girls are forced to listen to a piano concert. The film more or less plays it straight and ends very abruptly. I suspect that the film isn’t wild enough to be picked up by Something Weird video, but Problem Girls was good for a few cheap laughs and in spite of its many flaws, nonetheless I enjoyed it for its campiness.

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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

The Company She Keeps (1951)

 “Save it for the jail, sister. Better acoustics and more time.”

In The Company She Keeps from director John Cromwell, gravelly-voiced Lizabeth Scott plays sunny, sweet parole officer, Joan Wilburn opposite Jane Greer as ex-con Mildred Lynch. In the film’s first scene, a parole board gathers to determine whether or not to grant parole to Mildred. From a 21st century perspective, the board members appear to be a fairly sanctimonious lot, poker faced, middle aged, middle class women who sit around a table passing judgment on Mildred.

company-she-keepsBefore Mildred enters the room, the women on the board–and a sole male–discuss her behavior and her past. Abandoned at age 11, Mildred has had a tough life, and she landed in jail for a bad check, shoplifting and receiving stolen goods. It seems that hoping for parole, Mildred is given to obsequious behavior that hasn’t really fooled anyone, and so the board members are about to try and ascertain just how sincere Mildred is in her declarations of rehabilitation. But the parole board decides to show some mercy and Mildred is granted her parole–along with a new name, Diane Stuart. Traveling to LA, Mildred–now Diane–meets her dedicated new parole officer, Joan Wilburn.

It’s when Diane meets Joan for the first time, that the veneer of obsequiousness slides off, and underneath Diane is revealed as a hard-edged and tough talking dame. To her, Joan is an enemy, a snoop, and while Diane realizes she has to play the game, she’s not going to make it easy for Joan. Diane complains about her room in a boarding house, her job as a nurse’s aide in a hospital working the night shift, and also about her clothes. The efforts that Joan has made to find Diane a nice clean, safe room are ignored.

Joan takes Diane out for dinner one night, and here Joan runs into her long-time beau, newspaper reporter, Larry Collins (Dennis O’Keefe). Joan has made it clear that her career preempts her love life, and Larry has to wait in the wings for Joan to make time for their relationship. And then Diane runs into Larry one night at the hospital….

The Company She Keeps raises some complex issues but then never deals with them, instead veering into a fairly straightforward love triangle. The tastier issues–Diane’s motives in setting out to seduce Larry, and Joan’s flare of jealousy and power are raised–but dropped. The film hints that Larry is the sort of man that Diane isn’t ‘allowed’ to have–that he’s considered too good for the likes of an ex-con, but there’s also an element of rivalry here. Diane and Joan are similar age and build, and Joan has all the things in life that Diane would like and to some degree feels entitled to. One scene shows Diane contemplating shoplifting a coat for a night out on the town. While she hesitates and overcomes the urge to steal the coat, Diane really does shoplift–or steal–Larry from Joan, and her motives remain questionable.

Diane’s giant chip on her shoulder is evident in the scenes with Joan, but Diane manages to hide her bitterness whenever she feels it’s to her advantage to do so–with Larry for example, and with the parole board (particularly the sole male on the board), Diane only shows the sweet side of her nature. For Lizabeth Scott fans, The Company She Keeps is worth catching (even if Scott’s role is too saintly for my tastes). Unfortunately the plot veers away from the more interesting, calculating aspects of Diane’s dual nature, and instead keeps the story fairly simple. Some of the best scenes occur when Diane is forced to take part in the humiliation of line up. Here, treated like cattle, the women are subjected to cracks by the detectives who round up suspects and ex-cons alike, and this scene underscores the idea that these women, in spite of ‘serving their time’ never completely leave their pasts behind.

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Not For Or Against (2002)

ni-pour-ni-contre

“When you choose a path, you go all the way.”

I’ve enjoyed a couple of films from director Cedric Klapisch–When the Cat’s Away and Un Air de Famille. Klapisch’s saccharine, fluff piece L’Auberge Espagnole, however, was a huge disappointment, so I was happy to find a darker film–even with its faults–in Not For Or Against (Ni Pour, Ni Contraire, Bien au Contraire).

Set mostly in Paris, Not For or Against is ultimately a crime caper film with psychological implications. The film doesn’t explore questions such as why a seemingly respectable, working class girl dives into a life of crime with gusto–although enough hints are dropped along the way to make this film a much better than average crime yarn. The film’s protagonist (and its most fascinating character) is Cathy (Marie Gillian)–a young struggling camerawoman living in Paris when her life abruptly changes one day. But does her life change for the better or for the worse?

Cathy freelances with her camera and one day she’s sent on a job where she meets a beautiful call girl. The hooker asks Cathy if she’d like to make a quick wad of cash, Cathy accepts and find herself meeting Jean (Vincent Elbaz). He takes a brief look at her and then she’s on her way to a life of crime, joining a band of 4 violent men–robbing and beating their way to a fortune.

Cathy has the sort of scrubbed-clean look that belies her behaviour. She’s in complete contrast to the hookers and dancers who parade through the scenes half-dressed. Cathy downplays her body by dressing in practical clothing, and while she certainly has the type of looks she could exploit, she doesn’t. Perhaps this is why Jean underestimates her, and while he’s obviously used to women using clothing (or the lack of it) as part of the sirens’ call, Cathy’s message seems to be decidedly nonsexual as she doesn’t try any of the old tricks to get his attention.

For about the first two-thirds of the film, I was riveted to the screen. Jean describes Cathy as a “vanilla chick” referencing her race but also her seeming blandness. But Cathy is far from bland or ordinary, and her actions in the first crime prove that (and win the admiration of the seasoned hoods).

The gang members have good times and bad times, but the final third of the film devolves into a typical caper, and this is where the film began to lose my interest. Cathy and her relationship with Jean are the two most fascinating aspects of the film, but neither is explored in any depth. Cathy’s relationship with Jean is undefined. That’s what makes it so intriguing–at first there seems to be a sexual energy between the two, but is Jean leading Cathy on? Or is it the other way around? At one point in the film, Jean tries to provoke a jealous reaction in Cathy. Jean seems simultaneously disappointed and disturbed by Cathy’s reaction.

While I think it works to avoid defining the exact dimensions of Jean and Cathy’s relationship, it’s a serious fault in the plot to not explore Cathy’s inner thoughts. There’s a moment in the film when Jean presents Cathy with an alternative and she thinks, “I figured the path marked evil was the better [one],” but after that insight, Cathy’s thoughts remain largely unexplored. What makes her tick remains a frustrating mystery–apart from the odd moments in her Paris apartment and scenes of her in her humble provincial home. To Cathy, crime represents a way out of her boring life, but exactly how much she calculates, playing a role to get what she wants are issues ignored by the plot. The fallout from the crime caper would seem to hint that what happens to Cathy is pure accident, but the last scene belies that.

Ultimately Not For or Against remains a fairly standard caper film with just the slightly unusual element of the bourgeois, seemingly respectable ‘good’ girl going off the rails. By focusing on the elaborate caper rather than the psychological aspects of the plot, and by ignoring insight in Cathy’s psyche, the film loses a chance to rise above its plot and it becomes more ordinary and a lot less interesting.

In French with subtitles.

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Poor White Trash (2000)

 “You’re hotter than doughnut grease.”

The premise of the very funny comedy film Poor White Trash is that poor people have to resort to crime in order to maintain that American dream of sending their children to college. It’s a “Robin Hood kind of thing” with the have-nots taking from a corrupt society that includes the embezzling manager of a retirement home and a nasty fast food restaurant.

poor-white-trashCollege bound Michael Bronco (Tony Denman) and his nefarious chum Lenny Lake (Jacob Tierney) are caught stealing a six-pack of Near Beer from the local mini-mart, and as a result, Michael’s college plans seem destined for the toilet. An inept Public Defender bungles the case, and the lads realize they need a lawyer to get them out of the mess they’ve created. Lenny’s brilliant plan is to get his Uncle Ron (William Devane)–who owns the Land O’Law to represent them ‘pro-bono’ (Lenny says this is Spanish for ‘half-price’). Uncle Ron, “the best lawyer in town since he got out of jail” isn’t cheap, and so Michael and Lenny burglarize a neighbour’s trailer as a quick way to get cash. Soon the lads embark on a crime spree, and Michael’s mum, Linda (a deliciously cast Sean Young) forms an inept gang with Michael, Lenny, and Brian Ross (Jason London)–the son of the local sheriff (and Linda’s one-night stand).

Linda Bronco just wants to be a “normal mother,” but that’s not in the cards for this latter-day Ma Barker. In fact, there’s nothing normal in the entire film. Everyone lives in a trailer–even Uncle Ron–the legal eagle–who has made a formidable beer can sculpture garden to enhance his trailer’s attractiveness. And Uncle Ron has a pool–not quite the traditional idea of a pool–but a pool, nonetheless.

It’s the perfectly drawn characters in this film that make it so hilarious. Michael’s desire to be a psychologist runs as a standing joke, and Lenny treats his friend’s ideals with respect while noting “psychology causes people to have mental problems.” Michael’s dad is a pro-wrestler hoping for the cash to get a false eye–this is the one roadblock in scheduling a grudge match with an opponent. William Devane as sleazy lawyer Ron Lake plays the role to perfection–the clothes, the swagger, the jewelry–and don’t forget his t-shirt slogans–all add up to the lawyer who practices law with the intent of getting away with what he can. Ron Lake’s nymphette wife–the manipulative and grasping Sandy (Jaime Pressly) is the perfect complement to Ron.

But my favourite character of all the great characters in this film has to be Lenny Lake. His one-liners, antics, and faulty logic–along with the looks he casts–simply make this film one of my all-time favourite comedies. Poor White Trash is crude at times, has no socially redeeming values, and no moral message, but the film doesn’t compromise on laughs. The script is deceptively clever and moves along rapidly from the first hilarious scene at the mini-mart right up to the finale. From director Michael Addis.

Favourite lines:
“It ain’t your job to execute shoplifters.”

“I am not robbing some place with my mother.”

“For your information, my life is in the toilet.”

“You’re grounded–with the exception of your trial.”

“If you use the word angst in prison, you’ll have a five car pile up on your Hershey highway.”

“Sometimes the best way to deal with depression is to drink.”

“Disrespect me, and I’ll break it off and beat you with it.”

“Anyone fucks with us, they’ll be eating hot rifle grease.”

“Mikie, I’m a bad mother. Go to college, get good grades and write to me in jail.”

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Filed under Comedy, Cult Classics

Gambling With Souls (1936)

“You filthy operator of a sex exchange.”

Strict censorship rules of the Hays Code spawned the production of many sexploitation films–films that were presented as exposes of the lurid charms of various human vices. These films took a strong moral stance against these vices and illustrated the inevitable consequences of sin while indulging the audience with an excuse for puerile voyeurism.

In Gambling with Souls, Mae Miller (Martha Chapin) is married to a doctor (Robert Frazer). He’s devoted to his career, and she’s left to her own devices for long periods of time. She becomes friends with Molly Murdock (Vera Steadman) who quickly introduces her to gambling. Gambling is just the first step into luring Mae into prostitution to pay off the money she owes to gambling club owner, Lucky Wilder (Wheeler Oakman).

Gambling with Souls from director Elmer Clifton contains a strong strain of Victorian melodrama (“you who thrive in the slime of life”)–with the righteous husband appearing (“women are not always to blame for their downfall”), and the wicked, repentant wife sobbing her way through a confession of her life of sin.

For camp fans, there’s a mild degree of entertainment here. Some of the lines are very funny, and there’s one scene in a club that shows a girl dancing, but she’s more of a contortionist than a dancer. She gets up on top of one of the tables, and hikes her skirt up, displaying her undies as she performs contortionist acts. It’s supposed to be sexy–at least that’s the impression I get from the men in the audience drooling as they watch her performance. There’s another scene with a chorus line, and the camera focuses on the girls’ bottoms for an inordinate amount of time. One scene (reminiscent of Hylas and the Nymphs) shows a country bumpkin lured off to a bedroom by a gang of pushy prostitutes. My favourite scene shows Mae returning from a drunken night out. She strips in her bedroom, and even her underwear has become fancier as her sins increase. Those moments provide a vague amusement, but that’s about all. The moralizing is too heavy handed and the characters serve to fill their stock roles only.

The Alpha Video print isn’t that great–there’s some skipping and crackling, but it is watchable.

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Test Tube Babies (1948)

 

testTest Tube Babies/ Hell is a Place Called Hollywood is a double feature DVD release from Alpha Video. You’d have to go a long way to find a film as peculiar as Test Tube Babies. With a pseudo educational style (the film’s “medical and technical data is approved and supervised” by the National Research Foundation for Fertility, Inc.), this 53 minute long film follows George and Cathy through courtship, marriage, and the arrival of their test tube baby. There’s one breakfast scene that is supposed to illustrate their marital bliss–but then their marriage suddenly turns rocky. Cathy talks about having a baby, George stays late at work, and the next thing you know, Cathy is having wild parties while George is gone.

The best (and funniest) scene in the film takes place during one of Cathy’s wild parties. There’s an underlying hint of an orgy as everyone starts changing partners and one woman starts stripping–her drunken husband joins her. But apart from that, the film is quite awful–and it’s so awful, it’s bizarre. The acting is hideous, the plot is silly, and the film switches back and forth between preachy moral scenes, and sheer nonsense. There’s even one scene that could be called “What to Expect at a Gynecologist’s Office.” The preachy moral stuff probably allowed the naughty bits to sneak by the censors, but the result is an odd blend of voyeuristic non-titillation that runs for a little over 50 minutes

Hell is a Place Called Hollywood is the “2nd sinful feature” on this DVD. It’s a short piece (about 20 minutes) that catalogues the trials and tribulations of a former beauty queen who wins a trip to Hollywood and a small part in the film. The small part turns out to be a nudie role, and soon our heroine is reduced to taking jobs as a bondage model for a calendar photographer.

The DVD quality is poor. The film skips, and black holes appear in the print. Best scene in the film….the naughty party at Cathy’s house: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.”

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Filed under Exploitation