Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 6

Yes, I skipped day 5. I went to a Cinequest media kickoff party (their website is now live with the schedule) and then to...something top secret. But I was back at the Castro for Bad Girls Night. Excellent.

First up was ONE GIRL'S CONFESSION, starring Cleo Moore and writer/director Hugo Haas. Cleo plays Mary Adams, young lady who would rather pay her own way as a waitress than hitch herself to a man ("They're all alike, they just have different faces so you can tell 'em apart.") But when she sees her boss collecting a whole lot of money (turns out to be $25,000), she hatches a plan to sneak into his room and steal it. Her plan goes off without a hitch, but the real surprise is when the cops show up she confesses before they even suspect her. She spills all the dirt--how her boss cheated her father and she was just getting hers back--but refuses to reveal where the money is. She's sentenced to 1 to 10, and is free on probation after 3 years good (and amazingly cheerful) behavior. But rather than go straight for the hidden money, she returns to waitressing, this time for genial although a little sleazy Dragtomie Damitrof (Haas). Damitrof chats up the ladies well enough, and the scenes with his girlfriend Judy (Ellen Stansbury) are priceless. But his real vice is cards. A losing streak puts everyone in danger, and a psycho-drama of mistrust and guilt unfolds. Good story, but for a noir film there wasn't really any character who was villainous enough. Underneath, everyone really was a nice guy/girl.

Well, that was cured easily with WOMEN'S PRISON, which had villains aplenty but of course none worse than psychotic warden Amelia van Sandt (Ida Lupino). Ironically, the nicest guy in prison is Dr. Crane (Lupino's husband Howard Duff, who I assumed enjoyed calling his wife a psychopath on-screen). The prison is actually co-ed, with the men and women in isolated wards separated by a thick stone wall. The inmates are a great cast--Jan Sterling as jolly recidivist and guide Brenda Martin; Phyllis Thaxter as abused new meat Helene Jensen; and Audrey Totter as Joan Burton, whose husband is on the other side of the wall. Cleo Moore even appears as an inmate. There are a lot of problems with the way the prison is run, and while the head warden (Barry Kelley, the crooked cop in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) is tough, van Zandt takes things way to far administering the women's side of the prison. So far, that things get out of hand and there's an inmate revolt. Lupino makes an excellently nasty villain, and I loved the build-up of tension as she gets worse and worse and you know she will get a very satisfying comeuppance.

Running Time: 153
My Total Minutes: 168,267
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