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Safe in Hell (1931)

Passed | | Crime, Drama | 12 December 1931 (USA)
After accidentally killing the man who raped her and forced her into prostitution, a New Orleans woman flees to a Caribbean island. While she awaits her fiancé, the vicious local police chief sets his sights on her.



(play), (adaptation) | 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Carl Bergen - aka Carl Erickson
Piet Van Saal
Ivan F. Simpson ...
Crunch (as Ivan Simpson)
Gen. Emmanuel Jesus Maria Gomez
Mr. Bruno - the Hangman
Leonie - the Hotel Manager
Lawyer Jones
Newcastle - the Porter
Larson (as Gustav Von Seyffertitz)
Bobo - a Caribbean Policeman


Sought by the New Orleans police for accidentally killing the man who raped her and forced her into prostitution, a woman flees New Orleans for a Caribbean island. Surrounded by lecherous criminals, she awaits the return of her fiancé and seems to be holding her own until the treachery of the local police chief leaves her but one choice to gain her freedom. Written by indexcard

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

12 December 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Lost Lady  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


A 1931 publicity shot of Boris Karloff has him listed as playing the role of Bobo in this 'recently completed' film, yet Noble Johnson portrays the character on screen, and this has never been included on the Karloff filmography. See more »


Gen. Emmanuel Jesus Maria Gomez: May I introduce myself? I am General Emmanuel Jesus Maria Gomez. I have had the honor of instigating three successful revolutions, and annihilating three *stupid* presidents.
Gilda Carlson - aka Gilda Erickson: [gives him an unimpressed look] Ain't you lucky?
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Featured in Complicated Women (2003) See more »


(1931) (uncredited)
Music by John Siras
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User Reviews

Wellman's proto-noir masterpiece
14 June 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"Safe in Hell" proved to be a stunning movie in many respects, a major precursor of film noir both thematically and stylistically. Wellman and cinematographer Sid Hickox stage many of the scenes in chiaroscuro darkness, and even the opening title — in which the words "SAFE IN HELL" appear as cutouts in a black field with fire billowing forth from behind the letters — is visually stunning and sets the mood for the film instead of merely announcing what it's called. (The title and the director's name — in small print on the same card — are the only credits we see at the outset; the other credits are relegated to the end, in the fashion that's now become standard but was highly unusual in 1931.) The script requires the actors, Mackaill and Cook in particular, to make some pretty abrupt hairpin turns in emotions and motivations, but it's a testament to their skill (especially Mackaill's — Cook's is a pretty straightforward good-guy lead and his only spectacular sequence is the early one in which his loathing suddenly turns into desperate protectiveness and love when she's about to be arrested) that all the emotional turns are quite credible and she's equally believable as a bad girl and a good one. Like Charles Vidor's "Sensation Hunters", made for Monogram two years later and the closest film I could think of to the mood of this one, "Safe in Hell" manages to convey the oppressiveness of the environment and the desperation with which the heroine is faced in trying to maintain (what's left of) her virtue in the face of the economic and sexual pressures on her.

It also features two remarkable characters, the Black proprietess of the hotel on Tortuga where most of the action takes place (Nina Mae McKinney, the femme fatale of "Hallelujah!" here cast as a positive character) and her assistant, Newcastle (Clarence Muse). The screenwriters wrote the lines for McKinney and Muse in phony dialect but they actually delivered them in normal English. (Score one for William Wellman for allowing them to get away with that!) McKinney also gets to warble the song "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," ostensibly to a recording — no doubt the song got in the film because her Black co-star Muse co-wrote it with Leon and Otis René! Originally released with an advisory that the film was "Not for Children" (anticipating the Hollywood rating system that would ultimately displace the Production Code), "Safe in Hell" is a great movie, a forgotten gem that deserves to be better known than it is and an example of the Hollywood studio system working on all cylinders and producing something that acknowledged the clichés and yet also defied them quite movingly. Why Warner Home Video didn't include this on the boxed set of Wellman's pre-Code films for Warners — when it's a better movie than any of the ones they DID include — is beyond me.

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