Actors Philip Trent an Ralph Bellamy were very nervous about the heights they had to perform at and required a crane to place them on a catwalk. When no stuntman could be found to perform a particularly dangerous stunt, an extra was used. He broke his back. See more »
Blue-eyed Betty Lane runs away from home after she learns the shocking truth about her father's womanizing. A chance meeting with her old finishing school classmate, dark-eyed and seductive Helen Stanley, leads Betty to the tangled mysteries of the Gothic Stanley mansion in the deep south.
This crime thriller handles themes of race prejudice, drug addiction, insanity, family secrets, and even lesbian sex. Betty stumbles across letters from Helen's father confessing that beautiful pale-skinned Helen is really the daughter of a light skinned black woman. Sweet, trusting Betty would never do anyone any harm, but strong-willed Helen has been raised in the brutal world of Jim Crow. She will do anything to protect her identity as a "white" woman.
Shirley Gray does a great job showing Betty's sweet, trusting nature, her fear melting into relief as Helen laughs and offers to "spin the bottle" with her. But this kissing game is not about innocent romance. Helen "spins" a long ivory opium pipe, laughing and teasing until shy Betty reluctantly takes her first puff. Gail Patrick, dark eyed and very beautiful, shows the wolfish side to Helen Stanley's deeds. Her eyes light up as Betty sucks on the long ivory pipe, plainly seeing that the blue-eyed blonde is heading for helpless addiction.
Once Betty is on the pipe, Helen converts her into a pet, or slave. The two of them host parties where Southern gentlemen paw the increasingly oblivious Betty, who clings to Helen like a lost child, begging for "another puff, Helen. Please! Just a quick one." Soon Betty is weeping, begging for more of the drug, and a laughing Helen kicks her out into the rain.
At this point, well into the film, we cut to Inspector Trent, the "hero" of the film, who has been building a file on Helen for months. He rescues Betty, exposes the drug ring, and watches as a doomed Helen dies in the flames of her father's plantation house. But the final line of the film, "this is the way it has to be," has a dark, ambiguous meaning. Is Trent upholding justice or the racial code of the Deep South? For all her cruelty and evil, Helen is far more attractive than Betty, whose sweet, submissive nature is spineless and fundamentally passive. She ends the movie clinging to Inspector Trent just as helplessly as she clung to Helen! The Inspector's line to her -- "a baby like you needs a lot of looking after," is also hard to fathom. Does he love her, or did he secretly love evil Helen?
Altogether, a fascinating lost film of the Thirties crime genre!
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