Lady Gangster (1942)
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In this film, the lead female character " Dot Burton," played by Faye Emerson, is sent to a women's prison. Inside are all white women except one black, who dances all the time. Talk about a stereotype. Emerson and her best buddy in here look like lesser versions of Rita Hayworth, Look around and you more of these nice, wholesome-looking babes. I guarantee you no prison population has ever looked this good! Yes, there are a few "baddies" and, of course, they are ugly women.
The story also gives us a typical classic movie romance in which a guy falls in love with a "dame" the first time he talks to her. Then she falls for him quickly and but right away, of course, there is a misunderstanding and now the woman hates him. Ten minutes later she loves him again, then hates him, then loves him, etc. etc. No wonder few people in the film world ever took marriage seriously. On screen,it was just one big joke.
Anyway, the story is pretty interesting even if it is more than a bit too dated. The film might be noted more for having two very young actors in here than anything else, guys who went on to because famous on television in the 1950s: Paul Drake and Jackie Gleason. Drake was Perry Mason's assistant on hat hit TV show and Gleason, of course, went on to huge TV fame with "The Honeymooners" and other shows. Here, he is billed as Jackie C. C Gleason.
"Lady Gangster" is only a little over an hour which is fine and the DVD transfer was surprisingly good. This was part of a 4-movie disc called "Mobster Movies," put out by Platinum. I have two of these discs so there are eight films I can watch, movies that, as far as I can tell, were not available on VHS. The other movie I watched on one of the other discs did not have the good picture quality this one had, so they probably vary from film-to-film.
But, despite the drawbacks, these 1930s films are fun to watch because they are fast-moving, short and entertaining.
'Lady Gangster' is pretty formulaic, with an ending which stretches credibility, but its production values are fairly high, which always makes a film worth a look. Dorothy's conviction relies on some misunderstandings and a dog which doesn't belong - but we wouldn't want to begrudge her the scenes with the catty inmate and strong matron, or the scene where she's visited by her sister!
The relationship between Dot Burton and Ken Phillips (Frank Wilcox) didn't quite work for me either, especially from her side. I mean seriously, what did she see in this guy to spark a romantic angle? Especially since she knew him as an adult when she was still a kid. The plot would have worked without going for this stretch.
The surprise for me in the story was one of Jackie Gleason's very early screen appearances when he was still using the middle initial 'C'. Unfortunately he didn't have a whole lot to do as the gang's getaway driver. If you get the chance, try to catch him in the Bogart film "All Through The Night" where in a similar role he gets to weigh in on World War II military strategy and how the Allies could win.
As I sit here writing this, the thought occurred to me that as a Warner Brothers film, this could just as easily have been an East Side Kids story, with all the female leads replaced by Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, et al. Throw in Ann Sheridan for the Ken Phillips character and you would have had a much livelier story. Still, at just a couple of minutes over an hour, "Lady Gangster" is an interesting little diversion, but don't go in expecting to see a real lady gangster.
The movie trots right along, though. It has an excellent cast. Of course, it's fun to see the young Jackie Gleason as a bank robber. He looks kind of naive and cuddly.
Faye Emerson was an excellent actress. She adorned many a B-picture. She wasn't a great beauty: Maybe that's why she never became a major star of movies. She was versatile -- sweet, wisecracking, or evil. One thing that always comes across in her performances: intelligence.
Faye Emerson is no Stanwyck, but she's all right in the role of an actress fallen on bad times and now hooking up with bank robbers Roland Drew, Bill Phillips and Jackie Gleason. Yes the great one is in the cast as wheel man of the bank robbery that Emerson acts as a shill/decoy for and gets caught.
In prison for her crime Faye makes friends with Julie Bishop and as she knows where the money is hid, she has that as a bargaining chip for her release. But the plot takes some strange turns and she's forced to escape.
The male roles in this film are weak, Frank Wilcox is a bit of a doofus as your crusading crime busting radio commentator. Why Emerson falls for him is beyond me. The script is weak and meandering for Lady Gangster as well. For instance an element is introduced of a rivalry between District Attorney Herbert Rawlinson and Wilcox, with Wilcox intimating the DA is corrupt. But that doesn't go anywhere. Certainly the talents of Jackie Gleason are not used at all, but Warners never realized what they had under contract.
On the plus side, the best supporting performance is clearly that of prison snitch Ruth Ford who really doesn't do it for material gain, she just likes the attention. Ford did quite a lot with a small role.
A product of Warner Brothers B picture unit, Lady Gangster just doesn't make it.