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Girls in Chains (1943)

When a teacher loses her job because her brother-in-law is a racketeer, she takes a position at a girls' reformatory.



(screenplay), (story)

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Cast overview:
Helen Martin
Roger Clark ...
Frank Donovan
Rita Randall
Barbara Pepper ...
Dorothy Burgess ...
Mrs. Peters
Johnny Moon (as Allan Byron)
Patricia Knox ...
Jean Moon
Pinkhead (as Sidney Melton)
Russell Gaige ...
Mr. Dalvers
Emmett Lynn ...
Lionel Cleeter
Richard Clarke ...
Tom Havershield
Mrs. Grey


When Ruth Martin is discharged from her teaching position because her sister is married to a notorious criminal (who is basically running the city), she accepts a job at a girls correctional facility. Her intent is to try and prepare the inmates for a better life once they are released. Ruth runs up against the supervisor (who is controlled by her brother-in-law) who is only interested in skimming money off the budget and his gang of matrons who only want to keep the girls in line doing laundry. Written by Ron Kerrigan <mvg@whidbey.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama





Release Date:

17 May 1943 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ragazze in catena  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Shot in five days. See more »

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User Reviews

A real Ulmer bomb!
10 May 2008 | by See all my reviews

This monstrosity should settle for once and for all that Edgar Ulmer is not the continental wunderkind that Peter Bogdanavich held him to be, (a view, incidentally, that Ulmer did all he could to promote.) True, in "Strange Illusion,"and "Detour," Ulmer delivered films with suspense and pacing, whilst in "Bluebeard," he delivered a fairly convincing 19th century atmosphere, (heavily influenced by German expressionism but under-cut by the film's supporting actresses who sound like Bronx stenographers rather than Parisian coquettes.)

The "Black Cat" deserves separate treatment inasmuch as it manages disturbing aesthetical accomplishments of an altogether singular, (if morally dubious) order.

But such accomplishments do not extend to the whole of his work, and most of the time, (until at least his allegedly two best films--"Club Havana," and "Her Sisters Secret," again become extant) we must confront the fact that Ulmer may as well be Jean Yarborough, or Lew Landers, or Sam Newfield or Tommy Carr, which is to say he turned out PRC dreck utterly without distinction.

"Girls in Chains" is an excellent case in point. Unless one counts the shadowy rooftop chase finale, (which pre-figures "Bluebeard") this picture is risible in its ineptitude.

Where to begin? The plot? (and since Ulmer is one of the writers he shares the blame): the matron, (Arline Judge) of a woman's correctional institution is thwarted in her attempts at prison reform by a corrupt warden and his mafia cronies.

There are shades of Irene Dunne's earlier "Ann Vickers" in this, but this treatment is so pulpy that it's a pity the "Carol Burnett Show" never got ahold of it. Ulmer's alleged literary fixations here betoken a fondness for "The Police Gazette" rather than Faust.

While we're at it--be sure and note the musical score too. This is stock music utterly unsuited to the characters or situations it underpins--frequently to hilarious results. Thus, gangster, con man extrordinaire, "Johnny Moon"'s scenes are underscored by a syrupy rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" !!! Are we, the audience, supposed to feel patriotic and sentimental at knowing this murderer has been freed from prison by a corrupt jury, that he has "come marching home again" to yet kill again?

Then too, since Mr. Ulmer is noted for his oversight of art direction--well exactly what happened here?! The inside of Miss Judge's office looks like several forgotten flats pushed to the edge of the sound stage, waiting to be dressed. Couldn't someone have hung a picture on the picture hook that hangs so visibly above the lamp behind her? True, the flat of gangster Johnny Moon, and a nightspot known as the "Rendevous" do show traces of down-market PRC swank, but elsewhere the picture is visually starved.

The characterization is similarly absurd--strictly by the books gangster clichés--the only thing missing is the name "Mugsy".

Case in point: an elderly alcoholic who stumbles in and out of the story, (for comedy relief purposes--of which he affords neither) who is eventually tossed into a dam! (that looks like stock footage of the Tennessee Valley Authority).

As the lead, Miss Judge appears to be operating on about 100 mg. of Valium during most of her scenes, (and who can blame her--since she has read the script and is probably thinking, "...If only I were still under contract to Fox...".

Earlier posters, however, reveal their ignorance of World War II coiffures in their gibes at her hairdo. Miss Judge's up-sweep was all the rage at the time, and, in fact, many other actresses wore modified versions of the same style.

"Girls in Chains" is for connoisseurs of perfectly dreadful films. Rest assured that Mr. Ulmer did us no favors with this one.

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