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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.


William A. Wellman


Houston Branch (play), Joseph Jackson (adaptation) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Dorothy Mackaill ... Gilda Carlson - aka Gilda Erickson
Donald Cook ... Carl Bergen - aka Carl Erickson
Ralf Harolde ... Piet Van Saal
John Wray ... Egan
Ivan F. Simpson ... Crunch (as Ivan Simpson)
Victor Varconi ... General Emmanuel Jesus Maria Gomez
Morgan Wallace ... Mr. Bruno - the Hangman
Nina Mae McKinney ... Leonie - the Hotel Manager
Charles Middleton ... Lawyer Jones
Clarence Muse ... Newcastle - the Porter
Gustav von Seyffertitz ... Larson (as Gustav Von Seyffertitz)
Noble Johnson ... Bobo - a Caribbean Policeman
Cecil Cunningham ... Angie


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) See more »

Also Known As:

The Lost Lady See more »

Filming Locations:

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This film's earliest documented telecasts took place in Boston Thursday 14 November 1957 on WBZ (Channel 4), in Honolulu 29 March 1958 on KHVH (Channel 13) and in Milwaukee 21 November 1958 on WISN (Channel 12). See more »


Gen. Emmanuel Jesus Maria Gomez: [Egan has just grabbed a live hen off the hotel floor] May I ask you, Señor, what your intentions are for the chicken?
Lawyer Jones: Honorable, I hope.
Egan: None of your business! And that goes for ALL of you mugs!
[they all laugh mockingly]
See more »

Crazy Credits

The title card shows burning flames covering the letters of the title. See more »


Featured in Women He's Undressed (2015) See more »


The Darktown Strutters' Ball
(1917) (uncredited)
Music by Shelton Brooks
Played when Gilda arrives at the Claybridge Apartments
Played briefly on piano by Dorothy Mackaill
See more »

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User Reviews

Grim Pre-Coder doesn't pull punches.
16 April 2011 | by st-shotSee all my reviews

William Wellman makes the most of pre code freedom in the dark and cynical Safe in Hell. With an on the run hooker in the lead hiding out on a rogues island with a disreputable bunch of sex starved thieves and wheeler dealers Wellman serves up ample helpings of society's underbelly with some effective and subversive pokes at society in general.

New Orleans "escort" Gilda has to blow town fast after possibly committing murder and burning down an apartment building. Her seaman lover spirits her away to an island until things cool off where she shares a fleabag hotel with some male dregs of humanity. Her lover plans to return and marry her but the local law and the hangman who also has designs on her confiscates his letters giving her the feeling she's been deserted. Keeping the boys at arms length most of the picture she is forced to shoot and kill one of the miscreants. Found innocent of murder she must nevertheless do some time on the weapons charge thus delivering her into the grimy paws of the hangman.

Nearly all the white male characters in Safe in Hell are low lifes of the first order. Criminals without conscience, lusting voyeurs they all want a piece of the action and when Gilda feels she's gotten the brush off she lowers her guard. With a telling sense of irony Wellman provocatively juxtaposes their loutishness with the films only refined respectful well spoken character, a black porter (Clarence Muse) as well as infer miscegenation with the inn keeper (Nina Mae McKinney) who dazzles the boys with a touch of Bessie Smith.

Dorothy Mackaill plays Gilda with a glamor less tragic resignation as well as most of the hard boiled molls permeating early sound poverty row films. Morgan Wallace's lascivious Mr. Bruno the hangman is convincing enough to makes Gilda's rash action that determines her fate certainly understandable as Wellman's uncompromising take leaves her little alternative.

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