A weary dance-hall girl in a Panama saloon hooks up with a rough-and-tumble oil driller, who takes her to his oil-field in the jungle to show her what "real" life is like.A weary dance-hall girl in a Panama saloon hooks up with a rough-and-tumble oil driller, who takes her to his oil-field in the jungle to show her what "real" life is like.A weary dance-hall girl in a Panama saloon hooks up with a rough-and-tumble oil driller, who takes her to his oil-field in the jungle to show her what "real" life is like.
Essentially it is celluloid pulp fiction detailing the romantic and criminal mis-adventures of a New York show girl reduced to dancing in the floor show of a Panamanian dive. While thus employed, she is innocently implicated in the robbery of a drunken oil prospector, who only drops jail charges, if she will agree to become his live in--"housekeeper." Enter true love here.
The illicit and licentious angles of the story, with its strong intimations of prostitution at the dive, and free-love at the prospector's camp, (with a interloper-native girl named "Cheema" no less), are unmistakably suggested, through "Sadie Thompson" style dialogue and atmosphere. For example, one of the "B girls", named Pearl, decked in cheap jewelry over a flowered frock, achieves unparalleled camp value with her lowered eyelids, hands on the hips swagger as she moves in for the kill--greeting her would be conquest with the highly original, "Hello handsome."
RKO's technical accoutrements, as would be expected, are A-1, though this is clearly a second feature. Miss Ball plays a decent and attractive doll, who retains her virtue, despite being forced to tramp the streets or the pampas, as the case would have it, (perhaps owing to her lack of education--she proudly mis-pronounces "petroleum" as "petoleum" !
Though much of the dialogue is painfully stereotypical, (Cheema witnessing a murder, declaims in threateningly thick accents with finger pointed accusingly, "Cheema tell tribe!" the story manages to engage by sheer force of its outrageous plot. Even better, is Evelyn Brent, as the madame "Lenore" (with a trollopish wardrobe that anticipates Carol Burnett as "Eunice") who gets such enunciate such subtleties as "...Be nice to Mr. McTeague Lucy or I'll fire you!"
With such dialogue as this it would appear the script is written by and for idiots, but, lo and behold, it's by Michael Kanin who later penned Katherine Hepburn's "Woman of the Year," (surely Mr. Kanin your tongue was firmly in your cheek?)
Despite her perpetually impecunious state,Miss Ball's character somehow manages a nifty array of outfits, that includes a white sharkskin suit, and a wool blazer, skirt, grosgain pumps, and trilby hat ensemble, that, assuredly would have been the envy of most Gotham girls that were "down and out" in 1939.
Yes, Miss Ball is plenty attractive here, though to witness her at the peak of her pulchritude, check out "Beauty for the Asking" also from 1939.
All in all though, with its blend of simmering sin, and triumphant virtue, as laid out in both the South American and Manhattan jungles, "Panama Lady" is really rather fun as an outrageous camp fest. Enjoy.
- Mar 17, 2004