Wednesday, May 30, 2012


"Lady Gangster" qualifies as a lively little World War II era B-picture about crime and punishment in America. The prevalent themes in "Lady Gangster" are women versus society, women versus men, and women versus other women. "Danger Signal" director Robert Florey and "Busses Roar" scenarist Anthony Coldeway have contrived a serviceable thriller based on the Dorothy Mackaye and Carlton Miles play "Gangstress, or Women In Prison." The attention to detail is above average. Florey stages a dandy little fistfight between the good guy and the criminals near the climax. Florey and Coldeway had to toe the line with the Production Code Administration in regard to their depiction of the heroine as an accomplice to bank robbers. Consequently, they make her somebody with whom we can sympathize. They provide her with a back story as a failed actress who turned to crime only as a last resort to survive. Moreover, they establish that she is not a career criminal.

"Lady Gangster" opens with Dorothy Burton (Faye Emerson of "Hotel Berlin") calling the cops and making a bogus complaint about a man with a knife. While the cops are responding to this call, Dot and three mobsters pull up to the Central Trust and Savings Bank before opening time at 10 AM. Dot emerges from the car with a small pet dog in her arms and convinces reluctant bank guard Jordan (Ken Christy of "Burma Convoy") to let her inside before regular hours. Dot lies to him that she has to make a deposit before her train leaves. While Dot sidetracks gullible Jordan, Carey (Roland Drew of "Manpower") and Stew (William Phillips of "Fort Yuma") slip inside with guns drawn and hold up the bank. Dot spots a cop outside hassling getaway car driver Wilson (Jackie C. Gleason of "Skidoo"), and she faints in Jordan's arms. Carey and Stew scramble for the getaway car and Wilson careens away. Initially, the police detain Dot as a witness. Later, Dot arouses the suspicions of a detective when she calls her dog by a name entirely different from the one on her pet's collar. She winds up in custody.

Dot's arrest incites the wrath of the Commodore Broadcasting Company. CBC radio commentator Kenneth Phillips (Fred Wilcox of "Notorious") takes the advice of his second-in-command (William Hopper of TV's "Perry Mason") to editorialize against District Attorney Lewis Sinton (Herbert Rawlinson of "Framed") because he arrested Dot since she could not accurately identify her dog. Meanwhile, on the advice of his second-in-command, Sinton phones Phillips and assures him that he is "willing and anxious to cooperate in every way" with him as well as let him question the Burton girl, all this despite the unflattering portrait that Phillips painted of him on the air as a crafty politician. Phillips persuades Sinton to release Dot into his custody.

On the pretext of getting her belongings, Dot visits Ma Silsby (Vera Lewis of "The Suspect") and learns that Carey refuses to give her a dime of her cut in the hold-up. Wilson doesn't think that Carey is treating Dot fairly. Ma alerts the gang that the authorities are nosing around outside. The guys stash the briefcase of dough under the front of a fireplace and lam out. Dot removes it and has Ma hide it in a safe place. She tears a dollar bill in two and tells Ma to trust only somebody with the other half of the dollar. Later, she informs Kenneth that she took advantage of his influence and she admits her part in the crime to Sinton. However, she refuses to identify her accomplices and disclose the whereabouts of the loot.

Twenty-one minutes into "Lady Gangster" our heroine enters prison. The warden, Mrs. Stoner (Virginia Brissac of "Jesse James"), explains the difference between an American prison and the Nazi variety. Says Stoner, "So the quicker you realize that this neither a country club nor a concentration camp, the better. It's up to the women themselves how they're treated. If you behave yourself, we'll meet you more than halfway, but if you want to be tough, we can be tough with you. Now, is that clear?" Dot meets Myrtle (Julie Bishop of "Northern Pursuit") and they become pals. Carey dresses up in drag and poses as Dot's sister to visit her. Dot refuses unequivocally to divulge the whereabouts of the forty grand.

Commenting about the luxurious prison facilities, Myrtle observes patriotically, "I'd play ball with anybody but Hitler to get out of this hole." Meanwhile, Dot runs afoul of inmates Lucy Fenton (Ruth Ford of "Wilson") and Deaf Annie (Dorothy Adams of "Ninotchka"). Deaf Annie reads lips. Dot confides in Myrtle that she has hidden the forty grand safely. Deaf Annie relays this news to Lucy. Before Phillips visits Mrs. Stoner to get her approval for Dot's parole, evil Lucy reveals to Stoner that Dot has the money stashed away. Stoner squashes the parole hearing after Lucy's revelation. Lucy turns around and lies to Dot that Ken wanted to trick her into revealing the location of the money in exchange for parole. Lucy completely fools Dot who gets a letter to Wilson about Ken and the money. Dot learns the truth from Mrs. Stoner who thanks her for giving her the reward money for the forty grand. Dot slugs Stoner, dons her apparel, and escapes from prison to save Phillips.

Clocking in at 62 concise minutes, "Lady Gangster" is a neat little item that shows how democracy worked during World War II on the home front.  Incidentally, “Lady Gangster” is remake of the 1933 Barbara Stanwyck flick “Ladies They Talk About.”

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