Genre: Drama, Crime
Director: Robert Florey
Stars: Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Jackie Gleason
An actress gets mixed up with a criminal gang and winds up taking the rap for a $40,000 robbery. Before she’s sent to prison, she steals the money from her cohorts and hides it, intending to use it as a bargaining chip to win her release from prison. However, her former partners have other ideas.
Time for a little bit of Film History 101. Do you know where the term “B-Movie” comes from? Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, before the era of independent studios – the major studios produced two different kinds of films. The first were called “A Pictures” and they were the ones with the highest production budgets, the biggest stars at the time and the most publicity. These were the ones the studios felt were guaranteed to make BIG money. Hence the term “A-List actor,” as the presence of these major stars in a film is what sold tickets to these A Pictures. Studios also produced B Pictures, which were just films made, with low budgets and contracted B List actors that were released with very little fanfare and hopes to at least break even. Occasionally a B Picture would make a big splash and become a hit, Casablanca was a B Picture, but for the most part B Pictures were made to be forgotten. Lady Gangster was a B Picture.
Lady Gangster is simply another version of an earlier B-Picture Ladies They Talk About; they are both, after all, based on a play by actress Dorothy Mackaye called “Gangstress, or Women in Prison.” The most significant difference, however, is that Ladies They Talk About was made in the pre-Code era of Hollywood and was able to focus more on the “scandolous goings on in a woman’s prison,” while Lady Gangster plays it safe and presents a typical B-Movie about gangsters that happens to have a bit about prison in it.
The most significant difference between this film and Ladies They Talk About is that the characters are actually developed. Faye Emerson plays Dot Burton, a manipulative and greedy woman. The bank robbery is the EXACT same as in Ladies They Talk About but what’s different is that Dot happens to get her hands on the $40,000 and hides it before going into prison. She uses this money as her way out of prison – able to bribe the prison superintendent and an eager politician to get her way to an early parole. The only problem is that her fellow gangsters on the outside are also eager to get their hands and Dot and the money.
Overall, the movie was pretty boring and was a typical B-picture of the time. The lady’s prison is PATHETIC and doesn’t even seem like a prison at all and more like a shared boarding house these women happen to live in. The story’s main focus is the money and not the prison – but I feel that some effort could have been exerted to make the prison at least seem convincing. The tale of gangsters after some money is predictable and offers absolutely no thrills whatsoever. The best thing I really have to say about this film is that at least the characters and the actors were honest and convincing and did the best they could given such a tepid story to work within.
One last thing, however, the ending to Lady Gangster while dull and uninteresting was at least fitting for the story that it told. Ladies They Talk About had the stupidest, most contrived ending I’ve ever seen and it pissed me off. At least Lady Gangster just dragged itself to a logical conclusion and was done with it. As am I. I really don’t want to see this same story again – gimme some REAL women in REAL prisons instead!