Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Girls on the Loose
(Jewell Enterprises, Inc., 1958)

A man-eater with a ravenous appetite.

Girl Gangs That Stop at Nothing!

Just the Facts
A band of masked criminals stage an expertly planned, deftly executed raid on the Brantford Payroll Service and abscond with a cool $200,000 in cash. As they make their getaway in a stolen laundry van, the masks come off and, in a neat twist on the standard heist picture, reveal the perpetrators to be women. After ditching the van, they bury the booty near a remote cabin out in the sticks, where they plan to leave it for two years until the heat dies down. It’s the perfect crime—who would suspect four attractive women of conceiving and pulling off such a daring robbery? But the girls turn out to be imperfect criminals, falling prey to the same internal divisions, ungovernable greed and combustible rivalries as their male counterparts.

The unquestioned leader of the pack is Vera Parkinson, a tough and sexy nightclub owner played by B movie queen Mara Corday. Vera rules with an iron fist in a velvet glove. What Vera wants, Vera usually gets, and woe betide anyone who stands in her way. Rounding out the crew is Joyce (Joyce Barker), a blonde, butch masseuse; Marie (Lita Milan), an alcoholic beautician with a penchant for shoplifting and picking pockets; and Agnes (Abby Dalton), the inside woman who works at the payroll firm. Also in the mix is Vera’s younger, not-so-innocent sister Helen (played by Barbara Bostock); the two live in a swank apartment atop the nightspot, modestly called Club Vera.

Things begin to unravel on the day following the heist, when Agnes calls Vera in a panic, worried that she won’t be able to hold up under police questioning of the payroll service employees. Vera wastes no time paying Agnes a visit, giving her some sleeping pills, then turning on the gas to ensure that she slumbers undisturbed for eternity. Vera sets it up to look like suicide, an explanation quickly embraced by the investigating officer, Lt. Bill Hanley (Mark Richman), who seems less interested in solving the robbery than in macking on Helen, especially when he catches her act at Club Vera, singing torch songs and performing sexy little dance numbers.

Girls will be boys.

Joyce, however, doesn’t buy the idea that Agnes killed herself. “How did you do it, Vera?” she taunts, causing the normally unflappable queen bee to lose her cool: “How did I do it? I said it was suicide, you pig! If you ever say it again, if you even think it, I’ll ram these scissors right through you, you sick, ugly slob!” There’s more bad blood brewing when Marie starts adding up numbers and suspects that Vera plans to gradually reduce their ranks to increase her share of the payout. She subsequently tells Vera that she’s quitting the gang and demands her money up front. The three women repair to the cabin, where a drunken Marie starts digging up the buried loot, seemingly unaware that the others view this move in lethally disapproving terms. With Vera’s implicit assent, Joyce dispatches the errant homegirl by viciously burying a switchblade in her back. Two down and two to go.

While all this infighting is going down, Helen and Lt. Hanley are fervently carrying on behind Vera’s back. The budding romance is viewed with alarm both by big sister and the conniving Joyce, who does her best to terminate the relationship via attempted vehicular homicide. Further complications ensue and more fur flies as the surviving gang members circle each other like hungry sharks. During the full-bore hellcat showdown, their psychotic impulses and implacable killer instincts ignite with predictable yet satisfying results.

Felonious and fashionable.

Summary Judgment
Girls on the Loose is a wicked slice of cinematic subversion that totally inverts the masculine-dominated universe of the typical crime film. Men are marginalized to the extent that they exist only to satisfy the sexual demands of women like Vera. The sole police officer in the film, Lt. Hanley, plays no role whatsoever in bringing the girl gang to justice. In fact, he’s completely unaware of their identities until Helen confesses all while recovering in hospital from the aforementioned automotive assault. Nor does he participate in the violent denouement. Feminists would doubtless have a field day with the empowerment theme being played out, while exploitation connoisseurs will simply enjoy the pervasive atmosphere of sleazy sexuality.

Corday, a former Playmate of the Month and star of such sci-fi epics as Tarantula (1955) and The Black Scorpion (1957), dominates the film as Vera, making her a stunning combination of virago and vixen. Vera is all woman, but she’s as tough as any man. She pistol whips a payroll guard into a coma during the robbery, and doesn’t hesitate to slap the girls around when they step out of line. She even smacks dear little Helen when the latter tries to assert her independence. Vera will stop at nothing to protect her interests and maintain her authority, including murder. She’s one of the purest embodiments of feminine evil in fifties films, and a constant joy to watch.

“Here, honey, try this propane gas inhaler.”

With her swept-back hair and take-no-prisoners bosom, Vera takes her pleasure as she finds it, and she finds it most often with those who take orders from her. One such fellow is Joe, the bartender at her club, whom she greets the morning after the robbery with a lingering kiss that leaves no doubt as to the other services he renders. Vera is also a cougar in the making, with a decided yen for the young men who deliver food from the local market. Five minutes after playing tongue tag with Joe, she’s making a call in the kitchen when in walks the newest delivery boy, Danny. Vera sizes up this latest piece of meat with a critical eye, as if considering where to take her first bite. Within moments, she’s entwined herself around him and locked her lips firmly to his. Fade to black, with the clear implication that Vera is immediately going to find out whether Danny measures up to his predecessors.

Helen is also something of a sexual adventuress, although cut from a less predatory cloth than her older sister. She firmly dictates the course and tempo of her relationship with Lt. Hanley, and the script implies that he’s far from being her first lover. Marie and Joyce’s sexuality is ambiguous, although there’s a late-night massage scene that implies they might be occasional lovers. And when Marie makes a drunken pass at Hanley at Club Vera, Joyce pulls her away with the possessive fervor of a jealous woman.

Calling all fetishists.

Director Paul Henried was, of course, better known for his acting, particularly his role as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca (1942). But beginning in the fifties, he directed a half-dozen feature films and nearly 100 television episodes. He seemed to gravitate to pulpy thriller material like Girls on the Loose and Live Fast, Die Young, also made in 1958. Henreid brought a journeyman’s craft to his work behind the camera. He rarely attempted any camera virtuosity, and concentrated on moving the narrative along and eliciting competent performances from his actors.

Where Henreid really shines, and where he reveals his inner Elmer Batters, is in the inordinate number of shots devoted to the women dressing and undressing. If the visual evidence in this film is anything to go by, Henreid was a dyed-in-the-wool leg man and foot fetishist. He first indulges himself when Vera returns home after the robbery. As the nightgown-clad Helen lounges in the living room, Vera strips down to a sexy camisole and slowly, sensually peels off her stockings, her movements imbued with maximum resonance through Henreid’s framing. This is followed by a shot of Vera luxuriating in the bathtub, one leg thrust straight up in almost orgasmic satisfaction. Also on frequent display are pulse-quickening peignoirs, bottom-hugging pajamas, form-fitting girdles, man-eating bras and endless d├ęcolletage. The ultimate money shot is a stunning image of Helen’s beautiful feet superbly contained in sexy stiletto heels. Have mercy.

The girls settle a little disagreement.

Every so often Henreid remembers that he’s directing a crime film and includes some decently stylized violence. Vera’s clubbing of the payroll service guard has a nice visceral edge, and her gassing of the unfortunate Agnes is staged with chilling aplomb. Joyce’s simmering hostility also boils over several times in rather spectacular fashion. Henreid privileges these moments with nicely timed close-ups that accentuate her latent psychosis. Finally, and fittingly, the climactic confrontation between Vera and Joyce takes place in the bleak surroundings where the money lies buried. It’s played out with bullet and blade and no quarter expected or given.

Fingering the Fifties
• Couples necking in parked cars
• Hot older women sleeping with delivery boys
• Bullet bras that leave broken men in their wake

What’s a little rubdown between friends?

VERA: “What’s your name?”
DANNY: “Danny.”
VERA: “Well, Danny boy. I hope your deliveries are as dependable as the other boys.”
DANNY: “I’m very dependable. You’ll see....You want to check this, ma’am? Just to make sure?”
VERA: “Let’s check everything, just to be sure.”

AGNES: “The radio just now said he might die. That’s murder, Vera. I get sick just thinking of it.”
VERA: “Thinking takes brains. Just forget you’ve got them.”

VERA: “Helen has lived with me since she was born. There’s plenty of me in that girl.
MARIE: “She ought to sue you for defamation of character.”

JOYCE: “Someday, I’m gonna twist your spine till it snaps. See you in my dreams.”
VERA: “Have a good nightmare.”

Contemporaneous Reviews

Director: Paul Henreid; screenplay: Alan Friedman, Dorothy Raison, Allen Rivkin; producers: Edward B. Barison, Richard Kay, Harry Rybnick; music: Irving Gertz, Henry Vars, Stanley Wilson (uncredited); cinematography: Philip Lathrop; format: black and white, 77 minutes

Mara Corday (Vera Parkinson); Barbara Bostock (Helen Parkinson); Mark Richman (Lt. Bill Hanley); Joyce Barker (Joyce); Lita Milan (Marie Williams); Abby Dalton (Agnes Clark); Paul Lambert (Joe); Ronald Green (Danny); Fred Kruger (Mr. Grant); Monica Elizabeth Henreid (Lili); Jon Lormer (doctor)

Lt. Hanley is no match for this girl on the loose.

Get It Here

Monday, August 9, 2010

Miscellaneous Mayhem #1
FBI Girl (1951)

Raymond Burr doesn't like the dress Audrey Totter is wearing.

Somehow, one can’t imagine such a publicity still being used to promote a movie today. But back in fifties filmdom, dames had to be tough enough to put up with all kinds of abuse from assorted hoodlums, killers and cops, and Audrey Totter was one of the toughest. Here she takes it on the chin from an underworld fixer played by Raymond Burr, one of a long line of villainous roles he essayed before crossing to the other side of the law in his television series Perry Mason. Totter plays an FBI clerk who’s pressured to steal a file detailing the criminal past of a governor planning to run for the U.S. Senate. Not only does Audrey’s platinum perm get messed up, she also meets an untimely end at the hands of Burr’s henchman in this tight little programmer from Lippert Pictures.