Friday, January 8, 2010

★★★ PAROLE GIRL (1933)

I must admit, my only interest in seeing Parole Girl was Mae Clarke who played Dr. Henry Frankenstein's fiance Elizabeth in the James Whale classic Frankenstein (1931). What I initially thought would be a routine morality play is actually an enjoyable revenge tale with a dash of crime humour and a whole lot of sexy.
After petty racketeer Tony (Halle Hamilton) aids Sylvia Day's (Mae Clarke) sick father, she reluctantly accepts to participate in his latest scheme. With Sylvia's help, Tony stages fake pick pocketing scams in department stores by pretending to be a shopper who has just been fleeced by Sylvia. While in the manager's office settling the accusation, he realizes that his wallet was just misplaced. Sylvia breaks down in tears for being humiliated and informs the department store security that she will discuss the incident with her lawyer. The worried store owners pay her off in exchange for silence.
Mae Clark and Boris Karloff from Frankenstein (1933)Sylvia is caught, however, and sentenced to two years in prison. She vows to seek revenge against Joe Smith (Ralph Bellamy), the department store manager whose intervention could have saved her, and her opportunity comes when in prison she meets Jeanie, a small-time criminal. Jeanie reveals that she married Joe many years ago but was deserted by him long before her conviction. Anxious to get out of prison, Sylvia starts a fire and then heroically extinguishes it. After she is granted a parole for her manufactured courage, she begins to put her plan into action.
One night, she meets Joe at a party during which he has been drinking heavily, and he awakens the next morning to find Sylvia in his apartment. She tells him that, while they were drunk, they eloped and married. Tony, whom Sylvia has bribed to pose as a minister, convinces Joe that he is indeed married. Fearing scandal and a charge of bigamy, Joe agrees to support Sylvia for the next year while she is still under the supervision of her parole officer.
Unless revenge, blackmail and drunkenness lead to happiness with no character arch, revelation or remorse, Parole Girl doesn't qualify as the morality tale many reference books suggest. There's an underlying theme of female empowerment and equality wrapped into an early pulp exploitation flick. Using sexuality to get favours from Tony and blackmail to get material items from Joe, Sylvia breaks from the power men hold over her. She even has Joe's boss cooking her dinner! The male's are all drunken dimwits or sentimental slaves to the grind. In the end Sylvia achieves the June Cleaver lifestyle that gives feminists nightmares but within the context of this story, it's of her own making. I could probably write a review on the representation of class during within Parole Girl, but that's not what this website and the film are about. It's about sex.

Parole Girl was made a year before the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hay's Code) was to go into effect in 1934 and it really shows. Every opportunity to lear at Clarke's assets in very tight clothes makes it on screen. We get some pretty nice side breast shots, cleavage, night gowns, gams and a whole lot of booty shots. The script by Oscar winner Norman Krasna alludes to all kinds of scandalous conduct such as Jeanie requesting new dirty stories from the outside, Sylvia joking about how she prances around half naked, a breast grab, voyeuristic kissing and Joe waking up with a stiletto heel in his bed.
Although Parole Girl veers a little into romantic comedy territory and some of the plot points are downright goofy, getting there is a quick ride with some fun gangster moll dialogue and old school titillation. Mae Clarke would return to the big house as Matron Saunders in the W.I.P. classic Women's Prison (1955) and Ralph Bellamy would pop up as a judge in Nightmare in Badham County (1976). ShareThis

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