Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lady Gangster ("Florian Roberts," 1942)

I've wanted to see Lady Gangster ever since Clive Hirschhorn called it "one of the worst films of 1942" in The Warner Bros. Story (234). And indeed, I'd already flunk a quiz on the thing after watching it only a week ago (although it's certainly punchier than Mrs. Miniver). But one scene remains etched in my memory.

While in prison, Dot Burton (Faye Emerson), the title gangster lady, receives a visit from her sister. Problem is, she has no sister. So she doesn't know who's meeting her as she walks into the visiting area.
After a medium closeup of a quizzical Dot, the big reveal. Turns out it's one of her bank robbing gang in drag (Roland Drew).

What's so fascinating about this scene is that Production Code-era drag was usually played for laughs. Here it's pumped for shock value and while that hardly renders Lady Gangster a progressive text, its monster movie aesthetics are at least a reminder of how drag could horrify an audience (wonder if Hitchcock ever saw this).


That Jackie C. Gleason in the credits is indeed Jackie Gleason in an early role.

"Florian Roberts" is Robert Florey, a director who enjoyed one of the oddest careers in classical Hollywood cinema history. A French lover of cinema, he wound up in the States making such First American Film Avant-Garde classics as The Love of Zero, Skyscraper Symphony, and The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra before working the B units at several studios and winding up in television in the 1950s. Apparently he agreed with Hirschhorn on the quality of Lady Gangster thus occasioning the pseudonym. But is it really so much worse than the scads of intermittently arresting product he signed such as Registered Nurse (1934) or Daughter of Shanghai (1937)?

I saw Lady Gangster on the Suspense Classics 50 movie pack from my beloved Mill Creek Entertainment crammed onto one side of a disc with the remarkable Five Minutes to Live (aka Door-to-Door Maniac) and The Sphinx (1933) which I haven't seen. But you can watch Lady Gangster for free over at along with all sorts of public domain yummies.   

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