vt Prison Girls
US / 68 minutes / bw / Motion Picture Associates, PRC Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lester Cutler Scr: Arthur St. Claire Story: “Gallant Lady” (1939, Collier’s Magazine) by Octavus Roy Cohen Cine: Marcel Le Picard Cast: Rose Hobart, Sidney Blackmer, Claire Rochelle, Lynn Starr, Jane Novak, Vince Barnett, Jack Baxley, Crane Whitley, John Ince, Richard Clarke, Spec O’Donnell, Inez Cole, Ruby Dandridge, Henry Hastings.
Near the end of her sentence for having committed the mercy killing of a terminally ill, suffering patient who begged her for relief—a crime of which she is innocent—Dr. Rosemary Walsh (Hobart) gets dragged into a breakout mounted by fellow-prisoners Nellie (Rochelle) and Jane (Cole), with the outside aid of Nellie’s gangster boyfriend Nick Furelli (Clarke) and his sidekick Baldy O’Shea (Barnett). Jane goes her own way, and in due course Rosemary decides to give herself back up to the authorities. Nick hands her some money and tells her details of how to find him in NYC should she change her mind.
So that’s how this country doctoring is done!
Halfway back to the prison she indeed does change her mind. Pausing by a farmhouse, she discovers the Walker family; Paw Walker (O’Donnell) has broken his leg and they’ve been waiting a day for overworked local doctor Steve Carey (Blackmer) to arrive. By the time he does so, Rosemary has expertly treated the fracture.
Even though he knows who she is, Steve, believing in her innocence, installs her in his plantation home as his assistant under the name Ann Roberts, and it’s soon obvious they’re in love. When Steve’s sister Linda (Starr) tells him the locals are gossiping about the setup, Steve and “Ann” decide to get married; in the clerk’s office, however, she blurts out her name not as Ann Roberts but as Rosemary Walsh. Over-eager Deputy Pete Saunders (Whitley) tries to arrest her, but Steve knocks him cold.
Thinking she’s doing Steve a favor, Rosemary hightails it to NYC, where she hooks up with Nick, Baldy and a highly suspicious Nellie. As a scheme to dissuade Rosemary from ever blabbing to the cops, Nellie insists she join them in a bank heist. The heist goes wrong, Steve is vitally injured, and Rosemary—demonstrating that she’s not so much a country doctor as a top-flight surgeon—performs a successful operation in the apartment bedroom. Then, having learned from the newspaper that things are likely to go badly for Steve unless she goes back to throw herself on the mercy of the court, she escapes the gangster trio, reports them to the cops, and takes the long bus ride back.
On the outskirts of town the bus is involved in a serious accident. In the courtroom the jury are just about to give their verdict on Steve when the news of the accident arrives. Steve and Rosemary tend the injured and become the heroes of the hour, and, well, you can guess the rest.
There some interesting differences from Cohen’s original Collier’s story, most notably that, while in the movie Rosemary declares herself innocent of the hospital euthanasia and she and Steve rather heavyhandedly declare how they find mercy killing morally repugnant, in the story Rosemary, a nurse rather than a doctor, did indeed give the suffering old lady a morphine overdose so that she could escape her agonies and die peacefully, a decision that Steve post facto generally endorses. (The original story can, by those with keen eyesight, be read online here: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1939dec02-00009 with the conclusion here: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Colliers-1939dec02-00026; you have to scroll down quite a lot for the latter.)
Although the plot of this amiable piece is hardly original and there are few surprises as it plays out, interest never flags—largely because Hobart, in top form here, makes such a sympathetic protagonist. With the exception of Rochelle, who’s also in fine fettle as the not so much mean-spirited as hardbitten gangster gal, and Clarke as her criminal but generous-hearted boyfriend, the rest of the cast are generally somewhat less assured. In a way the movie would seem more at home in the 1930s than the 1940s, with the merciful exclusion—aside from some irritating racial stereotyping—of the kind of “comic relief” interludes that tended to scar the earlier movies.
This bears no relation to Gallant Lady (1933), dir Gregory La Cava, with Ann Harding, Clive Brook, Otto Kruger and Janet Beecher, which is a weepie about an unwed mother whose child is adopted, and her attempts to make good in life. The 1933 movie was remade as Always Goodbye (1938), dir Sidney Lanfield, with Barbara Stanwyck, Herbert Marshall, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero and Lynn Bari.
On Amazon.com: Gallant Lady