Gambling Daughters (1941)

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How bad men lead defenseless girls astray!

US / 63 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Max Nosseck Pr: George R. Batcheller, T.H. Richmond Scr: Joel Kay, Arnold Phillips, Genevieve Hogan Story: Sidney Sheldon, Ben Roberts Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Cecilia Parker, Roger Pryor, Robert Baldwin, Sigi Arno, Gale Storm, Charles Miller, Al Hall, Eddie Foster, Janet Shaw, Marvelle Andre, Dick Russom, Joe Ortiz, Judy Kilgore, Gertrude Messinger, Roberta Smith.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - closer

Two students at the swanky Lakeside School for Girls, Lillian Harding (Storm) and Katherine Thompsen (Shaw), one night on impulse follow their French teacher, le professeur Bedoin (Arno), and discover he’s gone to an illicit gambling joint called the Angel’s Roost. The girls swank into the club there with the entitled air of two virginities looking for the quickest way to lose themselves. (Presumably in order to save money on acting fees, the bustling clientele at the Angel’s Roost are here and elsewhere represented primarily by off-camera chortles and coughs.)

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 1 Prof Bedoin at casino with piano duo Russom & Ortiz behind

Le professeur Bedoin (Sigi Arno) at the Angel’s Roost gambling den with the piano duo of Dick Russom and Joe Ortiz as backdrop.

Encouraged by the club’s manager, Chance Landon (Pryor), the two girls soon get completely hooked on the roulette wheel. In no time at all, they end up with huge debts to the club—which is no accident, because Chance and his sidekick Nick (Foster) spotted them immediately as incipient heiresses to huge fortunes.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 2 Lillian and Katherine turn heads at Angel's Roost

Lillian Harding (Gale Storm) and Katherine Thompsen (Janet Shaw) turn heads at the Angel’s Roost.

Soon enough Katherine is pressurized into robbing her parents’ safe; the matter’s a big cause célèbre, but for some reason she’s not immediately suspected. Lillian is in a somewhat stickier situation. The implication of the movie is that Chance seduced her. Either way, she’s in hock to the club even more than Katherine was and Chance has a stack of the explicit, gushing love letters she sent him. She puts up a brave resistance, but eventually agrees to steal her mother’s jewelry.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 4 Chance explains to Lillian that their 'romance' was a farce

Chance (Roger Pryor) explains to Lillian (Gale Storm) that their ‘romance’ was a farce.

The two girls share a room with another who seems older, or at the very least considerably wiser: Diana Cameron (Parker).

Diana’s major misery in life is that her father Walter (Miller), a high-flying banker, seems never to be able to come see her at weekends; she feels completely rejected by him. She discovers, though, when Lillian gives her a lift to NYC en route to busting her parents’ safe, that Walter is actually bankrupt. To make ends meet, and to pay for Diana’s upkeep, he’s doing whatever he can to earn money. At the moment, in fact, he’s working at Angel’s Roost for $75 a week, pretending to be a punter who fairly consistently wins—the aim being, first, to persuade the other betters that the roulette wheels must be honest after all, because someone is winning, and, second, to draw fresh customers to the joint.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 5 Walter and Diana reconcile

Father and daughter, Walter (Charles Miller) and Diana (Cecilia Parker), reconcile.

There’s an obvious subtext here concerning the alienation between expensively schooled kids and their parents. The problem for Katherine and Lillian is that they never see their wealthy parents, who’re always off globetrotting and who, let’s be fair, really don’t care too much about their offspring: parenting begins and ends at the payment of the fees required by the Lakeside School for Girls. The relationship between Diana and her dad might seem initially the same. However, as soon as she discovers his real situation, and as soon as he’s honest enough to admit it to her, everything’s all right between them: they become father and daughter again. In these roles Parker and Miller have tremendous chemistry between them—far more than between Parker and her titular romantic lead, in fact. The father/daughter reconciliation is really quite moving.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 10 Diana does a bit of French translation in class

Diana (Cecilia Parker) does a bit of translation in French class.

Insurance investigator Jimmy Parker (Baldwin), suspicious after the first robbery, is doubly so after the second. He gets permission from his boss, Mr. Davies (uncredited), to go infiltrate the Lakeside School for Girls. He persuades the Dean there (Hall) to take him on as a substitute gym teacher, replacing the sick Mr. Sawyer. Jimmy would have preferred just about any other subject:

“Gymnastics? That’s impossible. I can’t even cross my fingers. I trip over my own feet. Oh-ho, no. That’s out. That’s impossible.”

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 6 Jimmy explains himself to the Dean

Jimmy (Robert Baldwin) explains himself to the Dean (Al Hall).

His first class with the girls is a disaster—and actually pretty funny. No matter how clumsy he is with the clubs, his students imitate his actions in Simon Says fashion. And then there’s his attempt to teach them judo, thwarted by the class’s judo demonstrator (uncredited). Moments later, as Jimmy lies groaning, there’s this exchange:

Dean: “What’s the meaning of all this? What were you doing on the floor?”
Jimmy: “I was just showing the girls judo.”

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 7 Jimmy's first gym class

Jimmy (Robert Baldwin) faces his first gym class with stark despair.

Crocked though he is, Jimmy makes a gallant attempt to chat up Diana and then goes to do some snooping in the three girls’ dorm room. When Diana and Katherine arrive home, Jimmy sneaks into the shower, hoping to hide there. There are some mediocre scenes in the movie, but this is the only one that’s truly, awesomely, irremediably bad. The whole performance is sub-Chester Morris, and that’s a pretty difficult standard to be sub.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 8 Diana tells Jimmy why she spotted him as a phony right off

Diana (Cecilia Parker) tells Jimmy (Robert Baldwin) why she spotted him as a phony right off.

There’s lots more plot as Jimmy and his post-pubescent allies close in on the crew at the Angel’s Roost. Diana and Katherine kidnap Nick and take him to the school gym, where a troop of girls willingly searches Nick’s jacket pockets for Lillian’s love letters—not his trouser pockets, though; heaven forfend that they find a gun there.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 9 Nick under interrogation

Nick (Eddie Foster) under interrogation.

It’s no surprise that by the end the bad guys lose and Diana and Jimmy are lined up for each other.

Most of the time you don’t expect a whole lot from the PRC quickies, but this one’s arguably a cut above some of the rest. It’s held together by a knowing script and the performances of Parker and Miller. The direction’s nothing to talk about, and likewise the cinematography, while Baldwin’s a bit of an embarrassment. It’s one of those vintage fillers where, if you choose to enjoy it, you probably will, whereas, if you choose to be snooty, you probably won’t. I’ve covered a lot of the EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES (1960–64) in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, plus a couple in more detail here. Gambling Daughters falls into the same sort of category for me: yes, it’s mediocre garbage, but then so were some episodes of the The Avengers (1961–9), and yet they still felt good at the time.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 0 opener

UK readers of a certain vintage may recognize the masthead and wonder what’s going on!

This is no relation to the somewhat more distinguished The Bad Sister (1931; vt Gambling Daughters) dir Hobart Henley, with Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, which is based on a Booth Tarkington novel.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - other closer or stick in somewhere

*****

This is a contribution to Rich Westlake’s 1941 roundup at his Past Offences site.

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5 thoughts on “Gambling Daughters (1941)

  1. “Chance has a stack of the explicit, gushing love letters he sent her.”
    Surely the stack of explicit, gushing love letters she sent him would work better for blackmail.
    Prof. Bedoin seems unusually dressed for a customer at an upmarket gambling club, or does he insist on wearing his lucky trench-coat and hat?

    • Argh! Typo. Many thanks for picking that up. I’ll fix it.

      I’m not sure how upmarket the Angel’s Roost is supposed to be, but I think the prof’s gear is designed to make him unobtrusive as he slopes off from school to casino.

  2. Pingback: ‘The shadow of war’: #1941book results | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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