snapshot: The Pace that Kills (1935)

vt The Cocaine Fiends; vt Cocaine Madness

US / 60 minutes / bw / Willis Kent Dir: William A. O’Connor Pr: Willis Kent Scr: uncredited Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Lois January, Noel Madison, Sheila Manners, Dean Benton, Lois Lindsay, Chas. Delaney, Gaby Fay (i.e., Fay Holden), Maury Peck, Nona Lee, Gay Sheridan, Frank Collins, Eddie Phillips, Frank Shannon, Dick Botiller, Marin Sais.

Lois January as Jane/Lil.

Mobster Nick Provin (Madison), on the run from the boys in blue, takes refuge in the small-town diner run by comely Jane Bradford (January). Believing he’s an oil-company executive who’s fleeing racketeers intent on stealing company secrets, she hides him. He rewards her by hooking her on cocaine, taking her to the Big City and debauching her.

The mob madam (Holden) explains the situation to Jane:

Madame: “Marry? That’s a laugh. They don’t marry girls in this racket. You be thankful Nick likes you well enough to want you to be his . . . otherwise.”

Jane’s kid brother, gas jockey Eddie (Benton), follows her to the Big City, hoping to rescue her from her Life of Vice. Trouble is, his babelicious fellow gas jockey Fanny (Manners) has somewhat naively introduced him—as well as herself—to the Demon Powder.

Sheila Manners as Fanny.

Jane renames herself Lil, for reasons that are unclear. (“Jane? There isn’t any more Jane. I’m Lil, a gangster’s discarded moll.”) Fanny resorts to the Oldest Profession to try to support Eddie’s Habit. There’s a subplot that I don’t fully understand in which socialite Dorothy Farley (Lindsay) plays a big part; her cop boyfriend Dan (Delaney) at the end unveils the secret identity of the mob’s Big Chief.

Noel Madison as Nick.

The only copy I could find of this movie is pretty dire, as you’ll gather from the screengrabs, and this may have colored my judgement of it. That said, the plot seems to have been done on a seat-of-the-pants basis during shooting: what starts out as a story about Jane/Lil inexplicably morphs, by the closing credits, into a story about Dorothy and Dan, who for most of the running time have been support characters. The one really likeable protagonist, for all her failings, Fanny, is the one who doesn’t make it to the finish line.

Dean Benton as Eddie.

And, after that finish line is crossed, you realize (well, I did, anyway) that most of the major plot-strands have been left unresolved. Will there be a happy ending for Jane? Dunno. Will there be a happy ending for Eddie? Dunno. Will Nick find himself forever pearl-diving in the sewer system? Dunno, but I hope so. What we do know is that Dorothy and Dan are hearing wedding bells, so I guess you gotta take what rewards you can get.

Lois Lindsay as Dorothy.

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