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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Safe In Hell (1931)

A prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill) accidentally kills her ex-lover (Ralf Harolde), who was the man responsible for her fall from grace. With the help of her sailor boyfriend (Donald Cook), she escapes to an island in the Caribbean where there are no extradition laws. But the island turns out to be merely going from the frying pan into the fire. Based on a play by Houston Ranch and directed by William A. Wellman, this is an example of how far films of the pre-code era could push the envelope. The film doesn't bother to disguise or use euphemisms for what Mackaill is and when she reaches the island, a bigger bunch of sleazebags and lowlifes only accentuate the film's apt title. There's perhaps an unintentional feminist tone to the film. Mackaill is doomed but she chooses her doomed fate rather than acquiesce to more degradation at the hands of a male dominated hell. Essentially, the Hollywood stereotype of the whore with the heart of gold, Mackaill brings a fierce rage to her character for most of the proceedings. Also unusual for 30s cinema, the two black characters (the wonderful Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse) manage to avoid the usual kowtowing servitude stereotypes. Startling and downbeat and a real pre-code find. With Morgan Wallace, Victor Varconi and Gustav von Seyffertitz.

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