|Blood Money (1933)
Run time: Approved | 65 min | Drama, Film-Noir
Director: Rowland Brown
Writers: Rowland Brown, Hal Long
Stars: George Bancroft, Judith Anderson, Frances Dee
Lively story of underworld bail bondsman Bancroft falling for thrill-a-minute socialite Dee causing friction with Bancroft’s female cohort. (played by Anderson) Dee’s closing scene is a knockout. Look fast for Lucille Ball as Chandler’s girl friend at the race track.
|1. This was the film debut of Judith Anderson.|
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Bail bondsman Bill Bailey's motto is "Bailey for Bail", and he always has a fistful of cash for any felon who needs bail money. Bailey has plenty of friends in the crime world, and plenty of enemies among the city's district attorneys. But most of Bailey's "friends" are strictly the fair-weather type; his only true friend is Ruby Darling, who sees plenty but reveals very little. Bailey and Ruby spend a lot of time going to nightclubs where the women smoke cigars and dress like men.
Bailey has got a hot passion for Elaine Talbert (who does NOT dress like a man), but Elaine prefers guys who treat her rough and make her like it. Elaine persuades her boyfriend to steal some financial securities, confident that (if he gets caught) good old Bailey will bail him out.
Meanwhile, some of Bailey's gangster pals have decided he's been breathing too long. They invite Bailey to join them at the pool hall for a friendly game of eight-ball. Oh, yeah: everybody but Bailey knows that the eight-ball is full of nitroglycerin … if Bailey pots the black, he goes boom. Desperately, Ruby races to the pool hall to warn her friend. Will she get there in time to stop Bill Bailey's billiard-ball bomb, or will Bailey end up behind the eight-ball?
"Blood Money" is a weird film, strangely fascinating. It was written and directed by Rowland Brown, a brilliant film-maker whose promising career was ruined by his penchant for violence. After punching out several Hollywood producers who got in his way, Brown decided to relocate to England for a fresh start. His credentials and his substantial talent won him the assignment to direct Leslie Howard in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" … but, once again, a minor disagreement with a producer led to violence, and Brown was blackballed.
SPOILERS COMING. "Blood Money" features some strange depictions of 1930s sexuality. There's a mannish woman in the nightclub; she offers Bailey a cigar and calls him a "big cissy". Elsewhere, Bailey bullies a cabdriver and calls him a "fag". (The cabbie is played by beefy Matt McHugh, an actor not usually cast in "swish" roles.) Bailey's love interest Elaine is clearly a sexual masochist, who goads men into beating her. Frances Dee, who usually played virginal good-girl roles, gives the best performance of her career here. At the end of the film, Elaine meets a young woman – weeping, her clothes torn – who has just been beaten and violated by her prospective employer. Elaine asks for the man's address, implying that she'll take action against him … but, when we see the look of eager delight on her face, we know why she's really going there.
Watch for a brief appearance (in the nightclub sequence) by vaudeville star Blossom Seeley, singing a Rodgers and Hart ballad called "The Bad in Every Man". If this obscure song sounds familiar, that's because Richard Rodgers later used the same tune (with a new lyric by Lorenz Hart) as the much better-known song "Blue Moon".
"Blood Money"'s climactic scene with the explosive eight-ball is ridiculous, especially since Buster Keaton had already played this same idea for comedy (with an explosive 13-ball) in "Sherlock Junior". But Judith Anderson (later a Dame of the British Empire) plays her role well, despite some corny dialogue, and the eight-ball is defused in an unexpected way. My rating for 'Blood Money': 9 out of 10.
One of the most interesting of the Fox pre-code talkies, for several reasons: 1) It has nice girl Frances Dee as a perverse and masochistic society miss, snarling and hip-shaking and shocking the elite. 2) It has Judith Anderson, in a swell backless evening gown, playing a moll, against-the-grain casting of the most inspired sort, even if the movie never explains her high-tone Brit accent vs. her brother's American Midwest elongated vowels. (She also played a gangster years later in "Lady Scarface," but it's a much less interesting film.) 3) You get to see Blossom Seeley, the great vaudevillian, sob a couple of torch songs, and she's the real thing. 4), and most fascinatingly: George Bancroft plays a no- better-than-he-should-be bail bondsman who works both sides of the street and is terribly corrupt, yet the movie likes him, we like him, and he doesn't have to repent for it. It's lively and violent and funny, and, unlike so many Fox early talkies, it has the fast pace of a good Paramount or Warners flick from the same period.
"Blood Money" shows just how risqué Hollywood could get before the Hayes production code was imposed. There's never any actual nudity or graphic violence shown, but there's a sleazy undercurrent running throughout the whole film that only the most oblivious wouldn't be able to pick up on. The main character is a corrupt and unlikable criminal who completely gets away free at the end, one of the female protagonists is obviously a sado-masochist who wants a man to "be my master and give me a good thrashing", and there isn't a remotely redeemable character in the whole affair. From a historical standpoint, this is one of the most fascinating pre-code dramas.
In addition to being genuinely interesting and ahead of its time, its a very entertaining film. Its quickly paced and seems to be free of much of the awkwardness associated with early sound cinema (maybe the material was just so shocking I was a bit distracted from the shortcomings). The acting is over-the-top for the most part, but never actually bad. There's a lot of exciting situations and amusingly quirky characters as well. "Blood Money" isn't exactly a masterpiece, but its certainly both interesting and entertaining. I've wanted to see it after reading about it in "Ultimate Guide For the Film Fanatic" by Danny Peary, and I'm certainly not disappointed. Its very difficult to track down, but entirely worth the search. (7/10)
"Blood Money" is a fascinating precode – what else can you say about a film that has Judith Anderson in a glamor role? And an ingénue who longs for S&M to boot.
This 1933 film concerns a bail bondsman named Bill Bailey (George Bancroft) who's been helping out the mob for years. He falls for a pretty shoplifter named Elaine (Frances Dee) – she's actually slumming, as she's from a wealthy family. This leaves Bailey's girlfriend, club owner Ruby (Anderson) in the lurch. She's the woman responsible for his success, helping him out when he was thrown off of the police force. However, Elaine (who would follow any man who thrashed her around like a dog, says she) steals some bonds instead of delivering them to the appropriate place, thereby setting up Bailey as a mob target and getting his brother-in-law in deep trouble with the law. Ruby believes he's responsible for her brother's problems, and has a hit put out on him.
The acting is over the top, the dialogue is rough and filled with sexual innuendos, the atmosphere is sleazy – it's pre-code all right. I read a transcript of an interview with Joel McCrea (intended to be for a biography that wasn't written) and he kept referring to "Mother" – I finally realized that he didn't call his wife, Frances Dee, "mother" – he was referring to her that way while talking to one of his sons, who was conducting the interview. As the promiscuous, dying to be hit ingénue, she wasn't very motherly in this.
This is a no-miss if only to see Judith Anderson in a gown and jewels hanging out with mobsters and Frances Dee as something other than a pretty goody-two-shoes.