Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Exploitation Movies: Gambling With Souls (1936)

The 1930s produced a cornucopia of grindhouse exploitation films (aka "sexploitation" movies), usually disguised as "educational" movies that were ostensible cautionary tales about one social problem or another.

This week's movie is Gambling With Souls from 1936.

Full movie:

This movie is all about the base degeneracy that inevitably comes from gambling, including a slide into prostitution and murder when a girl can't pay her gambling debts.

The story begins with a police raid on a gambling club/brothel, a bunch of scanty-girls scrabble around to try to keep from being busted, and finally we see Mae Miller with a pistol in her hand, standing over the dead body of "Lucky" Wilder, the club owner.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks at police headquarters -- we see Mae, happily married to a struggling doctor, who wants the high life, the good things. At first she's willing to wait until he "makes it", but a small gamble on a boxing match that takes place at a garden party(!) where the women in her circle play bridge (these movies don't really have to make any sense) leads her to the posh gambling club of "Lucky" Wilder, where her "friend" Molly Murdock steers her into a roulette game that is rigged. Yeah, big surprise, that. But, in the time-honored "first one is free" tradition, it is rigged in her favor. Until she gets hooked on gambling and racks up $10,000 in IOUs. (According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, that's over $168,000 in today's money.)

From there the only way she can hope to pay any of that back is by becoming one of Lucky's "working girls".  If you ask me, that's going to be a lot of "work". But she is apparently pretty skilled -- her first "date" nets her $1,000(!).

Finally, Lucky seduces and impregnates Mae's little sister Carolyn (who looks like she's about 16). She has an abortion -- which, naturally in these cautionary tales, kills her. After an over-the-top death scene at the hospital, Mae goes back to the club and shoots Lucky. Six times.

Mae's husband is one of those stick-by-your-woman guys and supports her throughout the "now" segments at the police station, complaining that the police ought to do something to shut down the evil that has enveloped the city. "I want my wife back," he says to the DA. "That's up to the judge and jury," the DA tells him. Fade to black.

The dead guy, racket boss Lucky Wilder, (his nickname is apparently meant ironically), may have been based on Charles "Lucky" Luciano, an American Mafia mob boss whose early career was featured in a major subplot in the terrific HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. Despite several brushes with death, a stretch in prison in the US and being deported to his native Italy, "Lucky" was lucky to the end, dying of natural causes (a heart attack) at the age of 64. Unlike most of his mob associates, most of whom checked out due to what was called with macabre humor "lead poisoning" -- like Lucky Wilder in this movie.

And get a load of this promotional poster:

[Note: Image from Wikipedia and is copyrighted;
it is used here under the "fair use" doctrine]

Jeez, who wouldn't want to see this movie?

The money shot: Right at the start of the movie, we see the "working girls" scampering around in their skivvies. No nudity, but the next best thing. Then there are a couple of "exotic dancers" at the club, and a hot black girl dancer at a "Negro" club in "the slums" who looks a bit like Josephine Baker in her prime.

Lessons learned: Don't bet money on anything, don't sign IOUs, stay away from all gambling, and don't trust a friend who wants to take you to a club.

Taglines: Rigorously Adults Only! Women of today sold into bondage! Actually adapted from authentic police records! See all (IMDB)

Directed by: Elmer Clifton, who also directed another exploitation film already featured in this series, Slaves in Bondage

Also known as The Vice Racket (reissue title)

More reading:
   · Gambling With Souls on the IMDB