Monday, March 16, 2015

Exploitation Movies: The Road to Ruin (1934)

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.

Today's feature is The Road to Ruin from 1934.

Full movie:

This is another cautionary tale about a young girl whose life is ruined by sex and alcohol and marijuana. Typically, "good girl" Ann Dixon and her high school friends are 25-year-old teenagers, and we know the first time we see her best friend Eve that she is trouble. How do we know that? She's a bleach-blonde.

She's also a "fast girl" who uses some subtle peer pressure to get Ann to take that first drink, a leftover from a party thrown by her divorceé mother. (In these movies, a child of divorce always = trouble.)

From there, of course, it all goes rapidly downhill as Ann has some crying-afterwards first sex with her "teenage" boyfriend, and then hooks up with Ralph, an "older man" (i.e., about 30 -- only three years older than Helen Foster, the actress who plays teenage Ann) . She falls in love with him, he slips her a mickey of some sort and they "do it" on his couch after he discreetly switches off the light.

Then there's a wild party at the house of one of Ralph's friends, they all play a game of strip craps  (I guess it was faster for the whole getting-the-clothes-off thing to show strip craps rather than strip poker), Eve loses all of her clothes, and then someone suggests they take a dip in the pool.

No one has a swimsuit (of course) so the girls, already in their 1930s skivvies, jump into the pool with guys who don't look like they've taken anything off except their shoes and jackets. Eve, already naked, takes a swan dive off the board. A couple of uptight neighbors are outraged, call the cops (while the man -- comic relief -- keeps peeking out the window wearing a broad leer, "to keep an eye on things") and when the cops show up Ralph sneaks off and leaves Ann to face the music on her own.

At the police station Eve and Ann are labeled as "sex delinquents" -- really; we see their official cards -- and they are detained for an "examination" by a doctor. Ann passes her Wassermann Test but Eve doesn't. Ann's mother shows up to take her home, leaving Eve behind because her mother is "out of town" (i.e., she's at a wild party herself and can't be located).

Even though Ann managed to pass that Wassermann, she is still not off the hook -- not by a long shot: She is pregnant. She tells Ralph about it and he hems and haws and says he will marry her, but not now since he's "not free". He convinces her to get an abortion from the slimiest-imaginable "doctor", and then we fast forward to the death scene. Spoiler alert: She dies from complications from this "doctor" and his botched butchery.

One modern critic called this a "sordid drive down the path of moral and physical degradation, capped off with just enough of a moral lesson to alleviate any guilt the viewer might feel for watching such a decadent display."

I was actually surprised by the amount of professionalism shown here. There's some pretty good movie-making going on, especially in the first half, in spite of all the hand-wringing sensationalism. The actors do the best they can with a raft of wooden dialogue, especially the moralizing social worker in the "girls division" of the justice system who lectures Ann's mother on her lack of child-raising skills. Yes, of course it is the fault of the parents -- that's who this "educational" movie was aimed at. In fact, the producers billed it as suitable only for persons over 18.

Turns out it was a remake of a 1928 silent film of the same name, also starring Helen Foster in the main role. I haven't been able to find a copy of it, but there are reports that it was way more salacious than this version.

The money shot: The pool party -- girls in wet underwear and Eve doing her naked dive.

Lessons learned: Don't take that first drink, don't have sex, and if you get pregnant don't have an abortion. Especially not from some sleazy "doctor" with a leer fronted by a mustache! Oh, and of course don't trust blonde girls... Ever.

Directed by: Dorothy Davenport (billed as Mrs. Wallace Reid), who also makes a cameo appearance.

More reading:
The Road to Ruin on the IMDB
Dorothy Davenport on the IMDB