Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Exploitation Movies: Damaged Lives (1933)

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 we present Damaged Lives from 1933, a "scared straight" cautionary tale about the dreaded social disease, syphilis.

Full movie:

Young upcoming shipping company executive/man about town, Donald Bradley, skips a date with his fianceƩ to go to a "business meeting" -- which just coincidentally is taking place at one of those swanky New York nightclubs -- where he hooks up with a blonde socialite, takes her home and the inevitable happens.

Normal one-night-stand. Except he also gets "it" from her. In a lengthy emotional scene the socialite tells Don that she has "it" and has passed "it" on to him. She can't quite bring herself to actually say it, but he gets the drift, and then she shoots herself.

Don gets married to longtime girlfriend Joan, and then a few months later the family doctor (played by Jason Robards Sr.) shows up at Don's office. After some arm-twisting they go to a "famous clinic" to confer with a "famous doctor", who breaks the dreaded news that both Don and Joan have ... syphilis! To make matters worse, Joan is pregnant!

There's a "scared straight" shock-walk through the clinic (footage obviously lifted from some medical documentary), where the doctor opens various doors for a little look-see at the patients, each of whom is worse than the last. Symptoms range from the minor "physical ataxia" (evidenced by continuous leg motions, like dancing) to the worst, a wheelchair-bound mental defective woman who has seven children, each of whom has separate but typical symptoms of congenital syphilis, in a laundry list ranging from mild retardation to death.

Back in their fancy-schmancy New York apartment, Joan is ready to end it all. She closes the curtains and the outside door, turns on the gas and waits for death next to a sleeping Don. Who wakes up just in time to open the door, turn off the gas, and convince Joan that they are getting the cure, their baby will be all right. Fade to black.

The money shot: None, although the Wikipedia article says, "noteworthy for containing one of the earliest filmed nude scenes in a sequence where a group of fun-loving women strip naked and go skinny dipping". I checked out several copies of this film and none of them have this scene. Moreover, there really isn't a logical place in this movie for this scene to have taken place. I think somebody got this wrong -- this description sounds more like