Reviewed by Nicholas D'Amico
Rating: 9 Beans
ail Bait! (1954)
Lyle Talbot as Inspector Johns
Delores Fuller as Marilyn Gregor
Timothy Farrell as Vic Brady
Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Boris Gregor
Theodora Thurman as The Moll
Steve Reeves as Detective Lieutenant Lawrence
And Clancy Malone as Don Gregor
Director of Photography - William C. Thompson, A.S.C.
Musical Score - Hoyt Curtain
Written by Alex Gordon and Edward D. Wood Jr.
Produced and Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
The film begins with two of L.A.'s finest bringing a drunk in, and the dialogue, which is looped, sounds a lot like Timothy Farrell, who plays "Cheap Hood" Vic Brady. Marilyn Gregor walks into the police station to bail her worthless brother out and meets Inspector Johns and Detective Lawrence, who introduce themselves and explain that her brother, Don, was arrested for carrying a gun without a license. "There are much worse crimes", says Marilyn. "Carrying a gun can be a dangerous business," replies Inspector Johns. "So can… building a skyscraper," answers Marilyn. After establishing that carrying a gun is against the law, we meet Don Gregor. Complaining that his rights are being violated when the police keep his gun, Inspector Johns answers, "We've got all the rights right now." Marilyn takes Don home and we get a little exposition about Dr. Boris Gregor, Don and Marilyn's father. "How can a great Doctor have such a jerk for a son?" queries Johns. "The sins of the father?" asks Detective Lawrence. "No, Dr. Gregor's a great man, both in his personal life and his business life," assures Inspector Johns. "Sounds like a man I'd like to meet," says Detective Lawrence. "You probably will," sighs Inspector Johns, "next time we pick up Don Gregor." Throughout this whole scene (and the rest of the movie) plays the most annoying pseudo-flamenco guitar and piano duet ever written, lifted from another loser movie, MESA OF THE LOST WOMEN.
Marilyn drives Don home in her Nash Rambler and when they get in the house, Don pours himself a drink while she glares at him. "Go ahead and say it, but change the words this time," snaps Don. "The old record's getting a bit worn. You want me to repeat it for ya word for word?!" An argument ensues about what Don's doing and the impact it'll have on their father. Don apparently doesn't care, as he then goes to the bookcase and takes a gun out of a hollowed - out book. "You know that gun is jail bait," says Marilyn, thus explaining the title and disappointing the hell out of me by making me realize that there won't be any hot 17 year old girls in this movie. (The original title of this film, by the way, was "The Hidden Face", which would have made a lot more sense considering what goes down later, but the distributor felt that title wasn't exploitative enough and changed it to "Jail Bait".) On his way out of the house, Don runs into his father, Dr. Boris Gregor. Dr. Gregor, a renowned plastic surgeon, seems like a really nice guy and says hello to his son, who guiltily mumbles, "Good night, Dad," and exits, but Dad knows what's going on and tells Marilyn as much. This scene is where you can tell that Alex Gordon didn't have much input, dialogue-wise. "How did you know?" asks Marilyn. "Although I've never even met the gentleman," explains the Dr., "but Inspector Johns, he seems like a fan of mine. This afternoon, we had a long telephone conversation, earlier in the day… You know, I had to perform a very difficult operation this morning… the victim of an automobile accident. You know that I had to remodel that patient's entire face? And it was strenuous and very, very complicated! Plastic surgery at times seems to me to be very, very complicated." After the Dr. and Marilyn commiserate about Don, the Dr. checks the library and finds the gun missing. At that very moment, the ungrateful little weasel meets with hardened criminal Vic Brady at The Hunter's Inn, which I guess was Ed Wood's watering hole since they obviously let him use it as a location. Don sits down at the bar and begins whining about not getting his gun back and about how Brady left him holding the bag, then about how they have his picture and fingerprints on file at the police station. "So what?" growls Brady. "They've had my picture in the files so long it's getting moldy." Luckily for him, the police apparently neglected to take his fingerprints when he got arrested, so he doesn't have to worry about that. (This is never mentioned in the movie, so I'm assuming it was a busy night the last time they brought him in.) Inspector Johns and Lt. Lawrence then come in the bar and begin insulting and shaking down Don, who luckily has slipped Brady his gun. Don gets a little pissy until the Inspector starts talking about his father, and then he gets sore and knocks over Johns's beer. At this point, Detective Lawrence grabs him from behind and the Inspector frisks him. Finding Don clean, they throw him and Brady out of the bar. The two crooks then go to hold up a theatre.
At this point, we cut to the show at the theatre. Depending on which copy of the movie you've got, the Rhino or the Admit One version, you'll see either cheesy, mismatched footage of a stripper (The Rhino Version) or a clip of a Minstrel show from the Ron Ormond movie, Hello, Mr. Bones (the Admit One version). Having seen the Admit One version first, I prefer what I believe is the original footage, which is an unfunny vaudeville skit featuring and white man in blackface and a rather attractive black woman who looks a lot like Lena Horne. The Rhino version, with a flag reading "DIRECTORS CUT" on the front of the box, claims that the stripper footage was part of the original negative, but the music during the midway point of the sequence is the music from the blackface number, leading me to suspect that the "DIRECTOR'S CUT" claim is merely a selling tool to move this little-known film. One other thing that bothers me about the Rhino version is that Wade Williams, the man responsible for restoring these films, has seen fit to replace the original titles, supposedly to shoehorn his name in. I mean, that's okay, because if not for him, we'd have to watch duped copies of these films that (believe me) are tough on the eyes. The unrestored versions, which are on Admit One, have the added attraction of trailers for other Admit One releases like Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla and The Crawling Eye/The Trollenburg Terror, so choose your poison.
Anyway, Brady and Don hold up the theatre after the show, getting in through the beauty shop next door.
During the robbery, a secretary they didn't know was still there surprises them and Don shoots the night watchman (an ex-cop) in the excitement. Brady chases the girl (a young Mona McKinnon - see Plan 9 From Outer Space) through the theatre and wounds her. Going to finish her off, he hears police sirens and instead turns tail and runs back to the office, grabbing Don, who, stupefied by what he's done, stands there dumbly. After a not exciting at all car chase (which is just footage of cars going down a street and turning corners), Brady takes young Don to his Moll's apartment. (Theodora Thurmond, who plays the Moll, was a model for Vogue magazine and, according to an interview with her I read in Psychotronic Video, was a fairly hot prospect for movie work. One would hope she got herself a new agent after this.)
Meanwhile, we're treated to the investigation at the crime scene. After blowing off the fact that the secretary got shot ("Do you think she'll live?" asks one cop. "Oh, sure. The bullet hit her high and passed right on through. In a couple of days, she won't even remember the pain," assures the other cop. I guess people healed faster back in the fifties.) Inspector Johns shows up and looks around. In the hallway, a lady reporter (see my Bride Of The Monster review for how I feel about them) talks to her mute photographer (the reason he's mute is because if an actor has a speaking role, even one line in a walk-on, he gets paid more) and threatens to make trouble for the Inspector if he doesn't come across with more information. When that doesn't work, she tries to use what little feminine wiles she has on one of the cops, and that doesn't work either.
Back at the Moll's place, Vic tells her (he calls her "Baby" when he's not snapping "Shaddap, you!") what happened and she gets all excited. "Honey, that's bad business, cop killing," she says. "So what? They bleed like anybody else," Vic answers. "…Now stop gibbering! I gotta think!" "What are you gonna do about it?" she asks. "Shut up! What do you think it is I wanna think about?" he answers. While they're arguing, Don takes the opportunity to hotfoot it out of there.
Back at the theatre, Inspector Johns deduces (by showing the secretary photos) that Vic Brady and Don Gregor are responsible for the robbery/murder.
Don shows up at his father's office in the middle of the night (his father and his secretary are there) and confesses his deed. His father has no pity for him but tells Don that if he turns himself in, he'll stand by his son. If he doesn't, he'll do everything in his power to see that he's apprehended. Inspector Johns and Detective Lawrence show up outside and Don panics, begging his father not to turn him in. After extracting a promise from Don that he'll turn himself in, Dr. Gregor tells him to hide in the outer hall.
After a meeting with the Inspector and Detective Lawrence (during which nothing much happens, except the Doctor waxing philosophical) the cops leave and Don comes back in and starts whining about how he thought he was tough. Doctor Gregor listens for a minute and sends him on his way out the back door where he runs straight into Brady.
The two of them return to the Moll's place where they hear a broadcast on the radio that announces them as the killers (by name, and drags Doctor Gregor's name through the mud for good measure). Don finally gets some balls and tells Brady that the guilt is too much for him and realizes what a dickhead he's been all his life. Probably because he's as tired of hearing Don whine as we are, Brady shoots him dead, figuring to dump him in the river later. His Moll starts getting on his back about what just went down in her apartment (murder and hiding dead bodies in the pantry apparently being against the house rules), so Vic whips around and slaps her one. Holding her cheek, she mumbles, "That's it, Vic. Destroy everything and everybody. That's your style." She then calls him a "Has-been with a gun," and he gets steamed. "A has been?!" he snarls. "…I didn't set you up in all this luxury (????) just to have you walk out on me! I pulled ya out of that main street dive and made something out of ya! Nah, yer not gonna walk out on me. Try it and I swear you'll never walk out on anyone again!" Obviously a sucker for sweet talk, she embraces him and weeps, "Oh, Vic, honey, what are we gonna do? I don't want you to go to jail." Vic, however, doesn't seem worried. "Ahh, I ain't goin' to jail!" "How can you be so sure?" she asks. Somethin'll turn up. It always does." Too bad they know what you look like, says the Moll. Vic gets a flash of inspiration and calls Doctor Gregor.
Back at the Gregor house, Marilyn and her father are agonizing over what a dickhead Don turned out to be when the phone rings and they agree to go to Brady's place at 7:00.
At the station house, Detective Lawrence walks into the office with his shirt off (don't forget that he's played by Steve "Hercules" Reeves in his screen debut) and Inspector Johns suggests that he go to the Gregor's and make a play for Marilyn while scoping the place out for Don. Lawrence rings the doorbell just as Marilyn's getting ready to leave, so she blows him off. After he leaves, Marilyn packs a gun and meets her father out at the car. Together they go to Brady's and the punk tells him the deal: change my face so I can get away and I'll give you your son back. Don't do it, and I'll kill you all. The Doctor, not knowing that Don is already dead, agrees to the deal and sets about performing the operation on the living room couch. The Doctor goes into the kitchen to get a basin of hot water and discovers his dead son standing behind the shower curtain that serves as the door to the pantry when he pulls it aside. Don tumbles out and there's no way I can tell you what the doctor's reaction is, so you'll just have to see that yourself. There's a little exposition about the Moll and Vic's relationship in the living room, and then the Doctor comes back in and performs the operation. After he's done, the Moll is going to kill the two of them when the Doc reminds her that, if infection sets in, they've got nowhere to go but to him. Realizing that what the Doc says is true, she lets them go. The doctor tells her to come to his house in two weeks for the removal of the bandages.
Two weeks later, Inspector Johns gets a call asking him to come to the Gregor house at 7:30 that night. He agrees.
At Brady's, he and his Moll discuss what they're going to do once the bandages are off (they plan to kill both of them and skip town).
When they arrive at the Gregor house, the Moll holds the gun on the Doc and Marilyn while the former removes the bandages. Even though the cops come in and catch them red-handed holding the Gregors at gunpoint, the Moll protests that her "husband" is a law-abiding citizen and that she'll bring them up on charges for what they're doing.
Off come the bandages and….
If you don't want the "shock ending of this movie revealed to you, stop reading now and rent the tape. If you don't give a tin shit (like I figure most of you don't), read on…
With his back to the camera, Vic's bandages are removed (after the Doc pontificates about duty to the law, himself, and his family) and everyone (except the Doctor) recoils in horror. Gloating, Vic defies the cops to tell him that this face was spotted at the scene of any crime. Inspector Johns replies, "Well, then I take over here. Come in, Miss Willis!" and in walks the secretary from the theatre, who identifies Brady as "the man who killed Mac!" After protesting that she's crazy, Brady is then handed a mirror and sees that he now has the face of Don Gregor! He runs out back and is killed trying to escape. The end.
You know, you've got to hand it to Ed Wood. Not only did he make inept science fiction films (Plan 9 From Outer Space), juvenile delinquent films (The Violent Years), horror films (Night of the Ghouls), mad scientist films (Bride of the Monster) and pseudo-adult films (The Sinister Urge), he also made inept crime films!
Jail Bait! (original title: The Hidden Face) made in 1954, was Ed Wood's entry into the film noir sweepstakes. Excellent examples of this genre (Christ I hate that word, but I can't think of another) are
· Gun Crazy (1949) Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Not the 1992 version directed by Tamara Davis, although that's not a bad movie.)
· Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Directed by Robert Aldrich
· The Maltese Falcon (1941) Directed by John Huston
· The Big Heat (1953) Directed by Fritz Lang
But we're not talking about excellent examples, are we?
Jail Bait was Ed Wood's second feature film, after his debut film Glen Or Glenda? (aka I Changed My Sex, Male Or Female, I Led Two Lives, He Or She, and The Transvestite) and is a testimony to his ability to con people into giving him money to make a movie. In an interview with PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO magazine (#14), Timothy Farrell (Vic Brady) recalled, "On that picture, Ed Wood had posted a bond with the unions and we were supposed to start something like next Monday. Well, we started this Monday and somewhere around Tuesday or Wednesday - Jesus Christ! All of a sudden all these people came walking on the set. They were the business managers for all the I.A. (International Association) locals, SAG (Screen Actor's Guild), and cameramen and electricians and everybody and there was a big brouhaha over that thing. Oh, Jesus. Lyle (Talbot, who played Inspector Johns) at the time was on the board of directors of SAG, and of course the guy from SAG was sort of upset to see him working there. I don't know how Ed conned them into letting him finish the day's work, but he did and the day's work took us almost into the next day. We just kept going all night long. But I remembered that raid. God damn! I don't know why I should have been scared, but I was scared! But it didn't bother Ed. He talked his way out of it somehow. What a life! I was young then. It was a lot of fun!"
Well, it's good to know they had as much fun making this film as we do watching it. I would have given my left arm to hear Wood pitch that story.
Wood and his co-writer, Alex Gordon (later of American International Pictures) based their screenplay on the British feature Let 'Em Have It (aka False Faces) and released it through Howco distribution.
Herbert Rawlinson (Doctor Boris Gregor) was a radio actor and died of lung cancer the day after he finished filming his scenes, which I think may explain why his delivery is a bit breathy. He seems like a competent actor to me, in spite of the lines he was given to read. His reaction at seeing his son dead in this film, though, is one of my favorite moments in the whole thing. One friend of mine laughed so hard at this that I made him a fifteen minute loop tape of that shot.
Timothy Farrell (Vic Brady) is probably best remembered for his role as The Psychiatrist in Glen or Glenda. He was also in Test Tube Babies (1948), The Devil's Sleep (1949), Pin Down Girl (1950), Dance Hall Racket (1953), and A Star Is Born (1954). He played a character named Umberto Scali in three movies, always sporting the pencil-thin moustache he wore in Jail Bait. He was also in Ed Wood's The Violent Years, A story about a teenage girl gang made in 1956 and starring Jean Moorehead , the mom on The Patty Duke Show.
Delores Fuller (Marilyn Gregor) was Ed Wood's girlfriend at the time of Jail Bait. The largest role she had in her entire career was playing Barbara (a lovely, intelligent girl) in Glen Or Glenda? where she basically played herself, and not too well at that. She takes umbrage at the way she was portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in Ed Wood: In an interview with Psychotronic Video #22 she said, "It portrayed me as a young actress just out for anything she could get… Just the way she played my part was nothing like me. …The writers did not portray our love and our working together and our trying to fulfill our dreams." She appeared in 14 other movies (including Mesa of Lost Women as one of the Spider Gals) and a ton of television shows (including the worst show ever on tv, Queen For A Day… if you're a fan of bad, find out anything you can about this travesty. This show was, in all ways, conceptually, morally and intellectually the most rotten show ever to see airtime.) After leaving films, she wrote songs for Elvis Presley! You can see what Delores looks like today by renting Ed Wood - Look Back In Angora, and if you can get your hands on ANY copies of the BBC's The Incredibly Strange Film Show or its sister incarnation, Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show, by all means get it!! The show consisted of interviews with the likes of John Waters, George Romero, Ray Dennis Steckler, Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, Russ Meyer, and Doris Wishman. Broadcast a few years ago on the Discovery Channel (and if anyone from that network is reading this, PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE put it back on!!!!!) An absolute must see!
Lyle Talbot (Inspector Johns) was well-known in Hollywood since the early 1930's, being (as mentioned above) President of SAG as well as having appeared in many mainstream movies, including Champagne For Caesar (1950) with Vincent Price and Ronald Colman, as well as Glen Or Glenda, City of Fear, Atom Man vs. Superman, and Three on a match. An accomplished character actor, he also appeared in many fifties television shows, including I Married Joan. A close friend of Ed Wood, he also appeared in the director's best known film, Plan 9 From Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers From Outer Space. The reason for the title change was because the producers, both Baptist ministers, felt the latter title was blasphemous). Reminiscing in Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., he recalled, "We worked at one place up on Sunset Boulevard, at a motel that had a swimming pool. We were shooting around the pool, and his cameraman and lighting guy had the damnedest equipment - it was just like, little
Wire things with tin cans, literally. I hear this voice, 'Hey, Talbot! What the hell are you doing down there?' It was Jimmy Cagney, he was up on the second floor, visiting some friends. I said, 'We're making a movie - do you want to be in it?' He said, 'Sure!' He wasn't drinking, Cagney didn't drink. About the time he was coming down, the motel manager appeared, 'Get the hell out of here!' And he was threatening to call the cops, Eddie hadn't asked permission for it. Everybody just took off, and he'd go find another location. But Eddie was always stealing shots like that."
Theodora Thurman (The Moll) was a much in demand high-fashion model who was a cover girl for American and French Vogue. Interviewed in Rudolf Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., she explained, "Columbia Pictures offered me a starring role and I refused to come because I was in New York , and I was working for Vogue and all these places like that as a fashion model. And New York excited me so much that I couldn't bear the thought of leaving, and I heard so many negative things about Hollywood that I couldn't chuck everything I had thee, I was riding the crest of a wave. And I didn't want to cut it short, so I turned it down…" After going to Europe and staying "for a long time", she returned to the U.S. and accepted work with NBC "…'Cause that would take me to New York… So at NBC I was known as the sexy weather girl for Jack Parr." After appearing in Jail Bait, she continued her print work and went on to work extensively in radio and television .
Steve Reeves (Detective Lieutenant Lawrence) was Mr. America in 1947 and Mr. Universe in 1950. His first film was Jail Bait! and went on to become famous as a Hollywood muscleman, most notably in the Hercules series. He also appeared in the Maciste series, which were basically Hercules rip-offs. Today he raises Morgan horses on his ranch outside of San Diego. From Nightmare of Ecstasy: "It was a pleasure to work with a director like Ed Wood. He was patient and understood how to make new and inexperienced actors feel at ease and get the best performance out of them." Delores Fuller: "This was Steve Reeves' first picture - it took him 27 takes to tie a tie. And he'd sit there with the girls, and eat his dried fruit and nuts. While we were waiting. And he just enjoyed girl talk. He enjoyed it like he was one of the gals. Big, handsome, beautiful hunk of man. And we had some kissing scenes, and there was no chemistry. Usually, when you get a hunk of man like that and you kiss him it goes right through you… but with him it didn't!
Clancy Malone AKA Scott McCloud (Don Gregor) made one film as far as I can tell from my research, and that was Jail Bait. I think one was enough.
Sources: Psychotronic Video magazine, #15 - "Umberto Scali Lives! The Timothy Farrell Interview" by Rudolf Grey; Psychotronic Video #22 - Dolores Fuller - Interview by S.L. Duff, and "Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr." (Feral House) by Rudolf Grey.
Other reviews for this movie:
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