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  Lady in Red, The Female Trouble
Year: 1979
Director: Lewis Teague
Stars: Pamela Sue Martin, Robert Conrad, Louise Fletcher, Laurie Heineman, Glenn Withrow, Rod Gist, Peter Hobbs, Christopher Lloyd, Nancy Parsons, Dick Miller, Alan Vint, Milt Kogan, Chip Fields, Buck Young, Mary Woronov, Robert Forster
Genre: Drama, Thriller, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the Depression, Polly Franklin (Pamela Sue Martin) is the daughter of a strictly religious farmer, but dreams one day of becoming a dancer. She takes the eggs to town as usual and sees the stills from 42nd Street on a display outside the local cinema, which she surreptitiously steals only to notice she is being watched by a woman (Mary Woronov) in a red dress standing next to a car. What the woman is doing is waiting for the robbers of the bank across the street, and when they rush out shooting, she grabs Polly and makes her stand on the running board as the car speeds off. Polly may jump off when the car slows down while driving through the countryside, but this incident will lead her to a life of crime and a minor place in history...

Nothing to do with Chris de Burgh, although Polly does a spot of dancing (but not with him, and certainly not cheek to cheek), The Lady in Red was scripted by future cult director John Sayles, and featured his trademark addition of a social conscience to pulp material. That feature lifts the film above the customary Bonnie and Clyde-inspired gangster films of the seventies, coming as it did late in the cycle, and provides a measure of depth to the action and fairly straightforward story. In case you didn't know, Polly was the woman who accompanied notorious gangster John Dillinger (here played by Robert Conrad) on the night of his death.

But before she gets to meet Dillinger, she has to suffer an abundance of trials and tribulations in her personal life. When she gets home late (after losing her virginity to a callous reporter who was travelling through town to cover the robbery), her father flies into a rage and beats her, so she makes up her mind to leave that very night. Heading for the big city, she gets a job sewing along with a number of other women, and gains a friend in Rose (Laurie Heineman), a left-leaning fugitive who works there. Here it is clear that Sayles is determined to pack in a whole load of women's issues to colour the tale, and in the main this succeeds.

So not only does Polly endure sexual harrassment courtesy of her boss (Dick Miller), but one of her fellow workers has a miscarriage after being pregnant with an illegitimate baby, and Polly has to leave her job after standing up for her. This means the only work she can get is now as a ten cents a dance girl, a thinly veiled front for prostitution, and when she tries to make extra money this way she is caught by the police. Then we are treated to a short women in prison movie, which provides the nudity, including Martin who was obviously trying to change her wholesome image of playing Nancy Drew on TV (she appeared in Playboy around the same time).

But where's Dillinger? you may be asking. And the answer arrives when Polly turns prostitute for a career, chiefly to get out of prison and to help Rose, who was coincidentally incarcerated in the same cell as her. There she meets Anna (Louise Fletcher with a funny accent), who introduces the theme of immigration to an already packed subtext, and a mysterious man she takes a liking to. This is Dillinger, who rather improbably is a really nice guy in this incarnation, and Polly has no idea who he is until that fateful night when they go to see Manhattan Melodrama. The violence is plentiful and predictably bloody, the tone is commendably gritty, and the sexual angle is emphasised, but the conscience is there too, either meaning The Lady in Red has social implications or is having its cake and eating it too. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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