Lady in Red, The / Guns, Sin, and Bathtub Gin (1979)

“Beauty killed the beast, my ass — it was all them reporters.”

Lady in Red Poster

Synopsis:
A farm girl (Pamela Sue Martin) with dreams of making it big in Hollywood struggles to survive in Chicago, and eventually falls for notorious criminal John Dillinger (Robert Conrad).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this entertaining “pay-TV favorite” rises above its “conventional New World-Roger Corman material” through “fast-paced, flavorful direction by Lewis Teague; a snappy script by John Sayles…; and a surprisingly engaging performance by [“Dynasty”‘s] Martin, who exhibits a winning combination of sex and savvy” and appears “remarkably at ease” in her first leading film role. While ostensibly focused on Martin’s role as an unwitting accomplice in Dillinger’s infamous death, Sayles’ heavily fictionalized, socially conscientious script is actually more concerned with presenting Martin’s coming-of-age story, as she transitions from dreamy farm girl (humming “42nd Street” to herself while collecting eggs in her father’s barn) to sweatshop employee to dance hall girl to prostitute to waitress, doing what she can to survive while sticking up for what she knows is right. She’s presented as innocently uninformed about Dillinger’s true identity, so her embroilment in his death comes across as simply one more stroke of bad luck against her — leading to the film’s “final act”, in which she decides not only to get even against the mob, but to “get ahead”. Filled with fine period detail, subtle social commentary, and smart supporting performances, Lady in Red is a worthy entry in the “Depression-era gangster film” genre, and should be seen by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pamela Sue Martin as Polly
    Lady in Red Martin
  • Louise Fletcher as Anna Sage
    Lady in Red Fletcher
  • Nancy Parsons as Tiny Alice
    Lady in Red Parsons
  • Effective period detail
    Lady in Red Period Detail
  • John Sayles’ smart, socially conscious script
    Lady in Red Script
  • James Horner’s score

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around good show.

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One Response to “Lady in Red, The / Guns, Sin, and Bathtub Gin (1979)”

  1. A must – and probably a good one to return to now and then.

    This has held up remarkably well, and it’s kind of weird that it’s not now readily available. It’s a top-drawer B-flick – meaning it’s been served up with the care usually given to an A-pic. It’s economic, it moves well, has a dandy script by Sayles, terrific attention to period detail, solid direction by Teague, and is uniformly well acted. (Martin is super and owns the film!) Of particular note is the editing (three editors are credited, including Teague) – the visual manipulation helps the storytelling immensely.

    It’s also refreshing that a different approach is taken to the biopic. Rather than being focused on the life story of a real criminal, ‘TLIR’ takes a peripheral view. As a result, we’re much less hung up on what may or may not be true, yet we’re allowed to experience the story in a more viable way.

    I mostly like the very blunt approach that’s taken as the story unfolds – it’s noticeably unapologetic. And kudos to the feminist stance: it’s wonderful seeing the instances in which women in groups won’t swallow crap.

    Side notes:

    Why is Robert Forster uncredited for his fine supporting role as Turk?

    Nancy Parsons – as Tiny Alice: hers is a role you are itching to see comeuppance for. Thankfully, you do. (The next year, Parsons delivered a blissfully wacky turn in ‘Motel Hell’.)

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