AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Girls in Chains
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer (Dir)
Release Date:   17 May 1943
Production Date:   late Jan--early Feb 1943
Duration (in mins):   71-72
Duration (in feet):   6,492
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Cast:   Arline Judge (Helen [Martin])  
    Roger Clark (Frank Donovan)  
  with Robin Raymond (Rita)  
    Barbara Pepper (Ruth)  
    Dorothy Burgess (Mrs. Peters)  
    Clancy Cooper (Marcus)  
    Allan Byron (Johnny Moon)  
    Patricia Knox (Jean [Moon])  
    Sidney Melton (Pinkhead)  
    Russell Gaige (Dalvers)  
    Emmett Lynn (Lionel Cleeter)  
    Richard Clarke (Tom Havershield)  
    Betty Blythe (Mrs. Grey)  
    Peggy Stewart (Terry)  
    Beverly Boyd (George)  
    Kay Thorne (Lizzie)  
    Mary Bovard (Taffy)  
    Gloria Lake (Dottie)  
    Ruth Baird (Myra)  
    Eleanor Counts (Linda)  
    Eileen Terrie (Maria)  
    Bob Hill (Dr. Orchard)  
    Henry Hall (Judge Coolidge)  
    Ernie Alexander (Photographer)  
    Eddie Coke (Reporter)  
    Mrs. Gardener Green (Mrs. McCarthy)  
    Crane Whitley (Rev. Greene)  
    Suzanne Ridgway (Girl)  
    Charles Jordan (Police doctor)  
    Kenneth Harlan (Lt. Jackson)  
    Roy Butler (Bailiff)  
    Dorothy Brown (Elevator girl)  
    Francis Ford (Jury foreman)  
    Gerald Brock (Naldi)  

Summary: Racketeer and political boss Johnny Moon cold-bloodedly kills one of his lackeys and is later found innocent of the crime. Johnny's sister-in-law, schoolteacher and trained psychologist Helen Martin, is then dismissed from her job because the school board fears that she will be a bad influence on the children. Although Helen's sympathetic supervisor, Dalvers, recommends her for a job teaching at the women's County Corrections School, Helen decides to leave town and urges her sister Jean to accompany her. Jean, however, is committed to unfaithful Johnny, and refuses to leave. Helen reconsiders her departure and applies for the reformatory position, after which she is questioned by policeman Frank Donovan, an inspector for the county board. Although the conservative women who head the board oppose Helen's employment because of her connection to Johnny, Frank wholeheartedly recommends her, and convinces the other board members, Reverend Greene and Lionel Cleeter, to vote in her favor. One of the inmates dies due to neglect on the same day that Helen reports for duty, and Helen is appalled by the poor conditions at the reformatory. However, Marcus, her supervisor, keeps a tight rein on her activities. Helen tries to be a positive and encouraging force for the jaded women who populate the reformatory, but Marcus and his helper, Mrs. Peters, thwart her attempts at every opportunity. Johnny's most recent girl friend, Rita, a waitress, is installed in the facility, but Johnny ensures that she gets special treatment. One day, the women riot and are put in solitary confinement. Helen confronts Johnny and vows to report the wretched conditions to the governor if Johnny does not make improvements. Johnny then reprimands Marcus for chiseling money from the reformatory and advises him to lay off of Helen. Helen, in the meantime, has combined her efforts with Frank to get proof that Mayor McCarthy is corrupt and takes orders from Johnny. As part of their plan, Frank and Helen bring Rita's former boyfriend, Tom Havershield, to visit her. Touched by Tom's concern, Rita undergoes a reformation and promises to testify against Johnny. Johnny forestalls this by releasing Rita from prison and murdering her, and he has Helen suspended from her job. Frank relentlessly pursues the murder investigation, but comes up with nothing. Cleeter, who has become a hapless drunk and witnessed Rita's murder, confronts Johnny, who throws him off the edge of a newly constructed dam. Cleeter clings to life and calls Frank to his hospital bed to tell him he is a witness. Helen warns her sister that Johnny is about to be arrested, but Jean refuses to leave, and the apartment is surrounded by police. Frank follows Johnny onto a rooftop and is forced to kill him in self-defense. Later, with Helen and Frank's evidence, the governor dismisses McCarthy after revealing his corruption, and appoints Helen as the new corrections facility superintendent. 

Production Company: Atlantis Pictures Corp.  
Production Text: Leon Fromkess in Charge of Production
Distribution Company: Producers Releasing Corp.  
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer (Dir)
  Mel DeLay (Asst dir)
  Ben Kamsler (Dial dir)
Producer: Peter R. Van Duinen (Prod)
Writer: Albert Beich (Scr)
  Edgar G. Ulmer (Based upon a story by)
Photography: Ira Morgan (Dir of photog)
Film Editor: Charles Henkel Jr. (Ed)
Set Decoration: Harry Reif (Set dressings)
Music: Leo Erdody (Mus score)
Sound: Hans Weeren (Sd eng)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Producers Releasing Corp. 17/4/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP11980

PCA NO: 9182
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

Genre: Melodrama
Subjects (Major): Murder
  Women prisoners
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Moral reformation
  Political corruption

Note: Information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that the PCA's primary concern with the film was that there be "no suggestion of a sex affair between Johnny and Rita" and that "restraint should be used in the scenes of the girls rioting." HR news items reported the following: Sylvia Sidney was sought for the lead role, but was unavailable due to prior commitments; Bryant Washburn and Lloyd Ingraham were slated to appear, but their appearances in the final film have not been confirmed. In a modern interview, director Edgar G. Ulmer noted that his idea for the story came from a newspaper report about political corruption in a women's jail, and that the film was shot in five days. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   17 Apr 1943.   
Daily Variety   1 Apr 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   7 Apr 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Nov 42   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jan 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Apr 43   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Apr 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   10 Apr 43   p. 1250.
Variety   1 Sep 43   p. 20.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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