Samuel Fullerís characters burst with free-geysering impulses while Douglas Sirkís live and die by their ritzy straitjackets -- the opening sequence (the camera rises out of the gutter to follow a sharp-faced brunette around Hollywood Blvd.) at once gives the captivating tension between the grunge of Fullerís screenplay and the sheen of Sirkís direction. About to meet her parole officer (Cornel Wilde), the newly released jailbird (Patricia Knight) dons white gown and heels, halo hat and peroxided tresses, a bit of ersatz purification to go with her ersatz ingťnue poise. Two or three scenes later and sheís been picked up during a bookie raid, along with the oily underworld dandy she did time for (John Baragrey). What makes a lawbreaker? "Itís hereditary... Itís environment... Itís a joke!" Turns out itís romantic ardor, something far more volatile: "Put that in your test tube, Doc, and what do you see?" The mannequin and the flatfoot have a go as Borzagian sweethearts on the lam, but the presiding feeling is one of prisons everywhere -- not just the cell waiting for the heroine to make a false move, but also Wildeís law office (vide the veritable web of metal and glass that is the half-circular window behind his desk) and even his family home, which, crammed with Old World arches, staircases and blind-yet-all-seeing mamas, is less domestic sanctuary than template for Sirkís later bourgeois mausoleums. An Emerson poem states the theme (Give All to Love), the heroine states the style ("corrosion"). The much-maligned ending is actually consistent with the vehement contradictions of Fullerís assorted bruisers, "something to do with human nature." They Live by Night is concurrent, Written on the Windís oil pumps already line the horizon. With Esther Minciotti, Howard St. John, Russell Collins, and Charles Bates. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce