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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ed Wood directs Jail Bait, the film with a twist ending

Jail Bait, 1954, 72 minutes, Howco, B and W. Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Starring Lyle Talbot as Inspector John, Dolores Fuller as Marilyn Gregor, Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Boris Gregor, Steve Reeves as Lt. Bob Lawrence, Clancy Malone as Don Gregor, Timothy Farrell as Vic Brady, Theodora Thurman as Loretta, Bud Osborne as the night watchman, and Mona McKinnon as Miss Willis. Conrad Brooks has a cameo. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

Jail Bait is a cult film lover's delight. It's Ed Wood's first foray into crime pictures, and except for a very annoying musical score, it's not a half-bad film. Of course, it has Wood's mark of organized chaos, where he simply didn't have the budget to make this picture, but that just adds to the viewing fun.

The plot concerns a young man gone bad from a nice family (Malone) and his sinister confederate in crime (Farrell, who really is good in the role). Malone is eventually killed by Farrell, who then takes the slain gangster's sister (Fuller) and father (Rawlinson) hostage. The dad is a plastic surgeon, and he has a few tricks up the sleeve for Farrell at the end of the film. Talbot and strongman Reeves (in his first film) play cops assigned to catch Malone and Farrell. Theodora Thurman, who was a top model in the 1950s, plays Farrell's moll. (According to the new book on Wood's films, Malone delivered Wood's groceries prior to his sole acting credit.)

The acting is, of course, weak, and Wood hurries through each scene, reflecting the tiny budget. But Wood's eccentric personality is on full display. Depending on which print you view, action is interrupted for a minstrel show or a very faded scene of a striptease. (my copy shows the striptease) Also the climax of the film takes place at a motel, where Wood stole shots. Wood tries hard to achieve a type of film noir atmosphere, and almost succeeds at times, particularly with Farrell.

Like any Wood film, the story behind the movie is just as interesting as the film. Watch silent film star Rawlinson very closely during his scenes as the aging dad/plastic surgeon. If he appears tired it shouldn't be a surprise. He died the morning after filming. Rawlinson's role, in fact, was intended for Bela Lugosi, but he was too sick to do it. Also, Reeves took 27 takes to tie his tie, which must have driven the thrifty Wood mad. The great actor Jimmy Cagney was visiting the motel where Wood and cast was stealing a scene shot. Cagney offered to be in the film, but everyone was chased from the motel by the irate manager. If you are a Wood fan, buy Jail Bait. It's a must for your cult films collection. But even those who aren't Wood fans will find it worth a $2 rental. By the way: Jail Bait in the title refers to a gun, not a woman.

Watch "Jail Bait" below.

-- Doug Gibson


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