Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Gambling with Souls (1936)

Gambling with Souls (AKA The Vice Racket) is another bizarre 1930s exploitation shocker from the boxed set Girls Gone Bad: The Delinquent Dames Collection.

Mae is a respectable doctor’s wife in a decent clean-living town. She is befriended by an older woman, Molly Murdock, who convinces her that perhaps playing bridge isn’t the ultimate thrill that life has to offer. She lures her to a gambling club. At first Mae has a remarkable streak of luck, and is able to but herself all the luxuries her husband can’t provide. Pretty soon though her luck begins to change, and before she knows it she’s in debt up to her eyeballs. And the owner of the gambling club, Lucky Wilder, turns out not to be such a nice man as she initially thought. Molly then explains to her how she can work off her debt - by entertaining wealthy gentlemen.

The gambling club was just a front for a white slavery racket! The first gentleman she has to entertain seems rather nice though, and it doesn’t take too much encouragement on his part to get her out of her clothes. And at least it’s better than having her husband find out she’s been gambling! This first man actually works for Lucky Wilder - his job is to provide an easy introduction to the world of prostitution for innocent women like Mae. Before long Mae is having to entertain lots of other men, and they’re not so much fun. Mae is so ashamed she leaves her husband, but her husband (a dedicated doctor and a paragon of domestic virtue) and her sister are determined to track her down and restore her to married bliss. Unfortunately the sister also fall into Lucky Wilder’s clutches, and takes the same road to ruin that Mae has already traveled.

This delightfully lurid story is told in flashbacks, as Mae is interrogated by the District Attorney after a raid on the gambling club. During the course of the raid Lucky Wilder’s bullet-riddled body had been discovered by the cops. Mae recounts the whole sad story, punctuated by moralising asides from the DA and by her still-devoted husband.

This movie has everything you expect from a 1936 American exploitation movie - almost non-existent production values, wonderfully hammy acting, plenty of little moral lectures, and lots of shots of young ladies in their underwear. And it has the illicit thrill of moral wickedness - gambling, prostitution, abortion, good girls gone bad, and all without the censorship of the Hollywood Production Code (since the tiny independent production companies that churned out these potboilers weren’t bound by the Code). If you’re a fan of these lurid exposes of shocking immorality lurking behind the respectable facade of American society then you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Gambling with Souls.

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