Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Confessions of a Vice Baron (1943)

Confessions of a Vice Baron is a great example of the recycling abilities of the exploitation movie makes of the 30s and 40s. Can you shoot just a few minutes of new footage, using a single actor and a single set, and still come up with a feature film? Of course you can! Willis Kent Productions can show you how.

The method used was quite ingenious. Willy Castello had made numerous movies for Willis Kent Productions over the preceding decade or so, always playing a sleazy bad guy of some description. So a framing story was devised - gangster Lucky Lombardo is about to go to the electric chair and decides to tell his story as a warning to others that there’s no such thing as easy money, that vice will always be punished. His criminal career is then recounted in a series of flashbacks, the flashbacks being made up entirely from footage from previous Willis Kent films.

The fact that Willy Castello played different characters in all these movies is no problem - he simply tells us he used a wide variety of aliases. And whatever type of bad guy he played in the earlier movies, whether he was a white slaver, a gigolo, an abortionist or whatever, is equally simply explained as another phase in his varied career.

It’s a shameless ploy to produce a movie for almost no outlay whatsoever but it works surprisingly well. All the movies Willy Castello made were of a similar type - outrageous exploitation shockers. So stringing bits and pieces of them together makes perfect sense.

And the advantage of this technique is that you get every imaginable exploitation element combined in one movie! There’s some fairly lurid content here. Plenty of shots of young ladies in sexy 1940s underwear - these were practically compulsory in exploitation movies. But there’s actual nudity as well. Not a while lot of violence but violence wasn’t the main attraction in exploitation movies, even those concerned with organised crime.

Willy Castello was always an entertaining villain. Not a great actor by any means but perfect for these types of movies.

Naturally this movie has the other qualities that aficionados of the classical exploitation movie enjoy - the acting by the supporting players is delightfully bad, the sets are incredibly cheap, and everything looks the way you’d expect in movies made on minuscule budgets. There’s a certain film noirish ambience as well, but with sexual content that you won’t find in actual film noir. Being made entirely outside the Hollywood studio system and not being subject to the Production Code exploitation producers was certainly an advantage. There were still limits, mainly imposed by the various state censorship boards but they could still get away with a lot more than any of the established studios could.

The framing story here provides the perfect “square-up” - the moralising message that Crime Does Not Pay which then justifies all the wickedness presented by the movie. The square-up just makes these movies that much more fun.

Confessions of a Vice Baron is included in the fabulous Girls Gone Bad - the Delinquent Dames Collection DVD boxed set. They’re all public domain titles and the quality is variable but the picture quality is at least watchable on all of them and it’s a terrific selection of exploitation movie naughtiness.

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