The Woman Condemned (1934) begins with what appears for all the world to be the blackmail of a radio personality, Jane Merrick (Lola Lane, who was also a vocalist in a sister group, the Lane Sisters), who is willing to pay dearly to keep her situation secret.
Station manager Jim Wallace (Jason Robards, father of the better remembered Jason Robards) wants her to marry him, but she is strangely eager to take a leave of absence from her popular radio program.
Jane is soonafter murdered. A young woman caught at the scene (Claudia Dell), having picked up the murder weapon as innocent people often do in films like this one, becomes the prime suspect.
This mysterious young woman goes by Beatrice or Betty but her real name is Barbara. She ends up being assisted by handsome young attorney Jerry (Richard Hemingway) who falls for her & cannot believe her guilty.
Jane's black maid Sally has been acting particularly strange & as Jerry looks more deeply into the matter, he wants to find other suspects, & becomes suspicious of the maid, though Sally is another innocent soul.
Sally was played by Louise Beavers, one of those wonderful character actors unfortunately typecast as maid, cook, or mammy, though she is one of the few who became a big star in her own right, the star of an early television series Beulah taking over the role for the third & final season (1952-3), & afterward playing the maid on another early sitcom Make Room for Daddy.
One of her best film roles was as Jackie's mom in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950). In Imitation of Life (1934) she played a business partner with Claudette Colbert, a revolutionary idea for cinema at the time, that black & white women could go into business together as genuine equals.
Watch just her performance in The Woman Condemned & you'll find it more nuanced than the cardboard characters played by the stars. You can see a portrait of Louise Beavers with the review of A Shriek in the Night (1933).
[SPOILER ALERT!] The presumed blackmail plot turns out to be other than it seemed. Jane's alive & perfectly all right in a private hospital where she has gone to have a birthmark removed by a plastic surgeon (Mischa Auer misdirecting the audience with his sinister demeanor). Jane wasn't trying to keep some secret of her past hidden by paying off a blackmailer, but paid a surgeon for a procedure she wished would remain extremely private.
It is revealed that Jane had a twin sister June, & that's who got killed. This absurd plot further leads to an attempt to trick Dapper Dan (Paul Ellis) into a confession, during a stagey climax that makes it all increasingly absurd, though played with a certain histrionic panache.
When it's all tied up with a neat bow, with Jane strangely less affected than most twins would be by the loss of their sister, there's a lovey-dovey-kissy coda as an assurance of happy ever after. [END SPOILER ALERT!]
A crime story for housewives, it's annoying to me to find one of those rare old films directed by a woman, but it turns out to be so trivial. The plot twists are more plot cheats & the story told is entirely the wrong one.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl