17 August 2019 | lugonian
The Public Enemy's Girl
MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE (Paramount, 1935), directed by William K. Howard, ranks one of the finer prison related themed crime stories from the 1930s. Not as intense as the more famous I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (Warner Brothers, 1932) starring Paul Muni, nor one taken from a stage play as THE LAST MILE (Tiffany, 1932) featuring Preston Foster, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE stars Sylvia Sidney in the title role of an innocent girl who becomes a victim of circumstance through no fault of her own.
Mary Burns (Sylvia Sidney), owner of a roadside coffee cup shop next door to a garage/gas station in the country, awaits the arrival of Babe Wilson (Alan Baxter), an oil salesman whom she sees every three or four weeks. Upon his arrival, Babe, a man Mary knows little about, proposes marriage to her and wants her to immediately leave everything behind and accompany him to Canada. Minutes later, police arrive to arrest Babe, exposed as a wanted gangster and cold-blooded killer. Shooting his partner, Joe (Norman Willis), so not to reveal the location of the stolen bonds, Babe makes his daring escape, leaving Mary to face arrest. During her trial by jury, Mary is cross-examined by an attorney, revealing she knew nothing about Babe Wilson except that she loved him. Because of poor sufficient evidence, Mary is found guilty and sentenced to serve 15 years in the penitentiary. Unable to get parole for disclosing Wilson's whereabouts to Harper (Wallace Ford) from the parole board, Mary, not wanting to spend any more time behind bars, talks Goldie Gordon (Pert Kelton), her cellmate, into joining her in a well-planned prison break. Now living in a tenement apartment somewhere in the city with Goldie, and flat broke, Mary, alias Alice Brown, takes a chance in obtaining a night job as dishwasher at the Mercy Hospital. While there, Mary meets patient, Barton Powell (Melvyn Douglas), an noted explorer with bandaged eyes due to snow blindness he got in Tibet. He not only likes the sound of her voice, but her coffee as well. When Spike (Brian Donlevy), locates Mary with intentions of taking her back to Babe, Mary escapes to Kansas, only to be pursued by Harper, hoping she will lead him to Babe before any further hold-ups and killings occur. Others in the cast include: Esther Dale (Kate); Daniel L. Haynes (Jeremiah, Powell's butler); Cora Sue Collins (Dorothy); and George Chandler, among others.
An exciting story that keeps viewers interest for its entire 84 minutes. Alan Baxter, in his motion picture debut, gives a promising start to his movie career playing a hooded gangster. Unlike movie tough guys as James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft and later Humphrey Bogart who all achieved popularity through their wide-range of performances, Baxter never became a top-rated actor in the Alan Ladd mode. Though he did a distinctive way of talking as well as some leading roles, mostly in second-rate features, Baxter appeared mainly in either supporting or minor parts throughout his movie or TV career. Baxter worked again opposite Sylvia Sidney in THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE (1936), but had little to do, especially when the major male co-stars were Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray. Melvyn Douglas, who appears 39 minutes into the start of the story, gives a fine performance as a bickering hospital patient who softens himself to his new assistant, Mary, unaware of her troubled past. Pert Kelton, better known as a sassy blonde in comedies, is surprisingly cast as a tough prison inmate, and does it so well. A pity she didn't get enough stronger roles like this to display her acting ability than just a secondary comedienne. Like many movies of the type, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE doesn't disappoint. The car radio playing to the tune, "I'm in the Mood for Love" introduced from EVERY NIGHT AT EIGHT (1935), is vocalized by Frances Langford.
Though MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE did have enough commercial television exposure through much of the 1960s and 70s, like Sylvia Sidney's other Paramount film releases of the 1930s, this film remains overlooked and forgotten. Never distributed on video cassette, MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE got its long overdue broadcast on cable television's Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: August 5, 2019). (***)