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  • Once again, Turner Classic Movies has rescued another rough-cut gem from obscurity in the musty vaults of Hollywood! TCM has changed my life by showing the classics that most of us never even knew existed. And "Girls of the Road" is definitely in that category.

    Okay, so it's not "Gone With the Wind," but it's a classic even so. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's about female hobos from the Depression, running from the cops, fighting each other, living the vida loca al camino! Only in this subculture, all the women are young, beautiful and "good on the inside." Closest thing to this story I've seen is the "women in prison" movie genre of the period. There's a social-reform angle to it, as there was in many of the women in prison films. Remember, this was 1940--the Production Code ruled Hollywood. It was not possible to depict any vagrants or criminals in a positive light, at least not until they received a moral makeover.

    Watch it for entertainment, though, not for any particular message. Such as it was, the message was about as substantive as a mouthful of cotton candy. The stars had some funny lines, almost all were good looking, and life didn't look so bad at the end. What more can you ask for?
  • While it's true this movie is badly dated, I still think is worthwhile as a snapshot in time.

    Made in 1940, it chronicles the experiences of a group of wandering hobo woman caught in the economic grinder of the depression. I think it's valuable, because most of us - even us ancianos - have little conception of how desperate and depressing things were back in those days.

    The movie stars Ann Dvorak, Helen Mack, and Lola Lane, with a very competent supporting cast including Ann Doran and Mary Field. Ann Dvorak's performance especially stands out and reminds me of what an underrated actress she really was. While many of the others overact - I guess we can blame the director for a lot of that - her performance is understated and perfectly believable. But even though the production is theatrical and a little overdone, there are still nuggets of real emotion if you look for them. An expression, a tear in the eye, a quivering voice. Not what I would have expected in a melodrama like this.

    This movie makes a sincere attempt to deal with, what was a real contemporary problem back when it was made, and although we have our own problems to deal with today, looking back in history is always a good way to keep from repeating it. Take a look.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Just through being her usual feisty self and trying to fight for better pay and parts Ann Dvorak found she wasn't at the top for very long. But with her luminous, compelling talent she made sure whatever the movie (even the most unentertaining Perry Mason) - she was going to make her role stand out. "Girls of the Road" was her last American movie for a while - she went to Britain with her husband Leslie Fenton, enrolled in the Woman's Land Army and drove an ambulance during the war.

    Beautiful Kay Warren (Dvorak), the Governor's daughter decides to go undercover to try to help and expose what is a huge, topical problem - runaway girls, who become road hobos and face rape and worse through life on the road. She almost ends up as a statistic on her first ride with an over fresh salesman and eventually teams up with Mickey (Helen Mack) a tough veteran of the roads (but of course with a heart of gold)!!! Kay finds life grim on the road, constantly being forced to move on, being incarcerated where they have the indignity of being hosed, then ridden out of town on a rail. With women hungry hobos leering out of the freight cars, it is fraught with danger and Mickey, who may have had an unpleasant experience is fearful, and determined not to ride.

    Every girl has a story - Irene is hitching across country to marry her fiancée, she opted to buy a wedding dress rather than pay for a train ticket, another wants to be a beautician. There's always a head girl - in this case it's Ellie (Lola Lane sure looks and acts tough!!!). She runs the makeshift camp where they all end up and although she doesn't exactly say "I'm the boss of this jungle - and I'll smack any dame starting trouble" (like it says on the poster) you could imagine her saying it.

    The film reaches a climax with the death of one of the girls. Kay manages to alert her father with the help of a kindly lorry driver. I don't know about the comparisons with "Wild Boys of the Road" - that was a very confronting, early Warners "social problem" movie. You just know, in this movie that nothing too awful is going to happen to these girls - it might muss their hair or smudge their lipstick. In one scene involving a caring policeman (Bruce Bennett in a small part) Kay looks stunning in a turban and smart matching outfit, she wouldn't have looked out of place at the Ritz - considering the scene before had them jumping from a moving train.

    Helen Mack had had a productive career during the 30s, most of her movies carried a big emotional crying scene but "Girls of the Road" saw her almost at the end of her career. Lola Lane started out in early movie musicals ("Let's Go Places", "Good News") then become one of the Lane Sisters (she wasn't really) for the "Four Daughters" series. This movie may have given Ann Doran one of the few parts she could really do something with. She is so recognizable but was rarely a featured player. In this film she plays the girl who steals the wedding dress.

  • The best thing about this highly sanitized expose is that its heart is in the right place. Importantly, the movie serves as a peek into how the uprooted, even women, were treated by local jurisdictions already burdened by their own Depression problems and unwilling to take on new ones. However, the contrast with the gritty, realistic Wild Boys of the Road (1933) could hardly be stronger, thanks mainly to the deadening hand of the Production Code of 1934.

    Note, for example, the general absence of men around these all-girl encampments, rather surprising given the opportunities. But then, including men in the camp mix would have complicated both the tone and the message. Thus, we're left with what looks like an all-girl touring group down on their luck. Note too, how nearly all the well-scrubbed girls are outfitted in the less vulnerable pants instead of dresses at a time when cheap cotton dresses were standard and affordable, (consider Barbara Hershey's cheap little print in the much more realistic Boxcar Bertha {1972}). But most revealing is when one of the girls explains why it's easier being a penniless man than a penniless woman. What she says is true, but, tellingly, she leaves out the one big advantage women-- especially the comely young women of this movie-- have when needing to earn a buck. In fact, as part of its streamlining and sanitizing, the screenplay suppresses altogether what should be the rather obvious topic of prostitution.

    All in all, I suspect the movie reveals more about the state of Hollywood politics, circa 1940, than it does about its subject matter. Nonetheless, I agree that TMC should be congratulated for reviving such obscurities. And though the movie is, I think, far from a classic, it is a provocative window into its time and into a topic many of us didn't know existed. Besides, I sense an underground fan club forming around the sorely neglected Ann Dvorak. With her large, expressive eyes, aquiline nose, and the courage to take on an ethnic stage name-- plus genuine talent-- she merits re-discovery in a big way.
  • xerses139 October 2009
    ...the major studio you work for does not want you anymore. Just like today back in the 'Golden Age of Hollywood' the shelf life of female Stars was noticeably shorter then their male counterparts. Three (3) of the Stars of GIRLS OF THE ROAD (1940) are more noted for their roles at their home studios. ANN DVORAK and LOLA LANE at Warner Brothers (WB) and HELEN MACK, RKO. When a studio was done with you it was fade away or find work somewhere else. That somewhere this time was at COLUMBIA.

    GIRLS OF THE ROAD is a social commentary picture typical of the time and usually done most successfully at the WB. This effort from COLUMBIA though dated is still entertaining portraying the plight of vagrant women. A Governors Daughter played by DVORAK wishes first hand to find out how to solve the plight of these girls. The bulk of her odyssey is a learning experience and building a friendship with MACK. Concluding with the moral redemption of all including tough girl LANE.

    There were five (5) major studios. M.G.M., PARAMOUNT, RKO, 20TH CENTURY FOX and WARNER BROTHERS. Plus some heavy-weight independents like GOLDWYN or SELZNICK. Now you could move horizontally between these studios and still be on top. The next level would be COLUMBIA, HAL ROACH, REPUBLIC, UNIVERSAL and UNITED ARTISTS. This was still respectable the only problem with working at COLUMBIA was putting up with HARRY COHN who fancied himself Don Juan. It could get worse though you might end up at MONOGRAM, PRC or any of the dozens of poverty row studios that came and went. Some not even lasting a year, fading away just like some their careers.
  • In the city where this movie was made, where Columbia Pictures studio stood, where across the years probably millions of people have sought their dreams, in this year of A.D. 2018, anywhere from 40- to 60,000 people, men and women and children, are homeless.

    Because it is Los Angeles, one of the most corrupt and incompetently run cities in these United States, the homeless are both coddled and harassed by various government bodies.

    But genuine long-lasting help? Not in Los Angeles! One not so famous singer, with his own hands started building "tiny houses," giving them to homeless people of his acquaintance, and of course the city moved in garbage trucks and armed agents and stole at least three of them!

    Eventually they were returned, but with the solar cells missing!

    Private individuals and companies have donated land on which to erect the tiny homes and, again of course, have run into all kinds of bureaucratic obstacles. It is, to repeat, Los Angeles.

    "Girls of the Road" was produced in one of the worst years of the Depression. After several years of the "New Deal," millions more people were out of work, tens of thousands more businesses had collapsed, and the Roosevelt administration, which had sought for answers in Italy, Germany, and Soviet Russia, had concluded only a war could save the situation. And, in the next year, got one.

    In this excellent movie, beautifully written, and superbly acted, desperate people exhibit the best and worst traits one would expect from people who have experienced the worst from other people.

    They have lost all dignity, and have had to beg for hand-outs since, being "road girls," no one will hire them for real jobs.

    One outsider sees a way, and, in this film, is well-enough connected to bring about a partial, and maybe temporary, solution.

    In modern life, governments have destroyed jobs and erected impossible obstacles for the creation of new jobs.

    Supposedly free human beings are required to carry government-issued cards embossed with government-issued numbers, without which those supposedly free human beings cannot even apply for jobs.

    And in many situations cannot even apply for hand-outs from allegedly Christian agencies.

    Helen Mack has long been one of my favorite actresses. Her performance in "The Milky Way" made me think she was perfect in comedy parts, but her performance in "Girls of the Road" showed me she is perfect in any role she wanted to play. She is powerful, mesmerizing, as "Mickey."

    Ann Dvorak is, as usual, also perfect. She was an elegant-looking lady, although she's also been perfect as much rougher characters, and she had a nearly musical voice, very noticeable in this role.

    Having some experience and knowledge of the current problems of homelessness, I was moved to tears by this movie, by the script as well as by the performances.

    Solutions to our problems are not be found in government -- please be sure to listen to what "the governor" says in the opening scenes. It accurately sums up why governments are not to be looked to for answers.

    Voluntary co-operation between and among individual human beings, caring human beings, perhaps working with voluntary organizations, including such loving and generous agencies as the Salvation Army, can, though, immensely lessen these kinds of human problems, sometimes known as "societal problems."

    But they are not "societal." They are human.

    Please do watch "Girls of the Road." Remember the context, the worst years of the Great Depression, and try not to let the too-dark print at YouTube prevent your seeing what great drama and, at the same time, what a great message of hope is presented.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    You have the tough-talking dames, the innocent-victim girl, the crusading do-gooder, all on the Depression road, but indulging in personality dynamics much like those in "Caged." Columbia pretends that this is social commentary a la "Wild Boys of the Road," but it's untethered melodrama, wildly improbable and directed without distinction. Especially unconvincing is the framing device, where a governor's daughter (Ann Dvorak, always good, but playing such a virtuous character here that she has a hard time making her interesting) decides to impersonate a poor homeless girl, then at the end it turns out the state had the money to help these girls all the time, but the governor needed to be convinced that they really needed help. Still, it's nice pictorially, and Helen Mack, as Dvorak's sidekick (she was also terrific that year in "His Girl Friday"), is a great sarcastic broad.
  • Girls Of The Road finds Ann Dvorak as the daughter of the governor of some unnamed state going on the road incognito to get a look at conditions for women who are homeless. Dvorak takes an interest in her father's work and Governor Howard Hickman has just received a confidential investigative report about conditions for women in that situation. What Dvorak does, almost on impulse, is to hit the road herself and see first hand.

    She falls in with Helen Mack and in turn with others, in the end in a sort of makeshift camp that's run by tough girl Lola Lane. Dvorak sees the problems the women have, the varied situations they come from that have led them to this vagabond existence.

    Not the least of the problem is that the male of species is looked upon as a predator in many situations shown here. The unspoken lesbianism of the women is also quite clear, especially in Lola Lane's character.

    There is one death among the women in the film and I won't say which of the characters dies, but the scene is quite moving. I think if you see the film you'll be able to pick out which character it is.

    The obvious comparisons to make with this is with Warner Brothers Wild Boys Of The Road made seven years earlier. This one doesn't quite have the productions values that the Warner Brothers product did. This was strictly a product of Columbia's B picture unit and this kind of socially significant film had been passé for some time in Hollywood.

    Still Girls Of The Road does have its merits and is a most curious product of the times.
  • Girls of the Road (1940)

    ** (out of 4)

    "B" picture from Columbia has Ann Dvorak playing the daughter of the governor who decides to see what it's really like out on the streets. She joins up with a group of homeless girls who travel from town to town struggling to get food or a roof over their head. This film pretty much turns out to be a watered down version of William A. Wellman's classic WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD and while its heart is in the right place the final product doesn't have much going for it. The biggest problem I had with the film was a little bit of logic but we see this rich daughter seeing her new friends struggle yet she never offers them any help. Yes, I understand she wants to see what it's like being homeless but you'd think she would take care of her friends and just go on her little experiment alone. Another problem with the film is that the acting is pretty bad. Normally this wouldn't be too much of a deal breaker in a "B" picture but there are many scenes here that want an emotion impact and it just can't happen due to the bad acting. There's a death scene here, which is pretty embarrassing as well as a few other dramatic moments that just don't work. The screenplay really doesn't offer anything original as we go down countless roads that other films went down with much better results. I must admit that I found the 61-minute running time to feel too long and in the end the film really doesn't work on any level. What keeps the movie going is the fact that women take up all the lead roles and this little switch does make the film at least watchable if you don't mind "B" movies. Dvorak certainly had much better days as she appears uninterested from start to finish.
  • A governor's daughter (Ann Dvorak) is concerned about girls living on the road with no family, no jobs and no money. She becomes one and, almost instantly, becomes friends with a hardened "road girl" named Mickey (Helen Mack). We then see a (purpotedly) truthful version of what girls on their own have to do to survive.

    No budget Columbia picture. In 1940 this might have been a little shocking but today it comes across as silly and not even remotely truthful. Supposedly all these girls have lived on the road without clean clothes, showers or food for days--but they all look well fed, they're in clean clothes and are pretty healthy with makeup and beautiful hair. Even their hideout looks pretty opulent! Also when this film strives to make a message it's so overdone it comes off as comical. The funeral of one of the girls is supposed to be tragic but it comes off as unintentionally funny! Still, it's well done and Mack gives a good performance. It's marginally worth seeing if you're into obscure older movies (like me). I give it a 5.
  • In many ways, this film reminds me of the 1933 film "Wild Boys of the Road"--which is about homeless teens who wander about the country (often in vain) looking for work and a square meal. This film is about homeless ladies who are in similar circumstances. How serious this problem was is uncertain (it's not like they kept statistics on this), but the movie seems earnest--and amazingly naive.

    The film begins with a commission reporting to the Governor about the plight of wandering homeless ladies. The Governor is moved and wants to do something but is uncertain if anything can be done about the problem. However, his secretary (Ann Dvorak--who also happens to be his daughter in the film) decides to investigate herself by hitting the road and posing as a homeless woman. This is an insanely naive and rather offensive notion--especially when she could be raped or otherwise exploited and the idea of a rich girl "slumming it" is a tad silly. In fact, in one of the first scenes, this nearly happens (in a sanitized 1940 manner) as a man isn't about to take 'no' for an answer after he picks up Ann.

    Ultimately, after spending time getting arrested for vagrancy, being hassled by cops, jumping trains, getting robbed and the rest in this 'dog eat dog world', Ann returns home to report to Daddy about the life of girl hobos. My quote in the summary, while not exactly what she said isn't that far from it! And, naturally, it all had a happy ending.

    To me, this film seemed rather fake. All the ladies looked really they'd forgotten to put on the morning makeup and had gone a whole week without going to the beauty parlor! The most egregious of these was Dvorak--who looked like she was dressed for publicity photos of "her life when she has a day off". The ladies' "down and out" looks just seemed like Hollywood's sanitized version of the life of a homeless woman--the type that wouldn't feel particularly threatening to most in the audience. Compare this sort of film with a REAL film about social ills of the 1930s (such as "I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang") and this one comes up wanting. Perhaps well-intentioned and the acting wasn't bad, but it was fake from start to finish.