The Story of Molly X (1949)
Written and directed by Crane Wilbur
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Cinematography by Irving Glassberg
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Music by Milton Schwarzwald
Molly X (June Havoc, right) is not a woman to be messed with. After the murder of her husband (which she’s investigating herself), Molly takes over his gang, barking orders and keeping the operation going, despite the backtalk she gets from Anne (Dorothy Hart), girlfriend of gang member Rod Markle (Elliott Lewis, left). The relationship between the two gets more heated after the gang’s next heist goes bad: Markle confesses to Molly that he killed her husband, so Molly kills Markle and hides the gun. Meanwhile, Anne plots her revenge.
All of this happens quite early in the film, so this isn’t much of a spoiler. Molly gets nabbed by the cops, led by Captain Breen (Charles McGraw, center), and tossed in the slammer at Tehachapi. But Tehachapi is more of a “rehabilitation resort” than a slammer, and Molly resists the soft touch.
At this point, the movie changes radically, but probably not in ways you might expect. Molly is able to examine herself and her life, at least for awhile. Then Anne gets sent to Tehachapi. Look out...
By the time this movie was released from Universal’s B unit, writer/director Crane Wilbur had written and/or directed over two dozen films, and starred in at least that many before that. Wilbur was obsessed with prison pictures, particularly with how life behind bars changed people. But other changes were happening during the production of The Story of Molly X. Several of the actors chosen for the film (Ginger Rogers, Shelley Winters, Jeff Chandler, Scott Brady) were replaced, some of them at the last minute, to save money. Although the cast he ended up with is quite good, one of the casualties of the budget cuts was the part of Charles McGraw’s Captain Breen, whose original screen time was drastically reduced. (There’s much more background to the film, and I’ve only touched on a small portion of it. For a more comprehensive treatment of it and McGraw's career in general, I highly recommend Alan K. Rode’s book Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (2008).)
Yet the film belongs to June Havoc (kid sister of the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee). Havoc takes this role and runs with it with a level of intensity that’s stunning, yet never goes over the top. She not only has the fast-talking bravado down pat, she’s also capable of some thoughtful introspection. (Plus she has a corker of a fight with Dorothy Hart in which it looks like they’re really slugging each other. Maybe they are.)
Although Wilbur leads up to an ending that’s far from satisfying, Havoc’s performance (and the film itself) is woefully underrated. The Story of Molly X deserves a wider audience. As far as I can tell, the film has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. A restoration is certainly in order, but for now, catch it on YouTube.
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Photos: IMDb, The Movie Database, Classic Movie Reviews