Cast & Crew
Nineteen-year-old Sally Kelton, a waitress in a small town, falls in love with Steve Ryan, an older man who is a struggling piano player. The night before Steve is scheduled to leave town, he and Sally make love; at dawn, on her way home, Sally is stopped for speeding and gets in trouble with her parents. As a result, she runs away from home to surprise Steve in Capitol City. On the bus, she is befriended by a young veteran named Drew Baxter, who recommends a roominghouse for Sally's lodging. Despite his lack of interest, Sally pursues Steve, and one day begs him to marry her, but is rejected. While heartbroken over Steve, Sally works for Drew at his gas station, and he begins to fall in love with her. To get Sally out of her depression, Drew takes her out for a day, and after a ride on a merry-go-round, asks her to marry him. Drew is afraid Sally will reject him because of a war injury that has left him with a wooden leg, but she assures him he is the kindest man she has ever known, and asks for time to consider his proposal. While gazing at the merry-go-round lights, Sally faints, and Drew takes her home, and later a doctor tells her she is pregnant. In shame, Sally runs away again to a new town, where one day she collapses outside a church and is taken to a hospital for unwed mothers. On a tip from the landlady, Drew visits the hospital at Christmas time and is told by a kind nurse named Mrs. Stone that Sally is going to have a baby. After she gives birth, Sally decides to give her son up for adoption because she cannot afford to take care of him and does not want him to suffer for being born out of wedlock. She gets a job in a laundry, but is daily reminded of her son by the many children in her neighborhood. In a fit of remorse, Sally tells a hospital social worker that she wants her baby back, but he has already been christened by his new parents. After leaving the hospital in a daze, Sally sees a baby in a carriage and picks it up, then wanders down the street and is arrested for kidnapping. Mrs. Stone reads about Sally's arrest in the newspaper and calls the court; subsequently, the mother of the infant drops the charges. The social worker, meanwhile, calls Drew. On her way out of the courthouse, after Sally sees Drew, she runs to throw herself off a bridge. Drew saves her, but then, because of his bad leg, exhausts himself trying to run after her. Finally he collapses, but Sally looks back and, after she runs to him, they embrace.
Dr. Maurice Bernstein
Charles D. Hall
The Wrong Rut/Birthright - The Wrong Rut & Birthright - Two Sex Hygiene Dramas from the Late 40s/Early Fifties on DVD
During the Golden Age of the exploitation film (1930s - '50s), canny independent filmmakers and distributors assembled the most prurient subject matter imaginable and presented it in the guise of educational films. It allowed them to bystep censorship and compete with the major studios (who monopolized film production, distribution and exhibition, but were bound by the shackles of good taste). Thus were independently-owned small-town theatres able to show the likes of Reefer Madness (1936), The Road to Ruin (1934) and Assassin of Youth (1937). The most popular of these films were the "sex hygiene" pictures that warned of the dangers of disease and debauchery. The climax of such films was either actual footage of naked bodies corroded by syphilis or clinical footage of the process of childbirth. In the case of the legendary Mom and Dad (1945), viewers got both.
The men and women who made these films were ruthless in their business dealings and promotional tactics. Nicknamed "exploiteers," these Barnumesque mercenaries used a variety of ploys to compete in the cut-throat exploitation market. They pirated each other's films, changed the titles of their films (to lure unsuspecting ticket-buyers into repeat viewings) and playing bait-and-switch with the regional censor boards. The Wrong Rut and Birthright illustrate the exploiteers at their most audacious: cannibalizing other filmmakers' work and rendering them salacious enough for the adults-only market.
The Wrong Rut is a revamped version of Elmer Clifton's Not Wanted. The first independent production of actress Ida Lupino and husband/writer/producer Collier Young, Not Wanted is a hardboiled yet poignant social conscience film about unwed motherhood. Veteran B-grade director Clifton only directed a small portion of the film. When he suffered a heart attack on the third day of filming, Lupino took over the helm in order to save the production.
It was not such a stretch for Not Wanted to be transformed into the exploitive The Wrong Rut. The story is told in the vernacular of low-budget film noir, with a heavy emphasis on the kinds of cinematic shorthand that conveys the seedier aspects of a fallen woman film, while keeping it within the boundaries of good taste. When we first see Sally Kelton (Sally Forrest), she is wandering the streets in a daze, and deliriously takes a child from an unattended pram. Quickly apprehended, she is tossed in a film noir jail for women, complete with lesbian, drunkard, prostitute and lunatic. In true B-movie fashion, Sally then flashes back to the events that led to her moral downfall. She recalls visiting a congenial roadhouse called "The Stut 'n' Tup," where she falls in love with a cynical scat-singing piano player named Steve Ryan (portrayed by Leo Penn, father to actor Sean Penn). During a day-for-night rendez-vous in a vacant park, the couple apparently couple, for Steve tosses his cigarette butt into a stream and the camera follows it...telegraphing Sally's downhill slide before a slow and significant fadeout.
Friction with her parents inspires Sally to run away from home, trailing Steve to Capital City. Along the way, she meets Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle), a wounded G.I. who clearly wants Sally, but she is not yet ready to settle for second best. When Sally finds Steve, the lone wolf brushes her off, leaving her homeless, jobless, and, apparently, with child. Because protruding stomachs were forbidden under the Production Code, we learn Sally is pregnant (even the word was taboo) when she faints and wakes up in a doctor's care. She lands in a home for unwed mothers and there must decide the future of her child.
This is where Not Wanted suddenly transforms into The Wrong Rut. As Sally slips into a Hollywood-style medical delirium, the film abruptly cuts to a title card explaining that a cesarian delivery is to be performed. After a few more seconds of the pre-surgical montage, the expressive music is chopped to dead silence, and the viewer is treated to splotchy, faded medical footage of the birth, in graphic detail.
It is not clear who reconstituted Not Wanted as an exploitation film, for cinematic highjackers seldom signed their names to their work. The anonymous exploiteer's finishing touch was to crown the bastardized film with a title that is crudely moralistic yet sexually suggestive (no longer in common use, "rut" is a term for sexual intercourse in its most vulgar form).
Another common component of the sex hygiene film was a live lecture by an esteemed medical figure. This unlicensed "doctor" underscored the film's educational message and, more importantly, delivered a carnival-style sales pitch for one-dollar booklets that promised the unvarnished truth about sex and reproduction. This is represented on the DVD in several ways. The disc includes "Life Begins," a ten-minute short that blends footage from Not Wanted with anatomical diagrams, more cesarian birth footage, and sexy silhouettes and charts depicting the mechanics of menstruation, overlaid with dry clinical narration. Also on the disc is an audio recording of a "book pitch" (intended for use at drive-ins), illustrated with photographs of the many sex education pamphlets sold by such exploiteers.
Although details are not provided, The Wrong Rut appears to have been mastered from a 35mm print that is only occasionally marred by scratches and splices -- which is remarkable considering the film's "orphan" status (produced by the short-lived Emerald Productions, before being abducted and retooled for the exploitation market). The crimes committed against Not Wanted are heinous, but the DVD of The Wrong Rut is a treasure in its own right, as it documents a mysterious chapter in American film history. Fortunately for purists, the unmolested film is currently available (Kino on Video), albeit in VHS only.
The DVD's second feature, Birthright, represents a similar exercise in sensationalism. In this case, the unsuspecting film is an educational feature produced by the Southern Educational Film Production Service, in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Public Health (and distributed by Columbia University Press). Unlike the already-pulpy Not Wanted, the original Birthright is plain and humble, reminiscent of Pare Lorentz's Depression-era documentaries The River (1938) and The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936). However, instead of addressing the topics of rural electrification and the Tennessee Valley Authority, Birthright is designed to promote a public health campaign, focusing specifically on syphilis.
After an argument with his wife (Marjory Morris) and in-laws (Mr. and Mrs. W.O. Jarrett), John Lloyd (Boyce Brown), the owner of a struggling poultry farm, seeks refuge at a local diner, where he makes the acquaintance of Nell (Paula Haygood), a young waitress. The first sign of Birthright's re-editing occurs when John accompanies Nell to her house to sleep off a few beers. We are treated to a static shot of a man watching a woman disrobe during a romantic tryst. The footage is silent and the actors bear little resemblance to Birthright's primary cast.
Afterwards, the non-professional actors resume their stumble through the dull educational drama, until the the film is once again highjacked in the name of exploitation. When it comes time for Mrs. Lloyd to have a child, the film -- rather than modestly fading to black -- shows the birth in every detail. This time it is a breech delivery, presented in eye-scorching color! Needless to say, the climactic birth footage is mis-matched to the rest of the film.
As crude as they were, the sex hygiene films provided audiences with something they desired -- something more carnal than the celluloid romances peddled by Hollywood. Eventually the films became so popular that the industry moved toward a more relaxed standard of censorship, and the exploiteers were gradually driven out of business. The major studios never resorted to book pitches and birth footage, but in their own way they found a way to satisfy the sexual curiosity that was once the sole domain of the renegade exploiteer.
For more information about The Wrong Rut/Birthright, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Wrong Rut/Birthright, go to TCM Shopping.
by Asa Kendall, Jr.
The Wrong Rut/Birthright - The Wrong Rut & Birthright - Two Sex Hygiene Dramas from the Late 40s/Early Fifties on DVD
The foreword to the film states, "This is a story told one hundred thousand times each year," and thanks the "many hospitals and institutions of mercy the country over, without whose gracious help this picture could never have been made." The title card reads: "Ida Lupino introduces Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle [and] Leo Penn in Not Wanted." Actress Virginia Mullen's name was misspelled as "Mullin" in the onscreen credits. Although Film Daily Year Book lists a May 24, 1949 release date, this is probably an error as the film's preview was not held until June 1949. Some modern sources state that director Elmer Clifton had a heart attack during the film's production and Lupino took over the film's direction. According to the LADN, some scenes in the film were shot in Bunker Hill in Los Angeles.