Cast & Crew
With the help of a hired wife and a rented baby, career criminal Bat Williams convinces the members of the New York State parole board to grant him an early release from prison. Immediately after his release, Bat and his gang rob the Escow Creamery and kill a clerk during their getaway. Without revealing his destination, Bat leaves his gang and Grace Forbes, his hard-boiled girl friend, and goes to Barlow, New York, where his unsuspecting family happily greets him. Bat, whose real name is Bob Webster, covers up his criminal activities by telling his family and Letty Graves, his childhood sweetheart, that he is a busy globe-trotting engineer. That night, when Bat's father John, a respected school superintendent, receives a telephone call from the governor asking him to join the parole board, Bat advises him to "stay out of it." Later, Bat breaks into a jewelry store to steal a bracelet for Grace and coldbloodedly murders a guard. Before Bat returns to the city, Daniels, a tough police officer, finds Grace and, by threatening to tell Bat about her affair with gang member Al, convinces her to help lure Bat into a police trap. While in prison, Bat executes an escape that allows him to get away long enough to kill Grace and then return to his cell unnoticed. Soon after Grace's murder, Bat becomes eligible for parole and is surprised to see his father sitting on the board. Although his equally shocked father threatens to vote against granting parole, Bat reminds him that his soon-to-be-married sister Mildred would be devastated if she knew the scandalous truth. On condition that Bat "disappear" forever, a heartbroken John gives in and votes for parole. Bat, however, returns to Barlow on the eve of Mildred's wedding and plots to rob Letty's father's payroll. During the robbery, Daniels, who has been following Bat, confronts him at gunpoint, and a fight ensues. Before Bat can kill Daniels, John enters and shoots his son. Out of gratitude, Daniels drives a dying Bat out of Barlow and agrees to keep his identity a permanent secret.
Frank M. Thomas
Samuel J. Briskin
William M. Morgan
Van Nest Polglase
James G. Stewart
Don't Turn 'Em Loose -
Lewis Stone takes top billing as the father, a schoolteacher whose resemblance to Judge Hardy from the Andy Hardy movies is only enhanced by his penchant for making speeches and moral proclamations, and Nella Walker has a remarkable resemblance to Fay Holden, who played Ma Hardy in the MGM series. They even live in a Carville-like small town called Barlow, where they can hold on to the fiction that Robert is a world-travelling professional rather than a sociopath who puts on a show of being the good son and joshing big brother (to bubbly young Betty Grable) while robbing and killing his way through life. Cabot is remarkably effective in the role, playing the respectable son adored by his sister and doted on by his parents with a perverse satisfaction even as he kills a man right in their own hometown. Frank Nugent notes that "Mr. Cabot's performance is properly icy" and "Lewis Stone as the father is a dignified and relentless instrument of the gods" in his New York Times film review.
Betty Grable, not yet 20 when the film was released, was a starlet under contract to RKO struggling to carve out her own career. The studio had bleached her hair and promoted her as the "quicksilver blonde," but tended to bury her in the casts of big films (she dances in a couple of Astaire and Rogers musicals) or drop her in unmemorable programmers. After Don't Turn 'em Loose, RKO released Grable from her contract. "She was cuter than most imitation coeds whipping around the lot, but her cuteness didn't seem to mean anything," explained one RKO producer. Their inability to see Grable's appeal was Paramount's gain: they put her under contract and started aggressively promoting her. In a few years, she became one of the top box office attractions in the country.
Stalwart character actor James Gleason, who brought a tart amiability and a sense of humor to his authority figures and wily characters, co-stars as the police detective furious at the way the parole system rubber stamps the early release of violent criminals. He makes arresting Bat away once and for all his personal mission. And B-movie actress Grace Bradley is perfectly slinky and sneaky as Bat's girlfriend, having an affair behind his back while he's in stir.
By Sean Axmaker
Don't Turn 'Em Loose -
Motion Picture Herald's "The Cutting Room" adds Fern Emmett, Arthur Hoyt and Charles Richman to the cast, and Hollywood Reporter production charts add Alan Curtis, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Clem Portman, not James G. Stewart, is listed as sound man in the production charts. RKO borrowed Lewis Stone from M-G-M for this production.