Cast & Crew
When Kay Warren, the socially minded daughter of the governor, learns about a migrant army composed of young girls, victims of the Depression who are forced to live in hobo jungles and are relentlessly driven from place to place, she asks her father why nothing has been done to solve the problem. Although her father claims that the state is unable to help the homeless, Kay determines to find a solution by taking to the road herself. When the governor discovers that his daughter has left home, he orders officer Sullavan to find her. While Sullavan sets out on his search, Kay is tossed into jail with other homeless girls and then herded onto a freight train by the sheriff's deputies. Mickey, one of the girls, shoves a deputy from the train, and fearing that she has killed him, jumps from the train and flees. Kay follows, and the girls meet a friendly truck driver who spirits them away to a female hobo camp. The girls soon realize that the camp is a jungle where intolerable living conditions lead to fighting and stealing. When Irene, a dying young bride-to-be who had been hitchhiking her way across the country to meet her fiancé, is brought into the camp to receive badly needed medical attention, most of the girls want to abandon her, but Kay forces them to realize the importance of helping one another. The ailing girl eventually dies, and the girls stand united at her graveside. While Kay continues to document the abuses which are taking place in these camps, the truck driver who drove her to the camp discloses her location to the authorities and she is returned to her father. Grateful to have his daughter back, the governor promises his support in building a shelter to provide the homeless with food and work.
Girls of the Road
The picture, directed by Nick Grinde, belongs to Ann Dvorak, who was often undervalued by her home studio Warner Bros. and never got a chance to break out of stereotyped roles or become an A list actress like Bette Davis, even though she has several memorable films to her credit (Scarface , The Crowd Roars , Three on a Match ). In Girls of the Road, Dvorak plays Kay Warren, the daughter of a governor, whose concern for the growing problem of girl hobos and transients compels her to leave home under a new identity and hit the road, discovering for herself the life of a runaway and possible solutions to alleviate the problem.
Despite the improbability of the premise with Kay, looking beautifully groomed, stylish and well educated in her manner, trying to fit in with the tough female characters she meets along the way, the narrative zips along so quickly that you barely have time to suspend disbelief. After rejecting the sexual advances of a traveling salesman who offers her a ride, Kay braves a rainstorm instead, hooking up with Mickey (Helen Mack), another hitchhiker she meets on the road. Together they find temporary refuge in a female hobo camp under a bridge but are soon busted and jailed by the local cops. When the cops try to transport them by boxcars back to the state line, Mickey jumps off the train, triggering a mass exodus with Kay and the other problem girls scampering in every direction. Then Kay and Mickey find temporary shelter at a motor court, using Kay's secret stash of money. When they try to help fellow runaway Jerry (Ann Doran), they are robbed for their troubles and are soon back on the road with the cops in pursuit. With the help of a friendly truck driver, they make their way to a rural shantytown ruled by Ellie (Lola Lane), a tough cookie who takes an immediate dislike to Kay and Mickey. The rest of the movie delivers all of the expected staples of the genre a muddy catfight, the gradual degradation of an innocent character whose death serves to bond the feuding women, a chaotic police raid and a wishful happy ending in which all of the homeless women get a chance to start over again in Girls Castle No. 1, a government sponsored rehabilitation center created by Kay's father after his daughter's muckraking pilgrimage.
While Girls of the Road would never be considered an important film on the subject of the Great Depression, it has moments of power and an emotional truth that elevate it far above the standard programmer. One of the most evocative scenes in the movie is a dialogue-free, visual sequence in which a train carrying mostly male drifters and hobos pulls into a station where the police are waiting to board all of their women prisoners. The looks exchanged between the destitute men and women a montage of close-up shots as the box cars pass speaks volumes about the hard times and deprivation without a word spoken. The fact that the film also depicts the plight of runaways between the ages of 18-24 and attempts to document their experiences on the road gives the film a unique viewpoint not often seen in even the Warner Bros. social dramas of the thirties.
Dvorak, with her hugely expressive eyes and that sharp, angular face that could look so luminous and alive or haggard and haunted, is a warm and likable heroine throughout Girls of the Road but the real scene-stealers here are Helen Mack as her rough and tumble partner Mickey and Lola Lane, who reveals a kind heart under that mean-spirited exterior at the film's close.
According to studio production notes, Dvorak, Mack and Lane were all briefly apprehended by the police in Saugus, California during the filming of Girls of the Road; the lawmen thought the trio were genuine vagrants.
Director Nick Grinde might not rate the accolades usually bestowed on directors like William Wellman and Howard Hawks but he was an efficient and prolific craftsman whose specialty was entertaining, fast-paced, assembly line genre pictures. Among his more recognizable credits are the Pre-Code Shopworn (1932) with Barbara Stanwyck, Public Enemy's Wife (1936) starring Pat O'Brien, several Boris Karloff vehicles including Before I Hang (1940) and Hitler-Dead or Alive (1942), a bizarre WWII propaganda melodrama that remains an undiscovered cult gem.
Producer: Wallace MacDonald
Director: Nick Grinde
Screenplay: Robert D. Andrews
Cinematography: George Meehan
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Cast: Ann Dvorak (Kay Warren), Helen Mack (Mickey), Lola Lane (Ellie), Ann Doran (Jerry), Marjorie Cooley (Irene), Mary Field (Mae), Mary Booth (Edna), Madelon Grayson (Annie), Grace Lenard (Stella), Evelyn Young (Sadie), Bruce Bennett (Officer Sullavan), Eddie Laughton (Footsy), Don Beddoe (Sheriff), Howard C. Hickman (Gov. Warren).
by Jeff Stafford
Girls of the Road
Columbia studio publicity records note that Ann Dvorak, Helen Mack and Lola Lane were briefly apprehended by the Saugus, California, police chief while filming on location there. The police chief apparently mistook them for real hoboes.