Lady Scarface


1h 5m 1941
Lady Scarface

Brief Synopsis

Police try to capture a murderous female gangster and her band of killers.

Film Details

Genre
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Sep 26, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: 4 Aug 1941
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 5m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
5,927ft

Synopsis

Alerted by a night watchman, the Chicago police rush to a robbery at the Securities Building. At a side entrance to the building, Lieutenant Bill Mason runs into a cleaning lady with a scarred face. Bill and the cleaning lady's photo is snapped by reporter Ann Rogers, who is unaware that the woman in the photo is actually Slade, the leader of the thieves. Ann follows Mullen, one of the gang members, to an auto court, where she watches as he stuffs $8,000 into an envelope and addresses it to Mary Jordan at the Leonard Sheldon Hotel in New York. Soon after, Bill arrives to arrest Mullen, and Mary shows him the envelope. To trap Slade, who he believes is a man, Bill decides to mail the letter and await his prey at the Leonard Sheldon. Bill refuses to let Mary join him, but when he arrives at the hotel, he discovers that she is working in the mailroom. At the hotel, Bill is joined in his investigation by Lieutenant Onslow of the New York police force and Seidel, the house detective. Meanwhile, also in New York, Slade and her gang comb the classified ads, looking for a secret code about fox terriers that will alert them that the cash has arrived. Upon spying an ad regarding the delivery of the dogs to Mary Jordan at the Sheldon Leonard Hotel, Slade arranges for Ruby, the girl friend of gang member Lefty Landers, to pose as Mary and claim the envelope. Before Ruby is able to make her claim, however, newlyweds Mary and James Powell register at the hotel, and Jim asks if there is any mail addressed to his wife, whose maiden name is Mary Jordan. Thinking that the envelope contains a wedding check from his uncle, James is surprised to find a pile of cash. Financially strapped, he decides to keep the money until his uncle's check arrives. Soon after, Ruby enters the lobby to register as Mary Jordan. Realizing that she is being watched by the police, she runs to Lefty, who is waiting outside in the car, and they speed away. Bill forces their car off the road and takes them to headquarters, where Ruby, in exchange for a promise of leniency, tells him about the dog code, explaining that Slade's name is "great dane." After planting a classified requesting that a great dane be delivered to room 1608, the Powells' room number, Bill wires the room with a dictagraph. As he and Ann listen to the Powells exchanging loving endearments, Bill realizes that he has fallen in love with Ann. When Onslow calls from police headquarters to inform him that Lefty has divulged Slade's address, Bill goes to follow the lead, leaving Seidel and Ann behind to guard the Powells. Slade has already taken the bait, however, and sneaks into the hotel. When Bill and Onslow arrive at the hideout, they find only gang member Matt Willis, and Bill phones Seidel with instructions to protect the Powells. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, Ann pulls a gun on Seidel and orders the Powells into her room while she awaits Slade in room 1608. Slade, disguised as a maid, enters the room, and in a struggle, throws Ann to the floor. Meanwhile, Bill has returned to the hotel, and after hearing the struggle on his dictagraph, breaks into the room with a pass key. After Slade takes Bill by surprise, Ann, who is lying on the floor next to her gun, grabs the weapon and shoots the criminal. All ends happily as Ann gets her story and Bill proposes marriage.

Film Details

Genre
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Sep 26, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: 4 Aug 1941
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 5m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
5,927ft

Articles

Lady Scarface


As Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Judith Anderson gave a stunning performance for which she was Oscar®-nominated and will always be remembered. Barely a year later, strangely enough, she accepted the title character in a low-budget RKO thriller called Lady Scarface (1941). It's about a female gangster on the loose in Chicago, committing robberies and murders, and the police detective (Dennis O'Keefe) hunting her down. O'Keefe is unaware that she is a woman, thus allowing her to move around freely without attracting attention.

Anderson was a leading Broadway star in the 1920s and 1930s and made her film debut in Blood Money (1933). Rebecca, seven years later, was her second picture, and she went on to act in several more classics such as Laura (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and The Furies (1950), usually in unsympathetic or sinister roles. Her first love was always the stage, however. She was a famous Lady Macbeth opposite Laurence Olivier in 1937 and Maurice Evans in 1941, and an even more famous Medea in 1947, for which she won the Tony Award. In 1960 she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire and thereafter known as Dame Judith Anderson.

She once said that she accepted the role of Lady Scarface in the hope that it would do for her what Little Caesar (1931) had done for Edward G. Robinson. While she is very watchable and displays ferocity and toughness quite effectively, the movie just isn't as good as that earlier classic - and Anderson isn't given much screen time for a title character. Ironically, she's the best thing about it. The critics tended to agree, with The New York Times writing, "An accomplished villainess, Miss Anderson is afforded precious little scope as a lady gangster." Variety called Anderson "at once excellent and pathetic. Her superior acting ability gives the role lots more authenticity and substance than it deserves, but to find this player [who is scheduled to play Lady Macbeth on the Broadway stage this fall] appearing in a bottom-of-the-alphabet actioner is a sad commentary on the status of both films and theatre."

Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca had recently completed Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and would soon shoot Cat People (1942), both visually striking films and typical of his first-class talent. He would soon become one of the most important film noir cinematographers. Director Frank Woodruff was an obscure director of ten films from 1940-1944. His first movie, Curtain Call (1940), was a possible influence on Mel Brooks's The Producers (1968). Lady Scarface is a partial remake of Wanted: Jane Turner (1936).

Producer: Cliff Reid
Director: Frank Woodruff
Screenplay: Arnaud d’Usseau, Richard Collins
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editing: Harry Marker
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Dave Dreyer, Gene Rose, Paul Sawtell, Harry Tierney, Frank Tours, Roy Webb
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe (Lt. Bill Mason), Judith Anderson (Slade), Frances Neal (Ann Rogers), Mildred Coles (Mary Jordan Powell), Eric Blore (Mr. Hartford), Marc Lawrence (Lefty Landers).
BW-66m.

by Jeremy Arnold
Lady Scarface

Lady Scarface

As Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Judith Anderson gave a stunning performance for which she was Oscar®-nominated and will always be remembered. Barely a year later, strangely enough, she accepted the title character in a low-budget RKO thriller called Lady Scarface (1941). It's about a female gangster on the loose in Chicago, committing robberies and murders, and the police detective (Dennis O'Keefe) hunting her down. O'Keefe is unaware that she is a woman, thus allowing her to move around freely without attracting attention. Anderson was a leading Broadway star in the 1920s and 1930s and made her film debut in Blood Money (1933). Rebecca, seven years later, was her second picture, and she went on to act in several more classics such as Laura (1944), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and The Furies (1950), usually in unsympathetic or sinister roles. Her first love was always the stage, however. She was a famous Lady Macbeth opposite Laurence Olivier in 1937 and Maurice Evans in 1941, and an even more famous Medea in 1947, for which she won the Tony Award. In 1960 she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire and thereafter known as Dame Judith Anderson. She once said that she accepted the role of Lady Scarface in the hope that it would do for her what Little Caesar (1931) had done for Edward G. Robinson. While she is very watchable and displays ferocity and toughness quite effectively, the movie just isn't as good as that earlier classic - and Anderson isn't given much screen time for a title character. Ironically, she's the best thing about it. The critics tended to agree, with The New York Times writing, "An accomplished villainess, Miss Anderson is afforded precious little scope as a lady gangster." Variety called Anderson "at once excellent and pathetic. Her superior acting ability gives the role lots more authenticity and substance than it deserves, but to find this player [who is scheduled to play Lady Macbeth on the Broadway stage this fall] appearing in a bottom-of-the-alphabet actioner is a sad commentary on the status of both films and theatre." Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca had recently completed Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and would soon shoot Cat People (1942), both visually striking films and typical of his first-class talent. He would soon become one of the most important film noir cinematographers. Director Frank Woodruff was an obscure director of ten films from 1940-1944. His first movie, Curtain Call (1940), was a possible influence on Mel Brooks's The Producers (1968). Lady Scarface is a partial remake of Wanted: Jane Turner (1936). Producer: Cliff Reid Director: Frank Woodruff Screenplay: Arnaud d’Usseau, Richard Collins Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca Film Editing: Harry Marker Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase Music: Dave Dreyer, Gene Rose, Paul Sawtell, Harry Tierney, Frank Tours, Roy Webb Cast: Dennis O’Keefe (Lt. Bill Mason), Judith Anderson (Slade), Frances Neal (Ann Rogers), Mildred Coles (Mary Jordan Powell), Eric Blore (Mr. Hartford), Marc Lawrence (Lefty Landers). BW-66m. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Modern sources claim the screenplay was based on the movie, Wanted: Jane Turner (1936).

Notes

According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, Marjorie Rambeau was originally slated to play the title role and Stanley Fields was to play "Seide." Andrew Tombes stepped into the role of "Seide" following Fields's sudden death on April 23, 1941. The plot of this film is strikingly similiar to that of the 1936 RKO film Wanted Jane Turner (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4953). Modern sources claim that Arnaud D'Usseau and Richard Collins based their script partially on the 1936 film despite their original screenplay credit.