“You know, people outgrow each other just like they outgrow clothes.”
If I had a chance to go to film school to study film history and had to pick a specific period for films I would pick the 1930s because of the Pre-code years and the screwball comedies. Pre-code Hollywood came out with some of the greatest films such as King Kong, A Free Soul, The Divorcee, Three on a Match, Taxi, Public Enemy, Night Nurse, It Happened One Night and many, many more. If looked at in a historical context these films are risqué and intriguing, wild and sexy. Blood Money is one such intriguing film to come out of the pre-code era. Not one character has a redeeming quality they are all seedy individuals who in many ways are just out for themselves and do not care if their actions hurt/ruin anyone else.
Bill Bailey is a former, disgraced cop turned bail bondsman. Everyone goes to them for help with most of his clients being corrupt, underground criminals. He has a girl named Ruby but he does not seem to commit fully to her. It is almost as if he takes advantage of having her in his life. Ruby runs a gambling house. Her brother Drury is in and out of trouble. Drury just gets out of jail from a previous crime and he goes and robs a bank. His bail has been set at $50,000.
One day a young woman gets arrested for shoplifting. She has the money to get out so she goes to Bill to set the bail. She goes by the name of Jane Smith so she will not have to give her real name but Bill finds out her name when he has the phone she calls her home from tapped. He learns her name is Elaine Talbart and she is a society girl. He manages to get the charges brought against Elaine dropped and he begins falling for her. Elaine is a spoiled society girl looking for any thrill she can find to escape her boring life. At a party Elaine’s father tells Bill she has underworld mania she goes to gangster films and reads detective stories.
Bill takes Elaine to a dog race where Drury also happens to be. From the moment she introduced to the bank robber Elaine is completely taken by him. Drury tells her he is the one that robbed the bank and her eyes go all wide with excitement and all she wants is for him to talk about himself and asks how he robbed the bank. Drury really likes Elaine and the two start seeing each other even though she is seeing Bill (she admits she does not like the bail bondsman that much).
Drury needs to skip town now that the police are breathing down his neck. He proposes to Elaine and asks her to run away with him. She says she will because she sees it as something exciting and rule breaking. Once Bill hears that Drury has taken Elaine from him he gives Drury away to cops. Ruby sends the whole underworld after Bill. His life is now in danger.
For an early sound film Blood Money is very well made and acted. Each actor left me feeling like I would never want to come into contact with these kinds of sleazy people in my life. George Bancroft I have never seen in a film before. I did not find him particularly interesting but I did not find the character that interesting either. This was Judith Anderson’s first film. I think this was the first time I have seen Anderson in a film where I did not have a hard time seeing her as just Mrs. Danvers. She was very good in this role. Chick Chandler I have never even heard of before this. He was good as well. Look very closely at one of the two ladies he brings to the racetrack because she is a very young Lucille Ball.
Now the whole reason I even looked for and found Blood Money was to see Frances Dee. Dee is reason alone to sit through this film her character of Elaine Talbart is one of the most interesting female characters I have seen in a film especially one from the 30s. Elaine is a sexual masochist. She tells Bill without batting an eye that she wants a man “who could be my master and give me a good thrashing.” She gets so turned on by violence and crime. Of all the films I have seen Dee in this is my favorite of her performances. She always played the good girl and here to see her eyes glaze over in excitement at the mention of violence and crime is a bit of a shock. Watching Dee when her character gets excited about being hit or about breaking the law it is almost as if she was not acting all you can believe she is her sadomasochistic character. Her best scene was at the end of the film when she runs into another young woman who has been crying. She asks the girl what is wrong and the girl tells her that she has just come from being beaten by an artist who was looking for a model to pose for him. The girl is clearly shaken with a bruised arm and chin. Elaine gets a wild, very turned on look in her eyes; she grabs the paper with the ad for a model and heads upstairs to the artist gladly looking forward to her “thrashing.” Frances Dee does not have many parts in the film but she certainly steals it with her acting of this disturbed character and her utter beauty (I dare you to sit through this film and not think this woman is gorgeous). Although this is a pre-code and many years before Film Noir was to make an appearance Elaine Talbart is probably what the femme fatales of the genre would have been had there not been a strict moral code.
Blood Money is a pre-code through and through. Bill gets away clean without being thrown in jail or killed for his sins and Elaine goes unpunished for her sexual ways. There is even some bellybutton action going on with some hula dancers! The story is pretty good not one of the best ever but it is more about the characters and their actions/motives than anything else. Blood Money is a film you might feel honored seeing because it is not very well known and not really widely available.
The film is now currently available to view on Youtube which I highly suggest going to the site and watching it as soon as possible just in case it gets taken off. If you want to call yourself a true film buff, watch Blood Money.