“The Lady in Red” (1979)

In the early 1930s, naive, Polly Franklin, played by Pamela Sue Martin (The Hardy Boys / Nancy Dew Mysteries), dreams of becoming a professional dancer. She is relegated, however, to working on a farm. The farm is owned by her religious zealot, father, who is quick tempered, and doesn’t hesitate to administer punishment for perceived transgressions. While in town, running an errand for her father, she gets caught up in a bank robbery. The robbers take her as a hostage, in an attempt to ensure their getaway. Unscrupulous reporter, Jake Lingle (Robert Hogan), interviews Polly about the robbery, but not before plying his charms on her. He gets Polly to come back to his hotel room. Lingle promises her that when the interview is finished, he will give her a red dress.

When Polly returns home hours later, her father hits her. This latest act of cruelty prompts Polly to leave the farm, and search for what she hopes will be a better life in Chicago. She finds employment as a seamstress in a garment factory run by, the repugnant, Patek (Dick Miller. Her Jewish friend Rose, played by Emmy winner, Laurie Heineman (Save the Tiger), is arrested for alleged communist activities, because she dared to try to start a union. Furthermore, her co-worker, Mae (Terry Taylor), who is pregnant with Patek’s baby, is forced to get an abortion, when he refuses to admit he’s the father. Polly is fed up. She ridicules Patek, and riles up her co-workers, which promptly leads to her being fired.

Polly’s firing, at first, seems like it will lead to her being able to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer. Far from the glitz and glamour she pines for, Polly is hired to work at a club, where she will be paid ten cents for every dance she has with the men who come into the establishment. She soon learns, from her co-workers, that many of the women who are working there are willing to do more than dance, for an opportunity to earn extra money. Polly reluctantly resigns herself to the fact that she is going to have to perform sexual acts, if she wants to have a roof over her head, and, be able to afford to eat. Her first time offering more than a dance, leads to her being arrested by an undercover cop (Michael Cavanaugh). The prison Polly is sent to is run by the vile, anti-Semitic, bigoted, Tiny Alice (Nancy Parsons). Polly and Alice clash from the start, and at one point, Polly physically assaults Alice. The altercation adds time to Polly’s sentence, which wasn’t initially that lengthy. Rather than serve additional time, Polly agrees to work for Alice, on the outside, as a prostitute. Each week, someone will be around to collect Alice’s percentage of Polly’s earnings.  

The brothel Polly will be working out of is run by Madam Anna Sage, portrayed by Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Despite her having to deal with all sorts of unsavory types, she does make a few friends, who also work at the brothel, Pops Geissier (Peter Hobbs), and Pinetop (Rod Gist). Unfortunately for Polly, a frequent customer of the brothel is a mob enforcer nicknamed Frognose, a role acted by three time Emmy winner, Christopher Lloyd (Taxi). Turk, played by Oscar nominee, Robert Foster (Jackie Brown), who Polly meets while working at the brothel, unbeknownst to her, will wind up being an important ally of hers in the future.  

Even when Polly thinks she’s made a love connection, it winds up adding further turmoil to her life. Polly meets a charming, handsome man, who she begins to date. The problem is that the man is none other than notorious gangster, John Dillinger. He never admits his true identity to Polly. The part of Dillinger is performed by Golden Globe nominee, Robert Conrad (Baa Baa Black Sheep). Anna learns from her lover, Captain Hennessey (Buck Young), that Polly’s boyfriend is Dillinger. It is information that Anna is willing to give to the F.B.I., in order to get out of being deported back to Romania. As in real life, the feds take care of Dillinger. From that moment forward everything that has happened to Polly up until that point in the movie, will seem comparatively harmless, compared to the trouble coming her way. She is hounded by Lingle and his press cohorts, and more importantly, and dangerously, Frognose, and those he represents. 

“The Lady in Red” was directed by Lewis Teague (Alligator). The screenplay was written by two time Oscar nominee, John Sayes (Lone Star). The film was released in American theaters on July 27, 1979. Parts action, crime, drama, and romance, the movie has a runtime of 93 minutes. The film features an entertaining and historically accurate score composed by two time Oscar winner, James Horner (Titanic). 

The stylish film moves at a fast pace. The performances of the cast were engaging, especially the lead performance by Martin. The script was well written, and the direction by Teague, who has always been an underrated director, in my opinion, was spot on. The main problem for the film is that it was shot during a four week time frame, and had a paltry budget. It would’ve benefited, once more in my opinion, from more of both; considering what the filmmakers managed to accomplish with limited time, and lack of funding, it certainly deserved both.                       

About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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