Friday, January 17, 2014

ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945)

Allotment Wives is kind of like Rubber Racketeers, only the rubber here would be put to better use than tires, if you get my drift. During WW II, allotment wives were dames who married a soldier or two or three, often simultaneously, strictly to collect the benefits. If the "wives" were lucky and hubby got blown to bits on the battlefield, they'd receive a juicy death payout, too. I know what you're thinking: Where has this nefarious racket been all my life? 

Sheila Seymour, on the surface an upstanding pillar of the community, runs a military canteen for soldiers on leave. They're treated to donuts, Cokes and babes who seduce and marry them before the doll-dizzy doughboys are shipped overseas. That seems a better basis for a reality series than Duck Dynasty.



Shelia tries distracting Pete by wearing
a trashcan lid on her head.
In addition to her harem of cutie-pies, Sheila also commands several stooges who collect the benefit payouts and hire more future "wives" for her marriage factory. Too bad for Sheila,it's all about to get kamakazied. Army Col. Pete Martin is going undercover to bust the gang. One of Sheila's gunsels, Moranto, wants to set up his own harem of allotment babes. And her old childhood chum Gladys helps a hoodlum named Spike to kidnap Sheila's daughter Connie, an ungrateful boarding school bitch who has no idea of Mom's real occupation. What's a gangsteress to do?


How many men out there have gotten this same
you're-so-sweet-let's-not-ruin-it-with-sex crap?
One thing is certain: Sheila Seymour didn't need Sheryl Sandberg to learn how to Lean In.  Allotment Wives is refreshing in that a strong, secure woman runs a business operation with an iron fist. It would make Sheila kind of sexy if she wasn't 40 years old. (Kidding, kidding, kidding!) Indeed, her second-in-command, a dashing older gent named Whitey, is besotted with her, although she doesn't want to hand over the goods to him. Like a 40 year-old has any choice. (Again, kidding!)

It could be that Sheila's nursing a broken heart. When asked if her husband is dead, she replies, "Africa." Either he was killed in combat on the dark continent or she's speaking in a code not even the Enigma machine could break. Tonight when my wife asks me if I brushed my teeth, I think I'll reply, "Antarctica." Let her figure it out.

"If you need me, I'll be hiding behind the wall near the
pedicure bowl."
Collecting military benefits doesn't pay the bills for Sheila's fancy digs, so she uses a beauty parlor for a front. But as usual with B-movie criminals, secret panels and false walls abound, allowing Sheila's gang to come and go without being seen. You'd think the interior designers might have suspected that there was more than shampoo sinks and heel scrubbers at play here. By the way, does anyone outside of old movies have hidden passages at their workplace?

Shelia's daughter Connie has her own issues -- sex, drinking, sex and drinking being the mainstays. She's already played hooky
Momentarily possessed by Satan,
 Connie attempts to suck Sheila's soul
 from her.
from prep school to engage in these activities, but Mom promises to take her on a vacation if she just stays in school until graduation in the spring. But when Spike and Gladys kidnap Connie from her dorm, it's already August. (Where's the continuity girl when you need her?) Connie's taken on a bestial three-week spree that, according to an examining doctor, leaves her in a state of "psychosomatic." Someone take away his license to practice English. Col. Martin is no better, using the word "psychohysteria," a word that isn't even in the dictionary. But, speaking as a man who lives with a wife and teenage daughter, it ought to be. 
"I knew I should have quit smoking!"
A pack of Gauloises (product placement!) is the vital clue linking Sheila to the gang. In order to spare Connie further humiliation, Sheila commits suicide by cop, proving that cigarettes can kill you, especially if you have about five guns aimed at you. Connie can now safely return to her sluttish ways without worrying about getting chewed out by Mom.

On its face, Allotment Wives was something of a comedown for former A-star Kay Francis (Sheila Seymour). On the proto-feminist side, however, it was part of her three-movie production deal with Monogram Pictures, a rare case of a woman calling the shots in Hollywood, then or now. Perhaps the role of a woman bossing a roomful of men resonated with her, even if Sheila was a criminal. At her 1930s peak, however, Kay Francis was Warner Brothers' number one lisping leading lady, possessing a neurotic sexiness I find sickly irresistible. 

Co-star Paul Kelly (Col. Pete Martin) had his own real life brush with the law two decades earlier, serving time at San Quentin for manslaughter (a drunken fistfight over a jane, of course). The woman at the center of the altercation, Dorothy Mackaye (later Kelly's wife) served time as an accomplice. Her jailhouse memoirs eventually became the basis of the previously-discussed Lady Gangster. Everything's connected on this damn blog.

Movies like Allotment Wives and Rubber Racketeers should put to rest the myth that World War II made every American citizen a true-blue patriot who gave all to defeat the Axis. As one cop describes the gang, "They're like Japs and Germans: rotten to the core and incurable!" Sheila's silk pajamas even sport an absurdly large SS monogram for no reason other than to suggest Nazis (unless she likes being reminded of her initials when she's asleep). Good for Kay Francis for sticking her neck out by playing a such a despicable, nasty, unpatriotic woman. Damn, is she sexy.

Personal aside: At one time or another, the original posters for Allotment Wives and Rubber Racketeers graced our dining room wall. You should have seen the look on my wife's face when she first saw them. Talk about psychohysteria! 


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To read about Rubber Racketeers, click here.
To read about Lady Gangster, click here.
 

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