Cast & Crew
After petty racketeer Tony aids Sylvia Day's sick father, she reluctantly acquiesces to his demand that she participate in his latest scheme. With Sylvia's help, Tony stages fake pickpocketing in department stores, where the owners accede to Tony's extortion demands lest he spread the word of the alleged crime sprees in their stores. Sylvia is caught, however, and sentenced to two years in prison. She vows to seek revenge against Joe Smith, the department store manager whose intervention could have saved her, and her opportunity comes when in prison she meets Jeanie, a small-time criminal. Jeanie reveals that she married Joe many years ago but was deserted by him long before her conviction. Anxious to get out of prison, Sylvia starts a fire and then heroically extinguishes it. After she is granted a parole for her seeming courage, she begins to put her plan into action. Tony proposes to her and offers to start up their racket again, but Sylvia refuses. One night, she meets Joe at a party during which he has been drinking heavily, and he awakens the next morning to find Sylvia in his apartment. She tells him that, while they were drunk, they eloped and married. Tony, whom Sylvia has bribed to pose as a minister, convinces Joe that he is indeed married. Fearing scandal and a charge of bigamy, Joe agrees to support Sylvia for the next year while she is still under the supervision of her parole officer. Sylvia enjoys a comfortable existence at Joe's expense, and the couple even convince Joe's boss, Mr. Taylor, that they are happily married. While Taylor plans to promote Joe to enhance his new status as a family man, Tony grows bitterly jealous when Sylvia again repulses his advances. For revenge, Tony plants a counterfeit bill in her purse, but Joe convinces her parole officer that he was given the bill at the store. Astonished by Joe's kind act, Sylvia gives up her plans for revenge. She intends to walk out on him to spare him any further trouble, but before she can leave, Jeanie appears after being paroled. Unaware of Sylvia's relationship with Joe, Jeanie convinces her to accompany her to Florida after she blackmails her husband. Jeanie is unable to find Joe, however, and so the next day, the two women board the train. Sylvia leaves with a heavy heart, for she has realizes that she is in love with Joe, but her mood changes quickly when Jeanie reveals that she secretly divorced Joe years ago. Sylvia rushes back to Joe, who is waiting for her after having obtained a full confession from Tony. The reunited couple resolve to marry for real and start with a clean slate.
John Paul Jones
Parole Girl is the tale of Sylvia Day (Mae Clarke), who falls on hard times when her father falls ill. She hooks up with con artist Tony (Hale Hamilton) to scam department stores, with Tony claiming Sylvia has pocketed his wallet, then finding the missing item after she's been publicly nabbed, with the store paying her off for her embarrassment. The scheme works fine until they get to the store run by Joe Smith (Ralph Bellamy), who not only sees through the scam, but also has Sylvia sent to prison without even meeting her. With the kind of luck that only befalls movie characters, one of her fellow convicts is Jeanie Vance (Marie Prevost), who had married Smith years ago but never got around to divorcing him. Sylvia wrangles an early release, then sets out to make Smith think he's married her while drunk so she can blackmail him, with unexpected results.
Krasna started out doing publicity, but was so impressed by the film version of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page (1931) he retyped the original script repeatedly until he felt he understood how to construct a play. He then had a minor Broadway success with Louder, Please, which led to a contract at Columbia, where Parole Girl was his third screenplay. Perhaps it was coincidence or perhaps it was his unorthodox way of learning playwriting, but critics have pointed out more than a passing resemblance between this film and Bayard Veiller's hit play Within the Law, which had been filmed three times by the time Krasna produced his script. The most famous version of the play was MGM's 1930 Paid, starring Joan Crawford as a shop girl out for revenge after being wrongly sent to prison. Fellow con Prevost (in a role similar to the one she would play in Parole Girl), gets her in with a blackmail ring, but Crawford's ultimate goal is her former boss, whom she gets back at by marrying his son.
The script provides ample opportunities for Clarke to shed her clothes, with scenes in her underwear, flimsy negligees and some rather revealing gowns. That was nothing new to an actress who had done burlesque before coming to the screen. As a film star, she is best remembered for two roles, as Dr. Frankenstein's innocent bride in Frankenstein and as the moll on the receiving end of James Cagney's grapefruit in The Public Enemy (both 1931). The latter was more typical of her casting in the early '30s. Starting with her fourth film, The Dancers (1930), she was typed as a hard-luck dame, a character she would continue in The Front Page and Waterloo Bridge (1931). The hard luck moved into her off-screen life when a car accident in 1932 sidelined her career. By the time she made Parole Girl, her star was on the decline. By the late '30s, she would be playing mostly supporting roles, with the exception of some films she made for Poverty Row studio Republic Pictures.
Leading man Bellamy had his hard knocks at the start of his film career, when producer Joe Schenck dropped his contract after only two films on the advice of an associate who said Bellamy would never make it as a film star. He had a brief contract at Fox before going free-lance, at which point his professionalism kept him working steadily into the '40s, when he left Hollywood to return to Broadway. Some of his best work was done at Columbia, where he started out as Barbara Stanwyck's leading man in Forbidden (1932), one of the Frank Capra films that helped make her a star. Parole Girl was his second Columbia feature and gave him the chance to show some range as the character moved from pomposity to drunkenness to romantic abandon. The studio would later use him in The Awful Truth (1937), which brought him his sole Oscar® nomination, and His Girl Friday (1940), one of his best-remembered roles.
Parole Girl received desultory reviews, with The New York Times' Mordaunt Hall suggesting that "a youngster of 10 might easily pick holes in the story." He also suggested the film had only been released in April because, with the decline in movie attendance during Holy Week, the studio hoped nobody would notice it. Yet the film maintains strong interest for students of Hollywood history as an example of how the freewheeling pre-Code era could influence even a simple romantic crime thriller.
Director: Edward F. Cline
Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Cast: Mae Clarke (Sylvia Day), Ralph Bellamy (Joseph B. 'Joe' Smith), Marie Prevost (Jeanie Vance), Hale Hamilton (Anthony 'Tony' Grattan), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Taylor), Ernest Wood (Davison -- 1st Store Manager)
By Frank Miller
According to the copyright records, Norman Krasna's original story was entitled "Dance of the Millions."