This falls in the wronged-man (woman) subgenre of crime mystery. Mary Burns (Slyvia Sidney) gets falsely implicated in a gangland shootout. After she gets sent-up–‘railroaded’ really– a undercover police woman, Goldie (Pert Kelton), works with her to expose the gangsters. There’s a good guy in her life, Barton Powell (Melvin Douglas), and a not-so-good guy, Babe Wilson (Alan Baxter). Spike (Brian Donleavy) is Babe’s right-hand-man.
Babe breezes in to Mary’s backwoodsy life, and doesn’t waste time proposing to her. Strangely, and just as quickly, police surround the house, and there’s a shootout. I guess he was wanted for something–murder, it turns out. “Gun moll won’t talk” read the headlines. The D.A. (Charles Waldron) gets her on just about everything.
Prison scenes now. She’s going to have to get some kind of deal or they’ll have to find a new actress before the end of her fifteen year sentence. Yes–here’s the parole board! So, the obvious ploy is that the authorities want to spring Mary to get the dope on Babe.
Babe’s busy pulling a heist at a football game. Pretty funny back office scene with an excited fan. Meanwhile, Mary and her cellmate Goldie work on an escape plan; leading to a nicely-done shadowy nighttime run for it. “That dame couldn’t bust out of a birdcage” muses Spike; that is, she must’ve been allowed to escape–yes, that’s it, Mary just hasn’t figured out who Goldie really was.
Her and Goldie get a room in town. The cops have bugged it, but still they get nothing on Babe. More funny stuff as Mary deals with a difficult patient, Barton, in the hospital where she’s working. So, since she’s extremely nice and doesn’t have an attitude, he likes her. “Tell me what Wimpy and Pop-Eye are up to” he asks her, as they have common ground discussing the comics. He wants her to be his secretary when he’s released “I don’t care if you got a face like a mud pie!”
The hoods have located her though, and Spike drops in on her. Great put-down, (to Mary, regarding Goldie) “Tell that broom-mate of yours to come here.” Another shootout, as the cops have apparently tailed Babe’s guys to the apartment. Mary ‘gets wise to herself’ and goes to see Barton. Man, he’s really fallen for her. She’s the sort that gets proposals lightning-quick.
She journeys to a faraway town. “she must have a terrible inferiority complexion or something” her landlady tells Babe. But the cops have the drop on him: except he holds a church congregation hostage with a hand grenade; which means he’s able to escape with her. Really cool car chase–Babe uses the grenade to blow a bridge behind them.
Now the cops find her in a dance joint. Strangely, they think Barton might figure into it somehow. Actually, they want to use Barton to get at Babe–by using Mary as a lure, so to speak. The plan is to ambush Babe. Barton’s so thrilled to see her that he shifts right into overdrive by repeating his proposal. Somehow, Babe eludes the trap and gets into the house.
While Mary and Barton are expressing their love for each other, Babe pulls a gun on them, wanting to take her away. As before, he uses her for a shield, but she sees his other gun in a shoulder harness, reaches in, and blasts him. A final funny bit is that, since he’d been shot by Babe, Barton ends up back in the same hospital, with the same nurses. And then Mary’s there to look in on him.
This was better than I expected. Sydney expertly plays a very pleasant, but very put-upon person, caught up in a lot of stuff not of her own doing. The movie reflects an era having limited options available to women. On the other hand, she’d been better off staying home than taking up with Babe. We just don’t know anything about him–how, and under what circumstances did he met Mary? What we do see is a two-dimensional criminal personality; someone completely unappealing.
Somewhat balancing Babe’s mundane creepiness is the mundane demeanor of the authorities. Mary is used by just about everybody until Barton comes into the picture. Douglas seems maybe more eccentric here than he needs to be, as he’s an obvious foil for the out-and-out ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. That’s what makes him such a natural match for the other misfit, Mary. A consistently nice touch is the snappy dialogue, very tuned to each mood and personality.
Farmermouse thought that Babe’s La Salle roadster was super cool, so he gives Mary Burns, Fugitive eight rumble seats. 8/10.