Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Helps a GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)
Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Film noir is one of my favorite sub-genres in the industry. With its double crossing dames, doomed heroes, dark shadowy alleys and sets, and general bad attitude, the noir genre contains the darkest mysteries in an already shrouded playing field. Films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), DETOUR (1945), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), and the amazing OUT OF THE PAST (1947) established the guidelines of noir, although pulp fiction books and magazines had been promoting such grimy, sordid tales for many years.
Along comes 1953, and with it, one of the grubbiest, sleaziest film noirs of all time – GIRL ON THE RUN. This one takes place in a traveling carnival, therefore making it – what? – carny noir? Hoochie coochie crime drama? In any case, it’s a real find, and it’s a hoot and a half if you’ve imbibed earlier in the evening. Which I highly recommend.
The titles roll over the strains of John Phillips Sousa, and we get a look at the carnival, complete with Ferris Wheel, funhouse (with a laughing clown that’ll give you nightmares for weeks), a merry-go-round, and, most important, a burlesque coochie dancer show! A hen-pecked man escapes his wife and makes for the girlie show, where they gyrate with feathers sticking out of their butts like cut-rate exotic birds, with black kitty-kat masks, and sequined bras and grandma-panties. A dwarf, Blake, (played by Charles Bolander who was also in DARK INTRUDER, 1965), runs the carnival and hangs out behind the coochie tent with the main girlie attraction, Gigi. He discovers that a vice probe on the carnival has been suspended and the reporter who instigated the investigation has been fired and is on the run from the mob. A beat cop also goes behind the curtain to keep an eye on things, making the little guy furious. Turns out, the editor in charge of the paper that called off the investigation has been murdered, and the sarge thinks the young reporter who was fired did it. The reporter, Bill Martin (played by TV’s Captain Midnight himself, Richard Coogan) and his girlfriend, Janet, luckily happen to be right behind the curtain while this conversation takes place. He needs to hide in the carnival to prove his innocence and someone named Reeves’s guilt. Janet is standing by her man, but she also needs to hide. The cops are everywhere in the carnival, so they require disguises. So, Bill becomes a boxer in the fighting tent and Janet puts on the sequined black bra and granny-panties and mask of the coochie chorus line.
After the show, the dancers cackle like a bunch of hens, watched over by an older woman who smokes cigars and cracks wise. Soon, its costume changes (exposing just enough leg), and they’re out front with the barker. “All right now folks,” he shouts, “Take yer time. Don’t hurry. We don’t want ya’ to hurt yourselves. I now give you a cavity of beauty, a peerless pulchritude all set to entertain you. A treat for the lovers of real art. An exhibition to make the old feel young and the young feel better! Six tantalizing morsels of loveliness from every corner of the world” (Cut to a lip-smacking bull lesbian in the crowd watching the show enthusiastically!) “I now present to you . . . hey, this ain’t a show for boys. This is for adults only. All right boys, beat it. Come back in ten years.” We then get treated to six slightly overweight dancers trying to look exotic. Fatima of the Veils; Dolores, who shows the boys a little rumba; as well as the horsiest face ever committed to celluloid, Miss Pineapple of 1953 aka Love on the Dole! It’s actually a lot of fun to watch these time-capsule dancers who strut their stuff and bare just enough skin to earn a PG rating nowadays. We finish with the star, Gigi, from Paris (Kentucky).
Reeves visits the dwarf, who’s angry at the presence of all the cops when the whole vice investigation has been called off. Reeves is looking for Janet, who’s seen too much . . . like a murder? Reeves starts obsessing over Gigi. While the old woman, Lil, who oversees the dressing and undressing of the girls, helps Janet turn into a coochie dancer. Janet asks, “Is that all you expect me to wear?” The old woman asks, “You ain’t deformed are you? Put it on!” Turns out, Janet knows about a girl from the chorus line that Reeves “got in trouble” last year and who disappeared, so Reeves is actually in charge of running the town as well as the prostitutes out of the carnival. Lil hates Reeves as well, because she’s married to his boss, and Reeves will do anything to be Mr. Big on top of the town.
The dwarf, Blake, blackmails Reeves for twenty thousand dollars, because he has a lot on Reeves, although we don’t know what. Meanwhile, Lil convinces the other girls to circle their pasties around Janet to protect her from Reeves’s prying eyes.
Bill Martin, reporter (remember him?), becomes a volunteer to fight the champ in the boxing ring, almost knocking the big galoot unconscious. He was supposed to take a dive, but instead he becomes the new champ attraction!
Gigi goes into her dance, and we see why she’s the star of the burlesque show. Yowza! Wearing bat-wing veils and a leather bikini, she gyrates to a sultry sax solo. And, hey. . . in the audience . . . is that? Steve McQueen? From THE BLOB (1958), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE SAND PEBBLES (1966), and BULLITT (1968)? It is! In fact, it was his first role in a feature. He doesn’t say anything, but it’s freaking Steve McQueen, so the movie just got fifty percent cooler.
The dwarf strikes an uneasy alliance with Bill, offering him a job until they get over the state line. Bill accepts, but not before Janet has to dance semi-nude in public. Oh, the shame! The horror! But she nearly pulls it off. Reeves, however, can count, and he notices there’s an extra girl in the hoochie line. Lil goes after Reeves with her fingernails, and he shouts, “After twenty years, you’re interfering with my life again!” Reeves figures out Janet is the witness, and a trap is set for Bill using Janet as bait! But the leering dwarf wants to save her . . . if she’ll do something for him. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
The double crosses and the fights keep coming until the bodies start piling up. Lil narcs on Reeves and his soiled past, Bill may be throwing Janet over for another dame, the dwarf seems to be lying to everyone in America, and Gigi has her own agenda.
The script by Arthur J. Beckhard (who previously wrote Shirley Temple movies for God’s sake! CURLY TOP and OUR LITTLE GIRL, both 1935 – shame shame shame, Mr. Beckhard!) and Cedric Worth is a muddle. The pacing is all over the place, although it never seems slow. The dialogue is mostly hateful and bitter, which makes everything better. The photography is suitably dark, and the carny atmosphere is sordid and grimy. The actors all do what they can with the material, but it’s kind of a hopeless cause.
GIRL ON THE RUN is a really fun little carny noir that zips along for its brief 64 minute running time. You get a somewhat complicated plot with little back story, a shooting, slimy, mustache twirling villains, catfights, rescues, insane plot twists, and more double crosses that you can shake a scary clown at. Whenever things get slow, they bring out the dancing girls! And really, what’s wrong with that? One part of Gigi’s act is so good, they show it twice. Plus, a cameo by Steve McQueen and boxing and corrupt cops. Now, that’s entertainment.
And did I mention it has dancing girls?
I give GIRL ON THE RUN three coochie dancers out of four.
© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl