Slaves in Bondage

January 23, 2012 at 1:45 am (5 Heads, Slaves in Bondage) (, , , )

Slaves in Bondage – 1937 – United States

Slaves in Bondage was directed by Elmer Clifton, prolific director of over 90 films, mostly of the war and western variety. He also made no shortage of tawdry exploitation: Gambling with Souls (1936)—about gambling/prostitution, Assassin of Youth (1937)—about weed, and Slaves in Bondage.

A callous crime boss and his conniving lady partner use employment ads to lure desperate women to prostitution. A manicure parlor is the front for this expansive operation, until an aspiring reporter and his determined girlfriend crack the case. Mob backstabbing complicates the plot that ends in a furniture-smashing cabaret brawl.

Despite its lurid title, Slaves in Bondage is barely depraved. It focuses on the business of racketeering as much as the emotional hardships of prostitution. In fact, aside from one abused woman, the hookers seem cheerful. Loyalty to their employers even drives them to flee the cops during raids. Slaves in Bondage’s exploitative content is limited to lightly suggestive dialogue, catfights, and lesbian spanking that isn’t even very exciting. The two friendly gals giggle and pat each other’s bottoms.

More interesting are the numerous musical and comedic interludes—a common practice to lengthen cheap quickies. There are saucy tango dancers, a stripper with feather fans, a contorting gymnast, and clowning acrobats that are actually pretty amazing. And don’t forget the comedic drunks. One pours whiskey, gin, and wine in his friend’s mouth, shaking his head to make a “mixed drink”.

Compared to flicks of its ilk, Slaves in Bondage is competently made too. Some of the actors are passable and the shadowy photography is occasionally atmospheric. Slaves in Bondage also uses a variety of creative wipes: diagonal wipes, V wipes, and complex double arrow wipes. They aren’t very purposeful but their inclusion is at least unusual.

Like similar PSA-style exploitation cinema, Slaves in Bondage is a time capsule of paranoia. Fresh-faced rural girls venture to the city to be tricked into prostitution. But Slaves in Bondage lacks truly sordid sleaze and its easy and hopeful conclusion probably won’t resonate with cynical modern viewers. In some ways, its depiction of white slavery is disturbingly non-judgmental.

Rating: 5/10 Shrunken Heads. Watch it for the acrobats.

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