An Innocent Girl! A Life Destroyed!
Ann Dixon (Helen Foster) is a good girl that practically radiates holy purity. Her new friend Eve Monroe (Nell O’Day) is decidedly different: she smokes, she drinks, she dances to swing music, and she goes with boys. She’s the kind of girl that teenage boys dream about and that their mothers have nightmares about. A good time and a bad influence, and she can’t wait to defile Ann’s innocence. Eve introduces Ann to the world of carnal pleasures and depravity step-by-step. A cocktail here, a bit of tobacco there, and perhaps a little gentle kissing in the car with Tommy (Glen Boles). The Road to Ruin is a long and twisting one, but it inevitably leads to a dead end.
THE ROAD TO RUIN is a roadshow picture that was intended to titillate under the guise of education, but it is of course nowhere near as salacious today as it used to be. It is charmingly dated and melodramatic, but it’s not as campy as others of its ilk. For a B-picture of the era, it’s actually rather A-grade, so it can be enjoyed by both classic film fans and midnight movie mavens alike.
THE ROAD TO RUIN was released in 1934, one of many of the original breed of exploitation films that hid behind a moral stance in order to skirt the censors. Typically the filmmakers were not truly concerned with warning the masses of modern societal dangers, but this was an effective smokescreen that could be thrown up when needed. Once the smoke cleared, though, the salacious and the scintillating were all that remained.
This was, believe it or not, a talkie remake of a silent film with the same name from 1928. After the emergence of sound, it wasn’t an uncommon practice to remake silent films, even if it had been only a matter of years since the original had premiered. The director of both features was the same person—Dorothy Davenport, who was primarily known as an actress.
Dorothy Davenport was born into a family of stage actors, and started appearing in films when she was just a teenager, mostly short features. She married actor (and multi-hyphenate) Wallace Reid in 1913, and the two worked together on a number of films. Reid was injured in a train wreck during the filming of 1919’s THE VALLEY OF THE GIANTS and was prescribed morphine by studio doctors for the pain. This lead to addiction and his eventual death in 1923, leaving Dorothy Davenport widowed and heartbroken.
It’s easy to see why, following her husband’s death, Davenport would choose to produce the drug warning film HUMAN WRECKAGE (1923), which she also starred in (and reportedly co-wrote and co-directed, uncredited). It also leads us to believe that she was one of the few putting out movies of this nature without (strictly) monetary motives. Whether or not the films that followed were also released with such philanthropic thought is up for debate. Regardless of her reasons, Dorothy Davenport also gave us the wild youth drama BROKEN LAWS (1924) and the prostitution potboiler THE RED KIMONA (1925), among other less-controversial fare. She also appears briefly in this film as Mrs. Merrill, she of the Crime Prevention Office, to whom Ann and Eve are remanded after their arrest.
The story for the silent version of THE ROAD TO RUIN was credited to independent filmmaker Willis Kent, who also wrote and produced this remake, as well as several of the other Davenport features mentioned above. Kent also gave us such cult classics as THE PACE THAT KILLS (1928, itself remade in 1935), MAD YOUTH (1940), and CONFESSIONS OF A VICE BARON (1943).
Both Kent and Davenport (who was credited here as Mrs. Wallace Reid in tribute to her husband) must have been suitably impressed with Helen Foster’s portrayal of Ann in the original silent version of ROAD TO RUIN, because they invited her to reprise it for the remake. Others must not have felt the same way, as in the 30 or so years following this film she was relegated to bit parts and uncredited appearances.
Ann’s boyfriend here, actor Glen Boles, has one of the more unusual career trajectories amongst the cast. Born Francis Glen Laroy Boles, he was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, but gave up on religion at an early age after a sermon in which the preacher denounced the cinema—an art form that he was very passionate about. He soon began acting, but eventually left Hollywood, breaking the contract he had with Warner Brothers, due to the treatment that homosexuals like him received in the movie business. He moved to New York and continued acting on Broadway until entering World War II, where he acted as a codebreaker. When he returned to New York, he attended Columbia University and seriously pursued psychotherapy under the tutelage of Margaret Meade. He practiced psychotherapy for more than fifty years, and died at age 95 on July 24, 2009.
Sounds like a life well-lived, and I’d love to see the social warning film they make about him!