dir. Anthony Mann
I continued with trepidation at the site of the PRC logo. I've got much respect for this Poverty Row studio, particularly for giving a home to low-budget maestro Edgar G. Ulmer; but PRC was, nevertheless, also home to all manner of blandly produced filler pictures. Yes, Anthony Mann's directorial credit on Railroaded was promising, but this was an early effort from the future auteur: no knowing what to expect.
Of course, I was wrong to worry. Mann's adept cinematic hand and efficient storytelling chops belie the meager means with which he crafted Railroaded. A tale as old as time (at least so far as noirs are concerned), Railroaded concerns the efforts of Rosie Ryan (Sheila Ryan) to clear the name of her brother Steve (Ed Kelly), wrongfully convicted as a cop-killer. It seems that wounded stickup man Cowie Kowalski, unwilling to drop a dime on actual cop-killer accomplice Duke Martin (John Ireland), fingered (not like that) poor sap Steve. Now, Rosie must convince sympathetic (meaning, he wants to bang her) cop Mickey Ferguson (Hugh "Stop calling me Ward Cleaver" Beaumont).
Although containing a typical noir plot, this 72 minute picture does show the promise that would later flourish in the career of Mann. The man had an impeccable eye: his brilliant chiaroscuro lighting ensured that the flimsy sets were always out of sight—and, also, like, made the images totally more dramatic and stuff. And the camera frequently glides through the spaces, implying a sense of grandeur that would have otherwise been absent.
Railroaded is also notable in the depiction of its female characters. I need not state yet again the status of women in noirs; but I will. As you know, women were mostly relegated to either femme fatale roles or, their inverse, the virginal saints—the women you could take home to mother. Although, on the surface, Railroaded doesn't seem to diverge from this dichotomy—Rosie is contrasted with the crooked Clara Calhoun, a woman in cahoots with the cop killers—things get muddled (in an interesting way) as the movie proceeds.
We soon see that, despite her wicked ways, Clara is ultimately powerless. She helps put away Steve, but only because she fears her fate were she to cross Duke. When Clara is guilted into submission by Ferguson, she relents and agrees to tell the truth, the truth that will set free Steve. For this she is murdered. Good girl Rosie, meanwhile, takes an active hand in investigating the real killers, putting herself in danger every step of the way. When she does finally get the dirt to bring down Duke, Ferguson comes in to help, gets the credit, and takes Rosie as his wife. No more adventuring for this gal.
In this way, Railroaded subtly recognized the fragile position women maintained in postwar America: after entering the work-force in record numbers during World War II, women were expected to submit and return home with the war's end. They had to accept their shitty station in life. Interesting subtext for a second-bill potboiler.