CONVICTED WOMAN (1940) – Directed by Nick Grinde, starring Rochelle Hudson, Frieda Inescort, June Lang, Lola Lane & Glenn Ford

Before the subject of ‘women in prison’ became ripe fodder for camp movies in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was prime material for the melodramatic, socially-conscious type of film produced in the 1940s.

Glenn Ford takes fifth billing in this smartly-directed film. Here he plays for the first time a crusading reporter, named Jim Brent, who factors into the plot in a peripheral but important way. Rochelle Hudson (who?) plays unemployed Betty Andrews who is wrongfully sent to prison for a crime she did not commit. After becoming increasingly hardened and cynical because of the poor treatment she encounters, she is redeemed by a reform-minded new warden. Ford, who takes a special interest in her plight while researching a story, also becomes involved. A suggestion of romance between Ford and Andrews implies a satisfying conclusion to the story.

It’s fascinating to study these early films from a time when Glenn was a contract player at Columbia Studios. Though he was put to work in a variety of films there seems to be some sense of ‘the star that could be’ from Harry Cohn, Columbia’s top mogul and decision maker. It appears that Ford was recognized as a reliable young actor in need of experience and as such was not thrust front and centre but was rather allowed to quietly serve his apprenticeship and learn first-hand amidst the daily rigours of filmmaking.

According to Peter Ford, Glenn’s son, Glenn always approached acting as if it were ‘just a job’. While there may not have been any pretentiousness towards artistry on Ford’s part, the eventual results of his studious application to the job at hand were to bear fruit far greater than that of a mere tradesman. In being given the opportunity to work steadily in films without the pressures of stardom, yet with enough of a profile to be noticed, Glenn Ford was in the enviable position of being a satisfied player in the studio system.

Today much has been written and reminisced about the drawbacks of the studio system and how actors and actresses were at the mercy of ruthless studio heads who dictated their every move and controlled their lives. Ford remembers his time at Columbia quite differently, even affectionately, for though he retained his individuality and ability to think for himself, he was grateful for the orderliness and discipline of the studio system. Perhaps this is tied into Ford’s life-long association with the military which was shortly to interrupt his burgeoning film career.

One interesting note about these early Ford films is that he is often billed below actors who are virtually forgotten today. In HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE for example, there is Nicholas Conte (better known as Richard Conte) who was a recognizable face (especially after THE GODFATHER), and in MY SON IS GUILTY there is Bruce (KING KONG) Cabot, but up until THE LADY IN QUESTION (which follows) Ford’s co-stars were usually minor players in the Hollywood scene (Harry Carey in MY SON IS GUILTY an exception).

CONVICTED WOMAN is an entertaining film. Ford has an important, but relatively minor role. He retains the boyish likeability of the ‘character juve’ and he continues to flash his appealing and afore-mentioned smile. This ‘young’ smile, while exuberant, is almost goofy at times, suggesting it should be followed by a resounding ‘shucks’ or self-deprecating ‘gee’. Whether its discontinuance later on was a conscious choice of Ford’s ‘to make his smile more mature looking’ or not, it’s entertaining to see him flash his pearly whites in these early films.

While one can appreciate the ‘women in prison’ premise eventually wearing thin as a setting for straight drama, CONVICTED WOMAN is a sincere little film, imaginatively directed and coming across today as a dated morality tale typical of the period in which it was produced. It is a pleasant film, which shows young Glenn Ford in a nice character role as a crusading reporter for a big city newspaper.

Vintage Ford it may not be, but as always, his performance is credible.

MEN WITHOUT SOULS (1940) – Directed by Nick Grinde, starring Don Beddoe, Dick Curtis, Richard Fiske & Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford again has fourth billing in this tough prison drama, so typical of the ‘30s and ‘40s. He also gets the opportunity to play his first serious role as convict Johnny Adams who purposely commits a crime and has himself sent to prison to find the man who killed his con father.

MEN WITHOUT SOULS begins with an action-packed prison rebellion that is quelled by a crusading man of the cloth determined to bring reform to this tough prison. Despite endless opposition from both cons and guards, the good Reverend takes an interest in Ford’s Johnny Adams and is determined to save him from going any farther down the wrong path.

Ford is allowed to smolder for the first time, which is to say his dark good looks are used for more than just ‘boyish charm’. He broods, he suffers and plays it tough. He is a more rounded individual than in his previous performances, at first bitter and determined and later revealing his sensitivity when he is victimized and accused of murdering a prison guard. Most notably absent from Ford’s characterization is the boyish grin apparent in earlier films.

Ford plays his scenes with quiet understatement and thus stands apart from some of his co-stars. He seemed to know early on the difference between what is truthful and what is not. This stands in stark contrast to the dated theatrics of Barton MacLane as Blackie, the toughest of the incarcerated cons.

Of course Ford does not turn out to be such a bad guy and is redeemed by the Reverend’s determination and by the love of his sweetheart. It’s the stuff of good melodrama and it is played honestly and with heart. While it was a natural progression for the young Ford to play a tough guy, his characterization is not as full blown as in some of his later films. This is perhaps a concession to the time in which the film was made.

MEN WITHOUT SOULS is not a ‘Glenn Ford movie’ per se, for he is not the protagonist. Rather he is required to bring reliability to a strong supporting role and he does it well. This entertaining film is important in the Glenn Ford canon for another glimpse of the great performances to come.

BABIES FOR SALE (1940) – Directed by Charles Barton, starring Rochelle Hudson & Glenn Ford

Don’t let the lurid title fool you. BABIES FOR SALE is a good little film. Rochelle Hudson is once again featured (her third film with Ford), this time as a widowed young mother at loose ends to support her unborn baby and who winds up working for a corrupt doctor who sells babies.

The somewhat sensational subject matter is supported by sincere performances, including an affable, second-billed Glenn Ford as yet another crusading newspaper reporter, here named Steve Burton, who is out to expose the evil doctor and his cronies.

Ford continues to impress in these early films because he is consistently good, even when some of the characters he is given are similar types. His theatrical background equips him with the versatility to play a variety of roles with equal conviction. Often in films of this type—that is, dated and somewhat melodramatic—the ‘good guys’ come across as bland and saccharine. It is to Ford’s credit that he projects warmth, enthusiasm and likeability without being cloying.

And while he is not the central character, Glenn Ford provides solid support and helps the film retain its interest today. His boyish grin returns in this film, indicating a ‘nice guy’ in the best sense of the word.

At this point in his blossoming film career, Glenn Ford has not once given a bad performance. Perhaps he was beginning to attract the attention of the powers that be. This is suggested by the fact that Ford’s services were requested by another studio, his old screen-tester Paramount, to whom he was next loaned out to make his first A picture.

It was during the filming of BABIES FOR SALE that Glenn’s beloved father passed away.

THE LADY IN QUESTION (1940) – Directed by Charles Vidor, starring Brian Aherne, Rita Hayworth & Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford’s life-long friendship and fascination with Rita Hayworth began back in Venice, California, long before their first professional pairing on screen. In THE LADY IN QUESTION, their famous chemistry can be glimpsed without being unleashed in some playfully awkward scenes in which Ford tries to mask the extent of his attraction to her.

But any film starring the wonderful but largely forgotten star Brian Aherne (how brilliant he was in THE GREAT GARRICK a few years earlier!) was going to be tough ground indeed for any young actor to register much of an impression.

Aherne is the whole show here, playing the hard-working and soft-hearted owner of a bicycle shop who is enlisted into jury duty and makes such a positive impression on the court that the lady in question (on trial) turns to him for help after her acquittal. Of course the Lady in Question is Rita Hayworth and while she rarely displayed great depth or range as an actress, (though hubby Orson Welles tried in (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI) she definitely projects a luminescent beauty that allows her to hold her own with the brilliant Aherne.

Glenn Ford is given third billing here on the second credits card and it is easy to see why. Aherne is the star, Hayworth is the star-in-grooming. Ford and the rest of the cast are there as supporting players.

As always, Glenn Ford does well with what he is given to do. This is a light comedy with dramatic elements rather similar in tone to THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER with James Stewart. While perhaps lacking that film’s sophisticated touch (it was, after all, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch), THE LADY IN QUESTION still charms and entertains.

Not much new can be said about Glenn Ford’s progress as an actor here. He gives a reliable, sincere performance as Aherne’s son, Pierre, who falls in love with Hayworth (who wouldn’t with her living under the same roof?).

The most notable aspect of this film, as mentioned, is Ford and Hayworth together for the first time. In light of their later teamings (especially GILDA) it is fun, with the benefit of hindsight, to observe the historic first meeting (at least in film terms) of these famous on-screen lovers and life-long friends.

BLONDIE PLAYS CUPID (1940) – Directed by Frank R. Strayer, starring Penny Singleton, Arthur Lake & Glenn Ford

As I started watching this film, one of a series of 28 features, a television series and a radio program all starring Penny Singleton as Blondie and Arthur Lake as Dagwood and based on the comic strip BLONDIE, I thought I might be in for a bit of a long haul.

And while the film is certainly bound to its time and place, it is nonetheless light, entertaining and warm-hearted. BLONDIE PLAYS CUPID does little to enhance Glenn Ford’s growth as an actor, although it does expose him to some expert players in broad slapstick. It must have been fun to make this film.

Glenn Ford plays Charlie, a young man in love with the young daughter of his former employer who has banned him from his farm for unsuccessful oil speculation. Charlie and his gal try to elope and along the way encounter Blondie and Dagwood (and their child, Baby Dumpling) who have missed their train stop for a holiday in the country. Charlie offers them a ride and the relationship is formed. Needless to say, Blondie and Dagwood become embroiled in Charlie’s efforts to marry his sweetheart and escape the wrath of his future father-in-law.

The plot is irrelevant to our study of Ford and it might even be said that the film is, too. But taken for what it is, a comic strip brought to the screen (don’t they still do that today?) it’s a lot of fun. If nothing else, we know Glenn Ford kept working and learning his craft. And we have a good time watching him do it.

FILMS OF 1942-43