The Lady in Red (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Roger Corman is listed on IMDb as the producer of 316 films. He has also directed 54, acted in 48, and written five more. In all that time, Corman has probably never made a must-see film. His highest-rated film at IMDb is The Intruder, one he directed himself, which stars Bill Shatner. 'nuff said.

But Corman has made a lot of watchable movies, and almost every one has made a profit. What is his secret to producing respectable films at a low cost? Well, of course, there are many secrets to holding the costs down.

  • He's always been fond of using stock footage from his own earlier films.
  • He doesn't need many writers for his projects. He keeps making the same films over and over!
  • He films in the cheapest places in the world with proper facilities. For years, he loved the Philippines. Now he's into the former Soviet Bloc, which has plenty of educated people and low costs.
  • He has kept an eye on his market, and has delivered topical material for a highly-targeted audience. When Bonnie & Clyde made loveable gangsters fashionable, he delivered a bunch of fast-moving gangster flicks about Depression-era mobsters, all the while delivering plenty of bare breasts, laughs, and violence, to assure that his audience got what they expected.
Those measures, however, only serve the economic equation, and don't explain why many of his films are surprisingly good. He has the answer for this as well. There are always many surprisingly talented people in Hollywood who want to get into films. There are soap opera and television actors who want to jump to the big screen. There are writers with great scripts who don't have the contacts to sell to a studio. There are talented actors and film school grads who want to learn how to direct. There are talented people on the way down, who want to prove that they aren't washed-up.


Pamela Sue Martin shows her breasts in a well-lit prison scene and two poorly lit sex scenes.

Many, many extras show their breasts and crotches, both in the prison and the bordello.

Those are Corman's people. Corman is the International League of Hollywood. Like triple-A baseball, his films are manned by people with potential on the way up, talented wannabees, or former big leaguers down on their luck. He has always offered talented people the same deal:

Work for me cheap. There isn't any money, but you'll get exposure and/or training.

And so talented guys like Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese have Corman cheapies in the earliest projects on their resumes. Everyone has to start somewhere, and Corman offered a way in the door, a learning experience, and a chance to show what they could do.

In the case of 1979's The Lady in Red, the certified genius on the payroll was author John Sayles, who later wrote and directed a bunch of creditable films, like Eight Men Out and Lone Star. But Sayles wasn't the only asset. Pamela Sue Martin wanted to escape her cutsie-pie TV image, so Corman let her talk dirty and show some grit. Not to mention her breasts. Robert Conrad was a charming John Dillinger. (Albeit probably nothing like the real guy!). Robert Forster was hanging around, and so were a bunch of dependable character actors like Louise Fletcher and Christopher Lloyd. At one time or another, every one of those people has been a major star in some medium. Fletcher even has an Oscar. Corman embraced them all. He gave them the chance they wanted. They gave him the cheap, talented labor he needed. A perfect marriage.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Full-screen format

  • very poor DVD, no meaningful extras.

What a shame the image quality is so poor on this DVD. The transfer is an embarrassment, a fact emphasized by the fact that the image quality on the trailer is gorgeous, thereby whetting our appetite for a really impressive low budget film. Well, someday we'll get to see that. Not today. Also, the DVD is a 4:3, so we can't see what it all looked like on the big screen. 

Tuna's Thoughts

The Lady in Red (1979) is the fictionalized story of the mysterious "Lady in Red" who fingered John Dillinger. Pamela Sue Martin in the title role used this film and her stint as HEFFer of the month to break out of her Nancy Drew girl scout image, and do more challenging work. Other notable players included Robert Conrad and Christopher Lloyd. Martin is daughter of a fundamentalist preacher. She is caught in a bank hold-up then seduced by a reporter, and beaten severely by her father, so runs off to Chicago. After attending the school of hard nocks in a sewing sweat shop, a taxi-dance hall, jail, and a fancy house, she is befriended by public enemy number 1, John Dillinger. They attend a movie with a friend, and her read dress is what signals the feds that it is Dillinger. Martin decides not to just get even, but to get ahead, and starts her life of crime for real.

The breast and buns exposure from Martin is very nice, and there is a lot of incidental nudity from unknowns in the bawdy house and in jail. The transfer to DVD was abysmal -- even the trailer included on the DVD was far better video quality, which is a shame, as the film is a very atmospheric piece. This is a 4/3 version, that, I am guessing, is actually full negative, as the top of the frame is mostly uninteresting. It is like it was intended to be cropped for the Wide screen. Martin does a god job as the corruptible preacher's kid with survival instincts and plenty of moxie. I found the Dillinger character very hard to swallow. He came off as a sweet guy being chased by the evil feds for no good reason. Still, it was a fast watch, and would have been even better with a good transfer.  C+

The Critics Vote

  • no external reviews.

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is only a C- as shown on this DVD. The visual quality is dismal. You can't even see what's happening in a couple of scenes. I suspect it is should be a C+, using the trailer as evidence that it was actually a much better film visually. Still it is watchable grade-b fare. Conrad was absolutely charming as Dillinger.

Return to the Movie House home page