Jail Bait (1954 film)

Jail Bait (also known as Hidden Face) is a 1954 American film noir directed by Ed Wood, with a screenplay by Wood and Alex Gordon. The film stars Clancy Malone as the delinquent son of a famous doctor, and his involvement with a dangerous criminal. Famed bodybuilder Steve Reeves made his first major screen appearance in the film, and it was one of the few films he made using his own voice (most of the films he made thereafter in Italy were dubbed in post production using other actors' voices[1]). The film belongs to the film noir genre, and contains themes typical of it such as plastic surgery and identity theft.[2]

Jail Bait
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEd Wood
Produced byEd Wood
Written byAlex Gordon
Ed Wood
StarringTimothy Farrell
Dolores Fuller
Clancy Malone
Herbert Rawlinson
Steve Reeves
Lyle Talbot
Music byHoyt Curtin (as Hoyt Kurtain)
CinematographyWilliam C. Thompson
Edited byCharles Clement
Igo Kantor
Distributed byHowco Productions Inc
Something Weird Video
Release date
  • May 12, 1954 (1954-05-12)
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States
(adjusted for inflation: $205,252)


A police car moves through the streets of Alhambra, California. The car stops at a police station, and the officers inside it transport their drunk prisoner to the station. Inside the station, Marilyn Gregor (Dolores Fuller) meets Inspector Johns (Lyle Talbot) and Lt. Bob Lawrence (Steve Reeves). Through their discussion, the viewers learn that her brother Don Gregor (Clancy Malone) had been arrested for carrying an unlicensed handgun. She has just posted bail for him, and the two officers warn her that she would forfeit if her brother fails to show up for his trial. They release her brother, but they refuse Don's request to return his handgun. As the Gregor siblings leave, John muses about the son of a great doctor being a jerk. Lawrence suggests it could be a result of the "sins of the father".[3] Johns suspects the young man was an associate of gangster Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell).[3]

The Gregor siblings return home and Don immediately heads for the liquor cabinet in the living room, pouring himself a drink. He then reminds Marilyn that he is a legal adult, and claims to know what he in doing. Both statements aim to prevent Marilyn from lecturing him on his behavior. They briefly argue and she breaks his glass. Afterwards, Don opens a book safe and retrieves a hidden revolver. As he prepares to leave, Don has a chance encounter with his father Dr. Boris Gregor (Herbert Rawlinson) at the front door. The son exits into the night, while the father enters the home.[3] As his daughter pours a drink for him, the Doctor reveals that he is already aware of Don's association with Vic Brady and his recent arrest. Inspector Johns had notified him with a phone call. But he is not particularly worried, feeling that everything will work out in the end. He blames Don's current behavior on the premature death of Mrs. Gregor and his own upbringing having had the unintentional effect of spoiling the boy.[3]

While Marilyn expresses concern over the influence of Brady on Don, her father continues to drink. He then heads for the book safe and discovers that the revolver is missing. He seems aware of his son's secrets, despite his apparent denial concerning his criminal tendencies.[3] The scene shifts to the Hunters' Inn, a bar in Temple City, California, where Don and Brady meet. Don receives his share of the money for his role in a recent robbery. They are then joined by Johns and Lawrence, and briefly "cops" and "crooks" (as they call each other) drink together. The policemen provoke Don into a confrontation, and he knocks over Johns' drink. As the officers intended, this gives them the excuse to frisk him. They fail to find the revolver, as he had earlier offered it to Brady for safekeeping. John orders both criminals to leave the bar and they obey.[3]

Outside the bar, Brady chastises Don for his impulsive behavior with the officers. Don wants revenge against Johns, but Brady dismisses the idea and reminds his partner that they have other plans. They are going to rob the payroll of the Monterey Theatre, though Don has his doubts about the plan.[3] At the Gregor House, Marilyn has changed into her nightgown while her father sleeps in an armchair, probably drunk. She wakes him up to discuss their concern over Don's nocturnal activities. The father states that he can't see his own son as a wrongdoer. But he also expresses guilt over his own failure as a father.[3] Brady and Don break into a closed theatre and ambush the nightwatchman (Bud Osborne).[3]

The nightwatchman is forced at gunpoint to open the safe for the criminals. At this point Miss Willis (Mona McKinnon), a bookkeeper, end her shift and attempts to leave the building. She startles the criminals, and the robbery starts having casualties. Don shoots and kills the nightwatchman, while Brady shoots the fleeing woman in the back. Afterwards Brady collects their loot while Don seems to be in shock over his own actions. The two criminals flee while police sirens are heard approaching the theatre. A car chase scene follows, with the driving Brady managing to lead their car to safety.[3] At the theatre, a doctor examines the wounded Willis, while Johns receives the basic information on the case: robbery, murder, and attempted murder. The nightwatchman is identified as a recently retired veteran of the police force, who took his last the job just to relieve his boredom. The officers decide to treat this case as one involving cop killers.[3] The press has already arrived at the murder scene, in the person of a female reporter (Regina Claire) and her photographer.[3]

Brady leads Don to the residence of his gun moll, Loretta (Tedi Thurman). While he explains their situation to her, Don leaves unnoticed. When Loretta notices his absence, Brady decides to search for him.[3] The following night, Don wanders the streets until deciding to visit his father's office. He confesses the murder to his father, and the doctor urges him to surrender to the police. The guilt-ridden Don agrees to do so eventually, but wishes for more time to think things through. His father helps him escape the arriving police. While fleeing Don is captured by Brady, who drives him back to Loretta's residence. The three of them listen to the radio, where the case of Paul McKenna (the nightwatchman)'s murder is covered and both their names are announced as murder suspects. Also mentioned in the broadcast is that Don is the son of a famous plastic surgeon.[3] Don repeatedly expresses his decision to surrender and face the consequences of his actions. Fearing for his own safety, Brady kills his partner. The corpse is temporarily stored behind a curtain.[3]

An argument between Brady and Loretta follows. She accuses him of destroying everything and everybody that comes in contact with him, while Brady reminds her that he once rescued her from the gutter. He insists that she should stay by his side to the end. The two end the argument in an embrace. At this point, Brady conceives a plan to elude the police by undergoing plastic surgery.[3] He contacts Dr. Gregor, claiming that he is holding Don hostage until plastic surgery is completed. The doctor decides to have Marilyn assist him, since she is a trained nurse.[3]

Days later, Lawrence attempt to romance Marilyn, with the ulterior motive of seeking further information on Don. She coldly turns him down. Later than night, Brady, the doctor, Loretta, and Marilyn gather in preparation of the operation. Brady expresses his distrust of the Gregors and has to be convinced that anesthesia is necessary. With Brady sedated, Dr. Gregor searches Loretta's residence for a water basin. He finds it, but also finds Don's stored corpse. He keeps this a secret and maintains a facade of calmness while performing and completing the operation. He claims that the bandages covering Brady's face have to stay on for two weeks. The necessity of a second visit saves his life and that of his daughter, as Loretta had orders to kill them both once the operation was over.[3]

Two weeks later, Brady and Loretta arrive to the Gregor residence on schedule. But so do Johns and Lawrence, who were both summoned by the doctor. They want to know who the bandaged man is. When Brady's bandages are removed, his new face is revealed to be modeled after that of Don. Besides the Doctor, everyone else considers him to be the wanted murderer. And the Doctor claims that the man is his son. A horrified Brady attempts to flee and is killed in a shootout with the police. His dying body falls into a swimming pool.[3]


  • Lyle Talbot as Inspector Johns
  • Steve Reeves as Lt. Bob Lawrence, the Inspector’s associate
  • Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Boris Gregor, a successful plastic surgeon and father of Don and Marilyn
  • Clancy Malone as Don Gregor, Dr. Gregor’s son and an associate of gangster Vic Brady
  • Dolores Fuller as Marilyn Gregor, Dr. Gregor’s daughter and Don’s sister
  • Timothy Farrell as Vic Brady, a gangster
  • Theodora Thurman as Loretta, Brady’s mistress
  • Bud Osborne as Paul McKenna, a Night Watchman in a theater
  • Mona McKinnon as Miss Willis, a bookkeeper in a theater
  • La Vada Simmons as Miss Lytell, Dr. Gregor’s receptionist
  • Regina Claire as a Newspaper Reporter
  • John Robert Martin as Detective McCall
  • Don Nagel as Detective Dennis
  • John Avery as a Police Doctor

Production notes

Jail Bait is set in Southern California, though this does not translate to the abundance of sunlight which is typically associated with the location. The action of the film takes place over several weeks, but "always at night". This perpetual night and darkness gives the film an "otherworldly ambience".[3]

The film, originally titled The Hidden Face, was inspired by producer Edward Small’s Let 'Em Have It (1935) which told the story of a gangster undergoing plastic surgery to elude the police.

The script of the film was co-written by Ed Wood and Alex Gordon. The narrative of the film has a tighter structure and a more coherent storyline than Wood's other known films, elements which Rob Craig suggests were the contributions of Gordon to the story.[3] The music of the film was composed by Hoyt Curtin and previously used in the film Mesa of Lost Women (1953). It makes use of a flamenco guitar and a piano, with their sounds combined in what seems to be a free jazz composition.[3] Craig sees the music as failing to add to the suspense of the film, instead giving the scenes using it a dream-like quality.[3]

The film was produced by Howco, a production company co-owned by Joy Newton Houck Sr. and J. Francis White. They were also the owners of their own chain of movie theaters in the Southern United States. According to the recollections of George Weiss, the producers took advantage of Wood. In exchange for the film's modest budget, Wood agreed to quit any demands on the film's box office earnings.[3][4]

The role of Dr. Gregor was originally intended for Bela Lugosi. Like Lugosi, Herbert Rawlinson was a seasoned actor who had seen better days. He was a leading man of the silent film and his career had lasted for about 40 years. Jail Bait was his swan song, as Rawlinson died the night after the film's shooting completed. [5][6] This was also famed model and radio star Theodora Thurman's only motion picture credit, as she entered a career in radio soon after the film was made.[7]

The performance of Cotton Watts in some film prints was not filmed by Wood. The production company used film footage from one of Watts' stage shows. Watts performed in blackface at the nightclubs of Panama City Beach, Florida from 1947 to 1959. He was one of the last notable performers in the genre, as its popularity had declined following World War II and the Civil Rights Movement opposed attempts at revival. The inclusion of the footage in this film probably reflects the sensibilities of the intended audience. Jail Bait was primarily released in areas of the Deep South, where blackface still held a nostalgic appeal.[3][8] The footage was previously used in the film Yes sir, Mr. Bones (1951).[9]


The role of Marilyn as the protective sister to the troubled young man is somewhat unusual. In the B movies of the 1950s, it was not unusual for a female character to express concern over her male counterpart. But said female typically was the romantic interest of the protagonist, not his sister. Craig finds that Marilyn takes on the role of Don's wife, without any actual sexual tension between the siblings.[3]

The absence of a loving mother figure is said to be at the root of Don's problematic behavior. This is reminiscent of Glen or Glenda (1953), where Glen and his mother did not have a loving relationship and this was stated to be at the root of his problems. In both cases, the scripts emphasize the importance of a mother to a nuclear family.[3]

Don Gregor is one of Wood's typical sympathetic characters, a relatively decent man with a bad habit. The story follows the template of a tragedy.[3]


The film holds a "rotten" 29% rating at the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, receiving two positive reviews out of seven, not enough for a consensus. [10] Film critic Dennis Schwartz gave the film a C rating, citing its poor acting and script, but stating it has a "complete and understandable story" that makes it Wood's best film ever, without as much unintentional humor as his other films. [11]

See also


  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2000/05/05/us/steve-reeves-74-whose-hercules-began-a-genre.html
  2. Park (2011), p. 152
  3. Craig (2009), p. 69-82
  4. Craig (2009), p. 292
  5. Rudolph Grey, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) ISBN 978-0-922915-24-8
  6. Craig (2009), p. 293
  7. https://obituaries.desertsun.com/obituaries/thedesertsun/obituary.aspx?n=Tedi-Thurman&pid=159971297#fbLoggedOut
  8. Ken Brooks (August 20, 2000). "Cotton Watts, the last blackface'". Panama City News Herald. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  9. The Cinémasochist (September 1, 2011). "Crap within Crap'". wordpress.com. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  10. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jail_bait/
  11. http://homepages.sover.net/~ozus/jailbait.htm


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