Marking the screen debuts of both Glenn Ford and Richard Conte (here Nicolas Conte), Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence was one of seven films helmed for 20th Century Fox by actor-turned-director Ricardo Cortez, brother of cinematographer Stanley Cortez. A gently rambling road movie, Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence follows an optimistic dreamer who quits his department store job to travel impatiently West, by thumb and by rail, to Arizona, where a plot of land he purchased by mail waits to be transformed into a farm. Along the way he befriends Conte’s garrulous drifter and, more unexpectedly, a Spanish Civil War exile played by serial-starlet Jean Rogers, with beloved handlebar-moustached character actor Raymond Walburn tagging along as an absentminded professor lending a comic accent to the spontaneous group dialogue. Much of the pleasure of the film lies, in fact, in those scenes of the unlikely group bonding in freight cars and beside hobo campfires, sharing their dreams and musings on life on the road. But darker forces also gather around the edges of the film, with specters of Dust Bowl poverty and cruel accidents threatening to shatter the travelers’ hopes for greener, more bucolic pastures.
Law enforcement czar J. Edgar Hoover cannily understood the power of popular media to define the image of the federal bureau he effectively invented and ruled for almost four decades. In the 1930s, Hoover turned to cinema as a publicity vehicle for his FBI, working with the studios to transform stories from the Bureau’s own files into gripping narratives of crime and its swift punishment. Persons in Hiding is the first of four B-films made by Paramount under Hoover’s close supervision and based on successfully closed FBI cases chronicled in his best-selling and eponymous book. Boasting a screenplay co-written by hard-boiled novelist Horace McCoy, Persons In Hiding balances its careful exposé of police procedure with a charged evocation of Depression-era struggle, embodied in the figure of an embittered hairdresser who impulsively embraces crime and a partnership with a petty hood as a means to obtain the status symbols she invidiously desires. The feature debut of little-known B-starlet Patricia Morison, Persons In Hiding offers the farm-girl-turned-ruthless-killer as an emblem of the criminality Hoover claimed lurked everywhere, even within the shadows of the American heartland.