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Safe in Hell

Screening on Film
Directed by William Wellman.
With Dorothy Mackaill, Donald Cook, Ralf Harolde.
US, 1931, 35mm, black & white, 65 min.
Print source: Library of Congress

Safe in Hell is a shockingly lurid pre-Code cautionary tale that follows a fallen woman’s dark journey as she escapes from a murder charge in New Orleans, smuggled by her sailor boyfriend to a remote tropical island ominously named Tortuga. Left alone on the sweltering isle by the sailor, the woman finds herself encircled by a menacing gang of lecherous fugitives and lowlifes. Despite the long distance from New Orleans, the woman’s criminal past follows to deliver a fate that led exhibitors to label Safe in Hell with the rarely used “Not for Children” warning. Wellman’s imperiled heroine is given resolve and dignity by the comely Dorothy Mackaill, a popular actress of the silent era largely forgotten today.

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