The Lady in Red

One of the real thrills of the ongoing ''Roger Corman's Cult Classics'' series has been the chance to rediscover long-lost schlocky B movies. Another has been realizing that some of them aren't schlocky at all. Take 1979's The Lady in Red, just out as part of a double feature with 1975's Crazy Mama. Written by John Sayles, who went on to bigger and better things like so many Corman alumni (Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, and Crazy Mama's own Jonathan Demme, to name a few), Lady is a surprisingly powerful gangster flick about a mystery woman whose public-enemy path briefly overlapped with John Dillinger's in the '30s. It's just one of many Bonnie and Clyde knockoffs Corman cranked out at the time, but there's real artistry alongside the violence and nudity in this one. Pamela Sue Martin, a sad-eyed Carla Gugino look-alike best remembered for The Poseidon Adventure and Dynasty, is touching as Polly Franklin — a casualty of both the Depression and a nasty assortment of lecherous men. Sayles is relentless in piling on her bad luck. But as he says on the disc's commentary track, he had more on his mind than exploitation. He also gave Polly smarts, a loaded gun, and a real shot at redemption. And by the end, she's not a victim at all. She's a badass feminist hero.

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