Safe in Hell

Criterion Shelf is an ongoing collaborative retrospective of classic films, helmed by Bil Antoniou, tackling curated collections on the Criterion Channel. For November 2023, the topic was the curated list ‘Pre-Code Divas’, a list of films featuring strong women characters dealing with leering men and racy subject matter, at least by 1930s standards. Several of these films would go on to be cited as evidence in the creation of the Hays Code – the self-imposed content guidelines for film implemented by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which would remain in place from 1934 to 1968.

This month, I contributed writes ups for the William Wellman-directed films Night Nurse and Safe in Hell.

…there isn’t much [in Night Nurse] to see that wouldn’t be fair game to dramatize in contemporary cinema (except, likely for many, one scene where Gable knocks Stanwyck out over a disagreement and faces exactly zero consequences). Still, the performances are stagy, campy, and fun in a way that only classics like this are…

It’s likely best known for its bleak-as-hell ending, which I won’t spoil here, there are some excellent scenes worth seeking the film out for, in particular one in which she does go to dinner with the men around her and enjoys one night of being the centre of attention after months of hiding. Its morals are more than a little dated, with the overarching plot being that of a woman pledged to stay faithful to a man while being manipulated and abused by several others, but Safe in Hell is a film that will likely spark lengthy conversations after viewing.