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Years before she wrote a scorching autobiography telling the world that its beloved “little tramp” was really a big bum, Charlie Chaplin’s former child bride, LITA GREY CHAPLIN, was coaxed out of retirement to star in this singular tale of pills and pushers featuring sleazeball extraordinaire, TIMOTHY FARRELL.
Lita started working in Charlie’s pictures at 12, and conceived Charles Chaplin Jr. when she was 15 and Chaplin was 34. (Chaplin Jr. died of alcohol abuse in 1968.) After a three-year marriage, two sons, and a bitter headline-making divorce, Lita spent most of her time playing clubs in Europe and the U.S., and touring with the Radio Keith Orpheum theater circuit. She sounds like Mae West on a bad day, and you can tell that she’s no lady to mess with.
Here she plays a judge whose innocent young daughter is targeted for a fall by no good Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell, of course), who obtains nekid photos of the girl at a goofball-fueled pill and pool party.
Pills were high on the 1950s no-no list, and it would appear that Scalli’s mission in life is pushing the entire illicit pharmacopeia -- nembutal, seconal, benzedrine, phenobarbital, and dinitrophenol -- to fat ladies and kids. The fat ladies gobble them at his phony health club, and he recruits clean-cut types to pass them out to the college crowd.
He hires “Mr. America of 1948” (GEORGE EIFERMAN) to class up his gym, and populates his pill parties with bozos and bimbos with one foot in the gutter. The Devil’s Sleep
(a.k.a. Hopped Up
) is the first film in producer GEORGE WEISS’ Umberto Scalli trilogy (followed by Dance Hall Racket
and Pin Down Girl
) and big shot Farrell is surrounded by the usual assortment of toads, including one yes man who surreptitiously gives him the finger.
The “finger” bit is probably an old burlesque routine as is the taking of TESSIE T. TESSIE’s ample dimensions with a tape measure. The glimpses of burlesque that come through in The Devil’s Sleep
and Weiss’ other “racket” movies gives a good idea of the venerable old school that graduated Abbott & Costello. That overtones of burlesque can be found in a film allegedly exposing a socially relevant topic is, of course, just one more reason why the world of roadshow exploitation is such a twisted joy.
From a 35mm pill-poppin’ print.
-- Hal Moffat
Lita Grey ChaplinOther cast:
John Mitchum, William ThomasonDirected by:
W. Merle Connell