Road to Ruin, The (1934) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 09, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Road to Ruin, The (1934) (Blu-ray Review)


Dorothy Davenport/Melville Shyer

Release Date(s)

1934 (April 23, 2024)


True-Life Photoplays/First Division Pictures (Kino Classics/Something Weird)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A

The Road to Ruin (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Exploitation films thrived from the late 1910s to the early 1950s. They were low-budget movies that dealt with controversial subject matter, were intended for adults only, and often were shown separately to all-male and all-female audiences. The Road to Ruin follows two underage girls whose smoking and drinking start them on the path to juvenile delinquency—dating older men, premarital sex, promiscuity, and abortion.

Ann Dixon (Helen Foster, School for Girls) and Eve Monroe (Nell O’Day, Law and Order) are high school best friends. Ann is shy and withdrawn, Eve is flirtatious and daring. At a sleepover, Eve introduces Ann to a steamy romance novel and boasts that she lets boys kiss her. Eve then initiates Ann into smoking and drinking and tells her, “I can see we’re going to have swell times together.”

Eve’s friend Tommy (Glen Boles, Flirtation Walk) is attracted to Ann and persuades her to go rowing with him on the lake, where more smoking and drinking take place. On shore, they embrace in the grass. Cut discreetly to Ann sobbing, suggesting that Tommy coaxed her into having sex, though this is never shown. We only see Ann distraught as Tommy tries to console her and apologize.

Ann continues to see Tommy, all the while lying to her parents about where she’s going and with whom. At a party, young Tommy gets sloppy drunk and Ann turns from him in disgust. Sophisticated older man Ralph Bennett (Paul Page, Palmy Days), who has had his eye on Ann all evening, seizes the opportunity to entice her away and she leaves with him. A smooth operator, Ralph gradually seduces her by taking her to wild parties, plying her with booze, persuading her to take part in a strip dice game and nude swimming and, eventually, sex. Their sexual involvement is presented without overt mention, as is Ann’s discovery that she has become pregnant and Ralph’s persuading her to have an abortion. Ralph contacts the “doctor” he knows and takes Ann to the appointment, something he clearly has done with other girls in the past. The unspecified procedure results in a “clumsy, unsanitary operation” and Ann becomes very ill.

Directors Dorothy Davenport (as Mrs. Wallace Reid) and Melville Shyer crafted a moralistic melodrama about the pitfalls of leading an intemperate life. When we first meet Ann, she’s a typical nice girl from an upstanding family who’s influenced by a good friend and peer pressure to venture into a world that is both forbidden and fascinating. In stages, Ann transforms into a “juvenile delinquent” by making bad decisions that lead her down a ruinous path.

For an exploitation picture, The Road to Ruin manages decent acting. Foster projects a pleasant screen personality so we root for her Ann even as we watch her succumb to destructive influences, lie, sneak around, and ultimately get into serious trouble. The script enables us to empathize with her and hope she will extricate herself from a downward spiral.

It’s interesting how gingerly the script deals with taboos. Deft writing and editing suggest what has occurred off screen.

Production values are far from the best. Sets are rudimentary and look cheap. A night club set is particularly bargain-basement. Night scenes take place in bright daylight. In one scene, the shadow of a boom microphone can be seen on the wall. Ambient music tends to drop off abruptly from one shot to the next.

The Road to Ruin is a remake of the 1928 film of the same name, also starring Helen Foster. At 20 minutes longer, the 1934 version incorporates a lot of musical sequences into party scenes that tend to slow the narrative. In the early 30s, filmmakers wanted to show off sound, so this might explain the overuse of jazz bands, irritating warbling of the Campus Crawl by tenor Jimmy Tolson, and shimmy dancing by Eleanor Thatcher. Outdoor shots near the high school and on country roads open up the film nicely, avoiding the claustrophobic feel that characterizes many exploitation movies. Decently made, The Road to Ruin is a morality tale of an impressionable teenager whose abuse of her parents’ trust leads her to Jazz Age perdition.

The 1934 version of The Road to Ruin was shot by director of photography James Diamond on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The Blu-ray features a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film is a 4K restoration from archival 35 mm elements. Clarity and contrast are excellent. Details are well-delineated. The print is clean, with no distracting dirt specks, scratches, or other imperfections.

The soundtrack is English DTS-HD Master Audio dual mono. English subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sound effects include car engines, dance music, and ambient club noise. Sound editing is often amateurish. A major flaw is the sudden dropout of music in club scenes when one shot cuts to the next, making for awkward sound transitions.

The 1928 version of The Road to Ruin, directed by Norton S. Parker, follows the same story as the re-make, only this time, Helen Foster’s character is called Sally Canfield. The film opens with a message from Capt. Leo W. Madden of the L.A. Juvenile Bureau about the need for “conservation of our Youth.” As he points accusingly toward the camera, an intertitle reads “It is your problem as well as ours.” The cad in this version is Don Hughes (Grant Withers, My Darling Clementine), and we actually see him put something in Sally’s drink. In the later version, this is only implied. Instead of a strip game of craps, the revelers play strip poker, though in neither version do the players get further than their underwear. Scenes contains color tints and a piano score accompanies the film. The pace is brisker than the remake. The film concludes with a quote from Romans, 6:23—“For the Wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The Road to Ruin (1928) was shot by director of photography Henry Cronjager on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Color tinting has been added to this print. Physical quality is not very good, with extended, embedded vertical scratches, dirt specks, and heavy damage in places. Intertitles show what characters are saying. One of the more interesting shots is a tracking shot of four young friends riding in a car.

The soundtrack is made up of music composed and performed on piano by Andrew Earle Simpson.


Bonus features on the Blu-ray release from Kino Classics include the following:

  • Audio Commentary for The Road to Ruin (1934) by Eric Schaefer
  • Audio Commentary for The Road to Ruin (1928) by Anthony Slide
  • The Cocaine Fiends Trailer (1:48)
  • The Devil’s Sleep Trailer (2:54)
  • Marihuana Trailer (2:53)
  • Narcotic Trailer (2:31)
  • Test Tube Babies Trailer (3:19)

Audio Commentary (1934 version) – Eric Schaefer, author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films, notes that for four decades, exploitation films were low-budget out-of-the-mainstream pictures for adults only. They dealt with topics avoided by major studios. Studios would re-make films, sometimes under different titles, to save money. From the late 20s into the early 30s, silent pictures were still commercially viable because many theaters had not yet been wired for sound. Exploitation films usually cannibalized each other. There are no clinical scenes in The Road to Ruin. Helen Foster was a Wampus Baby Star. Some Wampus stars, such as Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Jean Arthur, and Ginger Rogers, became stars. Foster had minor roles in films but her career went downhill. The Road to Ruin contains ambiguity about characters’ decisions. Many things are presented obliquely; nothing is spelled out. It’s difficult to pin down who wrote the script. A montage in thefilm shows Ann and Ralph enjoying pleasant times together. Ralph is playing the long game in his seduction of Ann. A series of post-Word War I films about venereal disease created a moral outcry suggesting the films would encourage immoral behaviors. Because of a number of scandals in Hollywood, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America was founded to “clean up” the industry. In June, 1934, the Breen Office was established and the Production Code was enforced. All films had to have a seal of approval before being exhibited. Because exploitation films were usually booked into independent theaters as educational, they were able to circumvent the Code. The Road to Ruin premiered in 1933 at the Majestic Theater in Boston.

Audio Commentary (1928 version) – Film historian Anthony Slide notes that though The Road to Ruin was made cheaply, there’s a sincerity about it. The film begins poorly, with a “talking head,” a strange choice for a silent picture. The presence of a person who deals with juvenile delinquency gives the film stature. Helen Foster had been on screen since 1925. This was her 19thfilm. The film illustrates what can happen when mothers do not keep track of their daughters. Sally and Eve both lack parental control. Foster gives a good performance with “unaffected charm.” Drinking on screen took place despite Prohibition. The Hollywood community favored the repeal of the Volstead Act and the eighteenth amendment. In many cities across the United States, attempts to censor the film met with failure. Only in Ohio, the film was banned. Though it’s never explained why the girls are given medical examinations, they are likely tested for venereal disease. The Road to Ruin was made at Metropolitan Studios in Hollywood, which has existed under several different names since. The cost is estimated to have been no more than $25,000, a small sum even for that period. It premiered in San Francisco and was a top grossing film of 1928, though it played in only 28 theaters. The San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a very good review, referring to it as well acted and well photographed. The box office take was “dismal,” and the film fared better in small-time theaters. On a final note, Slide states that The Road to Ruin is too good a movie to be dismissed as merely an exploitation film.

Both versions of The Road to Ruin are intended to create an awareness of the pitfalls teenagers face through peer pressure and bad decision making. The films are not as over the top as other exploitation films of the period, but subtly put forth their message. Helen Foster is a sympathetic heroine in both, not a sex-crazed, booze-drenched flapper. She’s relatable, and that keeps the films from going off the rails. It’s fascinating to observe the deftness of the script in avoiding such words as “pregnant” and “abortion,” yet making perfectly clear what’s happening.

- Dennis Seuling