Dishonored Lady is an interesting film in that, long ahead of its time, it confronts head-on the problems professional women face, at the same time revealing how hypocritical morality was in the post-war era. Hedy Lamar plays Madeline, an art director at a high profile magazine. Her female subordinates gossip about her dates with numerous boyfriends, an activity also enjoyed by her male coworkers, who alternate between clucking their tongues at her, and trying to hustle a date with her.
Depressed over her latest failed romance, Madeline smashes her car into a tree belonging to a psychiatrist. He comes to her aid and eventually she becomes his patient. Without ever uttering the words “sex” or “nymphomaniac”, he diagnosis her as “a woman addicted to excitement.” When one excitement “wears off”, she goes for another, in “the way an alcoholic goes for another drink.” While her male colleagues openly criticize Madeline’s lifestyle, they also exploit the fact that she is an attractive woman to profit the company, introducing her to Felix Courtland, a rich playboy jeweler who was in important client for the magazine until she rejected a lucrative advertising spread on the basis of poor design. Fed up with it all, she decides she has had enough and that it is time to turn her life around.
Madeline quits her job and moves into a modest apartment, where she meets David, a scientist struggling to get his work published. In real life, Hedy Lammar was herself an accomplished scientist, and lobbied to get the science put into this film, although on screen she is only there to bask in the reflected glory of her male love interest. Her past comes back to haunt her when she happens to meet Courtland at a nightclub and he lures her back to his house, where he is murdered shortly after she leaves.
The double standards of the day are clearly spelled out in the ensuing courtroom scene. “You admit you love one man and yet you go to the apartment of another!” thunders the incredulous prosecuting attorney. Things end fairly well for Madeline, but it’s a bittersweet ending, as the moral standards of the day cast a shadow of guilt over her for being a woman, but acting, more or less, like the men around her.