I found this film on the Internet Archive (www.archive.org), and decided to watch it right away in order to see Helen Mack in a leading role. Mack left a lasting impression in a small, but pivotal role in His Girl Friday (1940), as the girlfriend of the man condemned to execution, who jumps out of the window of the city court press room. She also had a larger role in King Kong‘s sequel, The Son of Kong, basically playing a supporting role to a lot of stop-frame animation. In both of these roles, Mack balances herself between tender, good-girl innocence and a big-city brassiness. After seeing these films, I considered myself a Helen Mack fan, probably one of a handful in the world, and headed to eBay to get some old promo photos, for which there was not much competition. Mack starred opposite Cary Grant in Kiss and Make Up in 1934, but that is one of Grant’s harder-to-find films and I haven’t seen it yet. So this was actually the first time I have seen Mack in a lead role.
The story of The Wrong Road strains credibility. A young couple (Mack and baby-faced Richard Cromwell, who were actually 33 and 27 respectively), decide to rob the bank where he works as a clerk. Rather than a big shoot-out, she comes in and he simply hands her the money. Their plan is to hide the money, turn themselves in, do the time, and then retrieve the money and get married after they both get out of jail. A detective (Lionel Atwill) is assigned the case, and believing them to be essentially good kids, encourages them to turn in the money. They refuse, do the time, and find the detective is following them when they get out. Bad soon turns to worse for the young couple, as a hardened criminal who heard of the stashed loot in the pokey is freed and comes looking for it. “What I have to say now concerns both our lives,” Mack’s character says in the final moments of the film, “we are giving up this money. Even if we get away, we will be hunted. We will always be on the run. I don’t wanna be on the run. I wanna stand still. I wanna laugh again.”
Ironically, Lionel Atwill, who serves as the moral voice in this film, was embroiled in a sex scandal a few years later, being convicted of perjury after he concealed the names of high-profile Hollywood friend who attended an orgy at his house.