Like his fellow charlatan in Sucker Money, Religious Racketeers' Louis LaGagge
|LaGagge surrenders to the ridiculous|
script (and costume).
Aware that reporter Elliot Cole is on his trail, LaGagge persuades Martha into going to Egypt to meet another swami -- LaGagge in disguise. That is, if you can call his atrocious black beard a disguise. It's more of a distraction, as you sit there wondering, How many voles did they have to kill to make that thing?
|"This Christmas, sweetie,|
you give me something -- starting
with all your money."
|Why make good money running the lights|
of a Broadway show when you can work for
a fly-by-night scam artist?
Too bad Religious Racketeers' set designer didn't have a tenth of the money flowing through the movie. A scene in a graveyard is represented by plaster-of-Paris tombstones in front of an oversize picture of a cemetery. In Egypt, LaGagge's tent is pitched in front of a photograph of the Sphinx. (A live camel gives the best performance.) By the time they got to India, I was looking forward to seeing a snapshot of the Taj Mahal to set the mood, but had to settle for flimsy set of downtown New Delhi, represented by a couple of storefronts and a streetlamp. If it wasn't for the extras with tablecloths around their waists, it could pass for Kansas City.
|"Why, sure I'm Arab! I'm in|
Arabia, ain't I?"
|Martha swoons at the way Ada|
handles such hamfisted dialogue.
The budget woes appear to have affected the number of takes the director could shoot as well. Informed that Cole has found Martha's hotel, LaGagge asks Wilson, "Did he see her -- I mean, talk to her?" It's rather shocking that he could screw up that line, when the woman playing Martha's friend Ada (Betty Compson) perfectly recites tongue-twisters like, "You should see him in the temple, when he surrenders himself to spiritual communication." I couldn't even memorize that. A decade earlier, Ms. Compson was pulling down $5,000 a week at Paramount. She was now reduced to Poverty Row ventures like Religious Racketeers thanks to her former husband's financial shenanigans -- none of which included gazing into crystal balls or pretending to gab with the dead. Where was Hollywood Racketeers when you needed it?
For a movie that's supposed to be a warning against spiritual shams, Religious Racketeers sure gives a terrific crash course on how to play the game. Every few minutes, LaGagge carefully explains to Wilson how to reel in the suckers, get them to fall in love with you, then persuade them to hand over all their cash. I wonder how many people considered this an instructional movie.
|"Harry, you never talk to me!"|
|"Call me Fanch."|
Religious Racketeers' producer, Fanchon Royer, released a dozen other bottom-of-the-bill movies during the '30s, with captivating titles including Neighbors' Wives, Trapped in Tia Juana and Alimony Madness, making her ripe for another go-round on this blog. Moving to Mexico in the 1940s, Ms. Royer remade herself as an author of religious biographies. One of her subjects, Padre Pio, is said to have possessed a trunkful of mystical skills, including talking to angels, physically combating Satan and being in two places at once. That Ms. Royer could accept all this unhesitatingly while having produced a movie called Religious Racketeers would be amusing to many.
To read about Sucker Money, go here.