The Yellow Ticket. 1931. USA. Directed by Raoul Walsh. 86 min.
Indulging their shared interest in deep-focus cinematography, director Raoul Walsh and cameraman James Wong Howe created some astonishingly shot sequences in this 1931 adaptation of a prewar Broadway melodrama by Michael Morton. In imperial Russia, a Jewish woman, Marya (Elissa Landi) resorts to applying for a “yellow ticket,” granted only to prostitutes, in order to have the freedom to travel and visit her father, who is dying in a dank czarist prison (imagery recycled from Walsh’s 1928 The Red Dance). A callow young Laurence Olivier, borrowed from RKO, is the newspaperman who takes an interest in her plight; together they strive to outwit a satanic aristocrat (Lionel Barrymore in full dudgeon), who has taken a prurient interest in Marya’s fate. Boris Karloff, a few months before Frankenstein, appears as a malevolent orderly. 35mm print from MoMA's archive