Tag Archives: 50s film

Love is My Profession (1958)

“You can’t explain happiness.”

Based on a Simenon novel, Love is My Profession (1958) aka En Cas de Malheur examines the power of sexuality and the issue of control through the obsessive relationship between a bourgeois French lawyer with a young girl. The young girl in question is Yvette, played by sulky kittenish Brigitte Bardot, a woman for whom morality isn’t exactly absent, but it is skewed. Normally, affluent middle-aged lawyer André Gobillot (Jean Gabin) wouldn’t cross paths with someone like Yvette, but Yvette seeks help and legal representation from Gobillot after she and her friend Noémie  (Annick Allières) attempt to knock off a jewelry shop, and Yvette ends up bashing the jeweler’s elderly wife over the head with a crowbar. After the robbery goes wrong, Yvette manages to run away to a bar where her sometime lover, student doctor, Gaston (Claude Magnier) works. Yvette gets the notion that she needs legal help and picks out Gobillot’s name from the phone book. Whether or not you think this is a stroke of luck or not may depend upon your romantic tendencies. 

Gobillot at first refuses to represent penniless Yvette until she raises her skirt and in an unforgettable scene reveals her lack of underwear and her garter belt. From this moment, Gobillot is a goner, and his personal and professional lives spiral out of control.He represents Yvette in court and by some clever, but unethical legal footwork, Gobillot manages to get his client free. Instead of Yvette walking back to her former life, Gobillot pays her bill at a hotel that’s all too conveniently close to the courthouse.  DVD covers often depict scenes far more salaciously than they actually are in the film, but this DVD cover is an exception. Bardot’s skirt is lifted higher in the film and you can see her garter belt and it’s also obvious that she’s not wearing underwear. Well the offer she makes to Gobillot is rather frank after all….

One of this marvelous film’s great characters is Madame Gobillot, played exquisitely by Edwige Feuillère. She’s not exactly a long-suffering wife, but she understands her husband better than he understands himself, so she’s one step ahead of his intentions when it comes to Yvette.

Gobillot begins an affair with Yvette, and although this should be a private matter, the illicit relationship has ramifications on everyone in Gobillot’s life. His wife initially accepts the affair as a silly passing interest, and she decides to tolerate it and keep the lines of communication open until Gobillot comes to his senses. Meanwhile Gobillot’s devoted old maid secretary, Bordenave (Madeleine Barbulée) is alternately shocked, concerned and titillated by Gobillot’s flagrantly erotic relationship with Yvette.

The complexities of the film’s characters add significantly to a tale that could be trite in the wrong hands. After all, the mid-life affair of a man of substance with a giddy, promiscuous blonde is hardly unexplored territory. While Gobillot’s relationship with Yvette is heavily sexual, there’s a large slice of the father-child dynamic at play. Gobillot treats Yvette rather as he would a naughty five-year-old, and this method works for the most part–even though her behaviour includes drug use and flagrant infidelity. For her part, self-confessed prostitute Yvette feels that she owes a debt to Gobillot, but their relationship extends beyond gratitude and also beyond the material security he showers her with.  Yvette’s sense of morality includes admitting infidelities to Gobillot, and he treats her like a child when she confesses or is upset–even holding a tissue while she blows her nose.

As the affair grows more serious, Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is stretched to breaking point, and in once great scene, Gobillot tells Bordenave that he’s giving his wife “real reasons to hate” and compares this to a “mercy killing.” While Madame Gobillot’s tolerance is a strategic move, her decision to allow her husband ‘freedom’ to indulge in this affair proves catastrophic. Freedom and possession also raises its head in Yvette’s relationships with Gobillot and Gaston. Both men want exclusive ownership–whereas Yvette seems happier with no constraints on her behaviour.

Love is My Profession was remade into the 1998 film In All Innocence (En Plein Coeur), and interestingly the original film is bleaker and its characters much more complex. It’s impossible to watch Love is My Profession without recalling Simenon’s life and his turbulent marriages. At one point while married to first wife, Tigy, he had a long-term affair with the maid, Boule, and when he and his wife travelled to America, his wife stipulated that the maid remain behind. However, when Simenon began an affair with Denyse, the woman who would become his second wife, his then current wife sent for the maid to join them. There’s a very odd scene in the film which includes Janine, the maid (Nicole Berger). Is it just me but is there some swinging going on there?

Love is My Profession is an entry into Caroline & Richard’s Foreign Film festival.


Filed under France

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

It’s been years since I first saw the 1952 film, My Cousin Rachel, and a rereading on the book written by Daphne du Maurier sent me on a hunt for a copy. Du Maurier is probably best remembered for Rebecca, and while I think the film adaptation of du Maurier’s novel Rebecca is excellent and much glossier, it seems strange that the film should hold such a premier position in film history (there’s even a Criterion version) while its poor relation My Cousin Rachel– has almost disappeared from view. Rebecca starred Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders and was directed by Hitchcock. The film won Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the 1941 Academy awards. My Cousin Rachel, directed by Henry Koster, racked up a number of Academy Award nominations in 1953 but no wins. One of the Oscar nominations went to Richard Burton for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, but he lost to Anthony Quinn for his role in Viva Zapata (Burton won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year). My Cousin Rachel was Richard Burton’s first American film, and the film’s salacious trailer calls him a “newcomer.” Burton is young here and doesn’t yet have the screen presence to dominate–but then again perhaps it’s because the character he plays, Philip Ashley, is a very confused young man whose judgement is clouded by sexual desire.

My Cousin Rachel is set on Daphne du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall coast, and most of the action takes place there with just a short sidetrip to Florence. The story opens (as does the book) with Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton) taking his small orphaned cousin and ward, Philip to see the corpse of a hanged man swinging in the wind. Ambrose admonishes Philip that the dead man’s fate is the result of out-of-control passion–a dire and prophetic warning as it turns out.

Fast forward to Ambrose now a middle-aged man and Philip (Richard Burton) in his twenties. Ambrose’s health necessitates a winter abroad, and the two men part–somewhat reluctantly. Ambrose’s winter abroad extends into the spring and the summer along with the news that he’s made the acquaintance of a distant cousin–a widow named Rachel Sangalleti. This is shortly followed by the astonishing news that Ashley, a confirmed bachelor, has married the widow. Some months later, Philip begins to receive strange incoherent letters from his cousin which indicate not only that he is seriously ill but also that he suspects Rachel of poisoning him. 

Alarmed, Philip rushes off to Florence, but he’s too late. Ambrose is dead, and with a new will unsigned, all of Ambrose’s property falls to Philip….

Then some time later, Rachel arrives in Cornwall at Philip’s estate ostensibly for a short visit. When she first arrives, Philip is primed to accuse her of murder, but he’s immediately stunned by her sweet pliant nature and he’s soon won over by Rachel’s persistent, gentle charm.

The premise of both the film and the book is whether or not Rachel killed Ambrose. There are certainly clues that argue both points–although I think that ultimately the book was far more ambiguous. This is due, no doubt, to du Maurier’s skill as a writer, but perhaps the visual aspects of the film and some of the facial expressions caught by the camera add a dimension that is, of course, absent from the book. Gothic film frequently explores the vulnerability of women and the predatory nature of men, and this film cleverly plays with that idea, so as the drama unfolds, we see both Rachel and Philip as predator and victim depending on our view of the events.  Olivia de Havilland is perfect as Rachel–at times she appears youthful and innocent, but at other times a flicker of an expression passes across her features, and we wonder–as Philip does–just what she is capable of. Meanwhile neighbour and now guardian Nicholas Kendall (Ronald Squire ) and his daughter Louise (Audrey Dalton) are reluctant onlookers and have no doubt that Rachel’s conduct is questionable at best.

There’s no small amount of sexual manipulation afoot, but all those involved have some degree of self-interest, so when Kendall tries to warn Philip about Rachel, is he perhaps unhappy to see his daughter, Louise (Audrey Dalton) cast aside for Rachel? 

Camera shots make great use of shadow to enhance the drama and unexpressed fear of the characters, and some of the action set against the back drop of the wild Cornish coast emphasizes the depths of hidden, explosive and destructive passion. One of ideas implicit in the film is that Rachel’s somewhat unconventional behaviour (she continually invites Philip into her boudoir) is due to her ‘Italian ways,’ and indeed her open and easy affectionate manner with Philip sets his head spinning. Underneath this sexual tension, however, is the idea that Philip’s repression, once unleashed, will lead to destruction. Anyway, I know where I stand on the subject of Rachel’s innocence or guilt, and for those interested in the book or Gothic drama, the film really is a marvellous little gem and well-worth catching.


Filed under Drama, Period Piece

A Life of Her Own (1950)

“Listen you small-time chiseler, I don’t want any small favours or any big favours from you. Or anything else you use to buy with. I’m not in the business you think I am, and I’m never going to be, but if I were I’d be out of your price range. If I were it would take me 10 years to get around to you.” (Lily to Lee)


A Life of Her Own is a classic drama starring Lana Turner as small-town Kansas girl, Lily James who seeks fulfillment through a modelling career only to find that success–without love–is a hollow triumph.

It takes Lily 6 months to save for the fare from Kansas to New York, and this is evidence of her determination to succeed at the career she longs for. She arrives in the chaotic offices of the Thomas Caraway agency and manages to attract the attention of the owner (Tom Ewell). While he agrees to take Lily on as a model, he has reservations about her potential. After many years in the business, he considers himself a good judge of character, and a kind streak appears in his treatment of has-been, boozed up model, Mary (Ann Dvorak).

It’s fate that Lily meets Mary in Callaway’s office. Lily is right on the verge of beginning her career and aging Mary, after 13 years on the modeling circuit, is washed up. Mary takes Lily under her wing, and Lily’s first, significant night in New York is spent with Mary, her date advertising executive Lee (Barry Sullivan), and Lily’s date,  lawyer Jim (Louis Calhern). Lily is a new fresh face in town, and Lee makes it clear that he’d rather be with Lily than with Mary. It’s a horrible evening with bitterly jealous Mary getting drunker by the minute. As it turns out, it’s a night that Lily never forgets, and Lee plays a small yet significant Faustian role in Lily’s life when he reappears much later.

Lily takes a harsh lesson from Mary and so begins her climb to success. Her famous, perfect face is on the cover of every magazine, but in spite of the fact she is a 50s ‘super model,’ her personal life is negligible, and her feet remain firmly on the ground. Lily continues to live at that bastion of female propriety, The Betsy Ross Hotel–a hotel which restricts male visitors to the mezzanine with a forced 10 pm departure. Always lurking in the shadows is the memory of Mary and how easy it can be to slide from fame and fortune into obscurity. Lily’s world is shaken to the core when she’s introduced to Steve Harleigh (Ray Milland), a wealthy copper mine owner. They fall in love, but Steve is a married man….

A Life of Her Own is essentially a soap drama, and beautiful Lana Turner is the best element in the film. It’s easy to imagine her single-minded devotion to her career, and it’s also equally easy to understand how she’ s side-swiped by love. Ray Milland doesn’t quite cut it as the lover–he seems tired or perhaps defeated as the man torn between love and duty. This is the classic cornelian dilemma (choix cornélian*) in which a character must choose between two courses of action with either choice resulting in a negative result on someone involved.

 As with any soap, some of the elements are corny or hyped up to add to the drama. In this film, Steve’s wife, Nora (Margaret Phillips) is angling for sainthood, and of course this just makes the affair between Lily and Steve that much more atrocious. Lily initially shows a great deal of fire and backbone when she deals with the slimy Lee, but unfortunately the script reins in Lily and instead doles out passivity and victimhood. I rather liked A Life of Her Own in spite of its flaws. I liked the film’s structure, its emphasis on character, and the way the plot followed Lily through her rise to fame while showing the hollow triumph of her success. Lana Turner does a terrific job with the role she’s handed, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Lee. We can practically see Lana’s skin crawl with disdain for this low-life, opportunistic character.

Wendell Corey was initially cast in the role of Steve, but in her autobiography, Lana Turner mentions that she asked that he be replaced. She’d never thought him suitable for the part anyway, but then after overhearing a remark he made, she refused to play opposite him. Corey was replaced with Milland. A Life of Her Own is from director George Cukor

* Special thanks to www.bookaroundthecorner.wordpress.com for explaining the choix cornélian–a term derived from the plays of Pierre Corneille.


Filed under American

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon (1957)

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon from director Lewis Gilbert is a wonderful film which skewers the British class system, and if you’re a fan of classic British film, The Admirable Crichton most definitely deserves a look.

The film is set at the beginning of the 20th century. Suffragettes are on the march in England, and Lord Loam (Cecil Parker), the aristocrat who owns a lavish country estate has definite ideas about equality. He does, however, draw the line at the idea of equal rights for women. Lord Loam is a bit of an eccentric, and when the film begins, we see a typical day in the Loam household. The house is basically run by the butler, Crichton (Kenneth More), but he runs the place so smoothly and tactfully that Lord Loam is left with the illusion that he’s the one really in charge.

Lord Loam decides to put his notions of  class equality to the test by inviting (in reality ordering) all the domestic servants to participate in tea with the family members. This is an occasion of embarrassment and awkwardness for the servants, and disgruntlement for Lord Loam’s two daughters, Lady Mary (Sally Ann Howes) and her younger sister Lady Catherine (Mercy Haystead). Lady Mary is particularly annoyed by the forced social engagement with the servants as she is about to become engaged to the horribly snobbish and strait-laced Lord Brocklehurst (Peter Graves)–a man whose horribly domineering mother, Lady Brocklehurst (Martita Hunt) does not approve of equality on any level whatsoever. She believes that the ‘lower’ classes should be kept in their place and that to contemplate otherwise is a very dangerous thing. 

 The youngest daughter, Lady Agatha (Miranda Connell) goes to London to watch a suffragette march with her fiancé Ernest Wolley (Gerald Harper). She’s supposed to be there observing only, but she gets mixed up in the protest and causes a family scandal. As a result of this event, Lord Loam, at Crichton’s suggestion, takes his daughters and a few indispensable servants on a cruise aboard his yacht. Things go horribly wrong, however, when the yacht is caught in a storm….

The Admirable Crichton explores exactly what happens when rigid class rules are transposed to a desert island. One of the most important characters in the film is Tweeny (Diane Cilento)–Tweeny (which basically means that she is a maid who works [between] several floors) discovers that her currency soars when beauty and culinary skills are valued more than bloodlines.

This film is essentially a comedy about hypocrisy, and we see that Lord Loam may have ‘enlightened’ views about equality with his fellow man, but these are just intellectual ideas that he really has no intention of actually altering his his lifestyle for. The first notion of hypocrisy comes in the film when Lord Loam mouths his beliefs about equality with the servants but then refuses to countenance the notion that women are equal to men. While Lord Loam may experiment with a tentative tea which he controls in his own household, he is ill prepared for a full-scale upheaval. On the desert island, there are no innate privileges, and instead survival skills become the most valuable skills of all. Just what happens when members of the upper class are forced to cohabit with their servants makes for great entertainment.

One of the notions here is that the class system may be enforced legally and socially, but it is also absorbed by all those involved. Thus we see Crichton as the ultimate snob with the other servants and a pragmatist when it comes to realising his humble position.

The Admirable Crichton is based on a play by J.M. Barrie , and here Barrie creates a very different alternate world from the fantasy world he created with Peter Pan, but it’s a viable alternate world, nonetheless.

There are two other film versions of this play: We’re Not Dressing (1934) and Male and Female (1919).


Filed under British

Invitation (1952)

“Remember I said the first round goes to you or your father’s money.”


One type of film that really seemed to thrive in the 1950s was the soap-opera styled plot laced with drama, tragedy and a good old family fortune thrown into the mix. Invitation isn’t as splendid as a Sirk drama, but its soap elements made this fun to watch–even though the story is ultimately restrained and the characters never fully unleashed. Invitation can also be categorised as a medical drama film.

The film begins with Ellen (a svelte Dorothy McGuire) at home with hubbie, budding young architect Dan Pierce (Van Johnson). There’s a delivery in a large package which Ellen tries to hide from Dan. Inside the box is yet another fur coat–the third this season from Ellen’s devoted stinking rich daddy Simon Bowker (Louis Calhern). This interesting and significant early scene raises some questions: why is Ellen’s father showering her with fur coats and why does she feel that she needs to hide this from Dan?

After Dan leaves for work, Ellen drives out to daddy’s estate where she finds him out on the golf course with a doctor friend. By this point it’s clear that Ellen is not well at all, and there’s reference made to a heart condition. Suddenly everything slots into place: her husband’s tender concern, her father’s lavish presents, and her slight breathlessness. Yes, Ellen has an incurable heart condition.

On the way back home, Ellen stops to visit an old friend, Maud (Ruth Roman). Big mistake. Ellen appears to be on a peace-making mission, but a tightly wound Maud isn’t about to pretend that everything is ok. This bitter scene reveals that Maud is now Ellen’s ex-friend–the rift occurred when Ellen married Maud’s man. Maud was in love with Dan and claims she still is. On a roll, Maud makes some bizarre statements implying that Ellen stole Dan from her and that Ellen’s father bought Dan as a husband for Ellen.

After Ellen’s nasty visit to Maud, domestic bliss at the Pierce home is a thing of the past.The film includes flashbacks that explore Ellen, Dan and Maud’s relationships before the wedding, and then there’s a wedding scene and a bit of honeymoon before we’re back in the present. The scenes that show Ellen as a lovelorn young woman are particularly good, and the script plays with the psychological aspects of Ellen’s ability to gloss over her role in Dan’s broken romance with Maud.

Invitation is an enjoyable soap-styled film (and the meaning of the title becomes clear as the story unwinds), but in spite of the fact some pretty ugly stuff takes place, everyone lands on the positive side of humanity (with one bitter exception). Dorothy McGuire does an excellent job as Ellen; she’s spoiled and overprotected–not a bad person by any means, but she is used to a life of privilege and she’s a veritable princess wrapped in a cocoon by her devoted father.  She’s a woman who has a wonderful, perfect life, and she appears to have everything … except her health.

While the ill-health issue is ostensibly the issue of Ellen’s heart, under the film’s surface the behaviour of the characters is also incredibly unhealthy. There’s Maud and Ellen–at one point supposedly best friends but now at war over a man. Maud spits some very nasty words at Ellen, but Ellen still plays the victim. And then there’s Ellen’s father … just what the hell was he thinking? That brings us to Ellen’s husband Dan…. Van Johnson’s murky motivations aren’t explored a great deal, and after placing some tawdry information in front of the viewer, the script pulls away and lands on the safe, warm and fuzzy side of character analysis. This move negates the possibility of a great tacky soap drama, so instead we get an optimistic film that reinforces the basic decency of human nature. Now whether or not you buy that is another thing entirely….

Invitation made it to DVD thanks to the WB Archive Collection. The film is from director Gottfried Reinhardt.


Filed under American, Drama

The Shack Out on 101 (1955)

“Whatever you two guys can get, they don’t let out at night.”

The Shack on 101 may very well be one of the strangest entries in the film noir Atomic Noir/Red-Scare sub-genre, and while it’s certainly more than a little odd, it’s also lots of fun and really entertaining. You know this film is going to be different in its opening scene of a bikini-clad girl stretched out on the beach while the waves wash over her feet and legs. Is she asleep? Sunbathing or dead? Then we see a male figure in the distance. He spots the girl and dashes towards her….

The man is Slob (Lee Marvin), the short order chef at the local greasy spoon–the shack in the title, and the girl is Kotty (Terry Moore) the shack’s live-in waitress. We get just a brief glimpse of the shack in the distance. It’s perched on a cliff facing the ocean and is accessible by stairs, and it is quite literally a shack–it looks like a condemned trailer, but it’s the pride and joy of its owner, war veteran, George played with delightful gusto by Keenan Wynn 

Most of the film’s action takes place inside the crappy shack, and the film’s interior scenes look like exactly what they are–a stage set with seaside decor. This translates to seashells and a huge marlin perched on the wall. The stage set masquerading as the inside of a hillside diner is most evident when one of the characters, Professor Bastion, opens a door and then goes down the stairs to the diner’s main room. Here the long-angled shots show the width of the stage set, and we could be watching a play. It all looks very cheaply done and yet somehow this film works.

The film’s drama centres on the shack and the relationships between its inhabitants and its customers. The shack’s owner, lonely bachelor George is in love with Kotty, but she only has eyes for customer Professor Sam Bastion (Frank Lovejoy). Bastion, who works at the nearby nuclear facility, professes an interest in collecting shells which he buys from Slob. Bastion’s relationship with Slob leads him to meet, date, and fall in love with Kotty. Kotty, while she admires and brags about Bastion’s intelligence and education, nurses an inferiority complex. So she’s boning up to take the civil service exam and along the way she hopes to impress the prof. One night, after a hot and heavy session on the beach, Kotty peevishly expresses the fact that Bastion spends more time with Slob than with her,  and she concludes that the Prof is ashamed to be seen out in public with her. 

Back at the shack, Slob, who refers to Kotty as “The Tomato,” makes constant passes at Kotty with George continually leaping to her defence. The film establishes a claustrophobic atmosphere between its characters–there’s George in love with Kotty who’s in love with the Professor who buys shells off of Slob. Slob manages to sound like a complaining wife when he whines to George about “the tomato” with a what-does-she-have-that-I-don’t argument. Kotty who is after all picking up a paycheck every week, never seems to lift a finger. So there’s Slob in the kitchen ruining the food as a act of revenge against customers he dislikes, Kotty too busy running after the Professor to actually do the job she’s paid for, and George too lovelorn to ask his only waitress to work.

Meanwhile there are a handful of locals who drop in occasionally and bitch about the food. The plot thickens quickly. Why are nuclear scientists disappearing? Why is the Professor obsessed with clam shells, and why does Kotty hang out her underwear on the line for the world to see?

This highly entertaining film has some gaping holes in its plot, but that simply doesn’t matter. Instead just sit back and enjoy some terrific dialogue combined with some of the most bizarre scenes of male bonding ever seen on the big screen. In one scene Slob (a man with an “8-cylinder body and a 2-cylinder mind“) and George lift weights together while pondering over the women who’ll be impressed by their muscles. Then they hold a sexy legs contest. Then there’s a very peculiar scuba scene that takes place inside the shack. In another scene Kotty and the Professor play a sexy politics question-and-answer game and as they cover the various branches of government, she gushingly confesses “I wish there were more branches.”

Since this is an Atomic Noir/Red Scare film,  there have to be good guys and bad guys and all the stereotypes that go along with these categories. But Shack Out on 101 is definite cult material loaded with snappy dialogue to complement the bizarre behaviour of most of its characters. The film is directed by Edward Dein and co-written with his wife Mildred. It’s easy to imagine these two sitting down and dreaming up the scenes and then connecting them together with the plot outline. Of course, I have no idea that this is how it happened, but the scenes are so intense and rich, the sense I get is that the scenes dominate over the film as a whole.

Anyway, this really is a great little film.


“At one time, I was so skinny, I was embarrassed to undress in front of myself.”

“That’s what I like about free enterprise. I’ve got the enterprise and everybody’s free to give me the business.”

“It’s a good thing I ain’t wired. You’d be shoving me around like a vacuum cleaner.”

“I’m not Mr America, but my mother loves me.”

“I’m not one of those dopes who buys his wife a mink coat and sits and waits for her to warm up.”

“Since when was you so choosy, I’m a man, ain’t I?”

“I was so ashamed, I shut the door and got sick.”

“Well if you dance with the gods, they lead you to paradise.”

“Last night, I added a new word to my vocabulary…TRAITOR.”

“We’re helping the enemy.”

“Too bad I wasn’t born a tomato.”

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Filed under American, Film Noir

Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955)

“This is a shower room. It’s to clean you up on the outside even if it doesn’t get to the dirt on the inside.”

Yes, juvenile delinquents are back at it, and this time the film is set in the crime-ridden Antelope Valley. It’s traditional family values vs juvenile delinquency in Teen-Age Crime Wave, a definite addition to the Trash Cinema section, and of course, family values win the day in this corn-fest of a film.

A teenage siren named Terry Marsh (Molly McCart) hangs out in a bar until she catches the attention of a middle-aged chubby patron. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot as he steers the obviously underage girl out of the door, but it’s a set up. A few feet from the door, he’s mugged by Terry’s two male accomplices who are waiting in a car outside. The robbery goes wrong, and while Mike Denton (Tommy Cook) and Al (Jimmy Ogg) escape, Terry and another girl, Jane Koberly (Sue England) are arrested. While Terry has a previous record, Jane maintains her innocence, claiming that she knew nothing of the planned robbery and that she was simply out on a blind date.

In the slammer, tensions between Terry and Jane lead to a minor girl fight which is broken up by the warden. Then comes the court case and the sentencing. Nice, middle-class Mr and Mrs Koberly (Guy Kingsford and Helen Brown) are the kind of people who worry about what the neighbours think, and they reel from the shock that they’ve raised a juvenile delinquent. There are a few introspective ‘where did we go wrong’ moments, but Jane is sent to a juvenile facility along with the very-hardened Terry.

On the way to the lock-up (the girls are transported in a police car with a female matron for company), Mike conducts a bold crime by running the police car off the road. He shoots the policeman and grabs the two girls. Jane’s pleas to be allowed to stay with the matron fall on deaf ears, and so the trio of teens-gone-bad are on the run….

Taking refuge in a remote house in the Antelope Valley, Mike and Terry seize an elderly couple hostage at gunpoint and get their cooperation by threatening to blow out the old lady’s brains. With Jane boo-hooing and asking to go home, it’s not too long before it’s Mike and Terry vs the elderly Mr and Mrs Grant and Jane.

To top off the situation, it’s the night before Thanksgiving, and the Grants’ son “college boy” and bona-fide war hero, Ben Grant (Frank Griffen) is heading home for the holidays. This adds another person to the hostage pot, but it also adds another dynamic to the drama. Terry fancies Ben and tries to pull a little femme fatale number, and then Mike, who’s becoming more and more psycho every minute, becomes violently jealous….

There are a few poignant undercurrents here: Mike and Terry eye Ben and Jane–a couple on the other side of the divide, and there are shreds of ‘if only’ here–especially on the part of Terry. A crack opens into Terry’s past and this reveals a few moments of regret. But she reverts to her old, hardened personality–a self she’s much more comfortable with and she decides she wants to seduce Ben, but as Jane points out that she doesn’t stand a chance with Ben as Terry is  “dirt.” Terry’s response:

“I’ll show you how dirt operates on a respectable guy.” 

But the only tactics Terry has up her sleeve are those rather well-worn and transparent tricks she played in the bar with the chump earlier, and Ben, of course, is repulsed by Terry. Her rejection adds to that large chip on her shoulder. Terry’s attempts to seduce Ben show her desire to reveal the ugly side of people that lurks inside the seemingly-respectable shell. Seducing Ben would ‘prove’ a number of things: that she’s desirable to the sort of man she can no longer have, and also it would prove her pet theory that everyone is rotten–a college boy who’s a war hero would prove both points.

A lot of the film’s fun comes from the performances of the two desperate delinquents. Mike crows when he sees the headlines, and he goes berserk at the round-the-clock monotone bible reading from Mr Grant. Mr. Grant must think that Mike will get religion by osmosis. Mike even tries to spice things up with a little sex fest and then accuses Mr Grant of being a peeper. Unfortunately the film is hemmed in by its time and by its predictably heavy moral message, but it is a diversion all the same.

From director Fred F Sears.

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Filed under American

The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

“A woman’s bookshelf is an infallible guide to her character.”

The title of the film The Happiest days of Your Life refers, of course, to the nonsense that is told to children who are unhappy about attending school for a range of reasons. What the teachers don’t say is the happy part is not the school–but perhaps the innocence of childhood, and even that’s arguable depending on the sort of childhood you had. This classic British comedy is directed by Frank Launder of the marvellously funny St Trinian’s films, and you can see the same hand at work in The Happiest Days of Your Life. Launder started his career as a scriptwriter, but it was with Sidney Gilliat that the highly successful St Trinians films were created. For The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder teamed with playwright John Dighton to adapt his play for the big screen.

The Happiest Days of Your Life is set during WWII. During the Blitz, children from the city were evacuated to the countryside, and in the film, an all-girls school, St Swithin’s, is evacuated by the Ministry of Education to the village of Nutbourne with the expectation that St Swithin’s will ‘share’ with the all-boys boarding school, Nutbourne College. Wetherby Pond (played by the wonderful actor Alastair Sim) is headmaster of Nutborough College. The film begins with the arrival of a weary professor, Arnold Billings (played by Richard Wattis, who later appeared in the St Trinian’s films) and the brand new English professor, Richard Tassell (John Bentley). Billings notices that the college looks a bit tidier than usual, and as it turns out, this is due to the fact that Wetherby Pond is hoping to win a new, better position as headmaster at a much more prestigious, Harlingham School.

Just as the term seems on the verge of beginning as usual, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of an entire girl’s school, their headmistress, Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford) and her complete entourage of mistresses. A battle begins over resources, and the females, led by the cunning, strategic planning of Muriel Whitchurch soon dominate. Under the insufferable conditions, Wetherby Pond tries his best to get the Ministry of Education to correct this error, and Whitchurch resorts to blackmail in order to gain an uneasy truce.

The fun really begins when a passel of St Swithin’s parents descend upon the Nutbourne College to witness the new environment for themselves. As bad luck would have it on the very same day, a team of inspectors from Harlingham School arrive to witness Wetherby Pond’s school management. It’s in the vested interest of both Pond and Whitchurch to cooperate with each other to create an atmosphere of normalcy at the school, and that means that the girls and the boy’s school both pretend that there are no members of the opposite sex on the premises.

Alastair Sim is, as always, pure joy to watch–from his long-suffering submission, to his moral outrage, his performance is perfect. Margaret Rutherford, as his administrative opposite is equally excellent. She plays an indomitable force–she sees men as superfluous and contaminants. The battle (and attraction) of the sexes plays throughout the film. Of course, the boys cannot concentrate on lessons when the older girls wiggle by in their PE outfits, and the male English master falls in love with his female counterpart. And then there’s the outrageously wonderful Joyce Grenfell (who also later appeared in St Trinian’s). Here she plays the gauche Miss Gossage (“call me Sausage“) and she rather incongruously sets her cap at the suave wolfish games master, Victor Hyde-Brown (Guy Middleton), who’s also known as “Whizzo.” Hyde-Brown does his best to avoid Miss Gossage–he’s much more interested in the 17 year-olds and their botany lesson. George Cole also appears in a miniscule but memorable role as a caretaker in the Ministry of Education.


Wetherby Pond (when asked how he will vote): “You can tell your lady that if there is a male candidate whether he is conservative, socialist, communist or anarchist, or for that matter, liberal, he may have my vote.”

“There appear to be no depths to which you will not sink.”

“I don’t want your sympathy, man, I want action. I want these women removed, bag and baggage.”

“There are only two types of schoolmistress, chum, the battle-ax and the amazon.”

“Cards, the race horse,gaming, nicotine, fisticuffs…we’re moving in a descending spiral of inequity.”

“I once won thirty bob. It’s led me astray ever since



Filed under British, Comedy

Problem Girls (1953)

“One step before the state asylum.”

Problem Girls (1953) from director Ewald Andre Dupont is a B film. Make no mistake about that. Why bother watching it you ask? Easy: its HCF (High Camp Factor) joined with its theme of Delinquent Dames. How could I resist?

Problem Girls begins with a voiceover narration from John Page (Ross Elliot), and in this sequence, he explains that the jungles of Burma and a Japanese concentration camp are NOTHING compared to the dangers he faced at The Manning School for Girls.

Yes, it’s post WWII and Page is all set to be a certified psychiatrist. All he has to do is sit for the board exams, but in the meantime, he needs a job and so he takes a place at the exclusive Manning School for Girls. Here he can’t practice medicine, but he’s supposed to act as a therapist. Well he’s landed at the right spot because everyone at the school is either DERANGED, DISTURBED or DELINQUENT.

Although Dr. Manning (Roy Reigner) is the nominal head of the school, he’s too drunk to function. Page is employed by the shapely closet dominatrix-type Miss Dixon (Helen Walker), a woman who has the hots for the biceps belonging to instructor Max Thorpe (James Seay). Thorpe is married to a young girl who’s kept drugged and locked up in a room upstairs. What the hell is going on?

What I enjoyed so much about the film (and this added substantially to its camp factor), is that all these crazy things are going on and everyone acts as though it’s normal. The faculty is laced with psychos, murderers, and various antisocial types, but Page (who never cracks a smile or looks in the least uncomfortable ) sits through dinner as though everything is perfectly normal. He doesn’t question why these people are employed to collectively teach the delinquent debutante pupils, and neither does he stop to speculate where he fits into Dixon’s little schemes. Soon Page is up to his neck in intrigue and in cahoots with murderous professor Richards (Anthony Joachim), Page is sneaking around the school shooting up students with sodium pentothal.

As for the pupils, well they consist of spoiled rich girls who’ve “embarrassed” their families in one way or another. The girls are a motley assortment of psychos, nymphos, pyromaniacs You get the picture.

The film’s plot is fairly sedate given the raw material, and the girls are never fully unleashed. Put this film in the hands of John Waters and no doubt we’d see some results. As it is, Problem Girls could have been a lot more interesting, wilder film. There’s a couple of girl fights, a tepid riot but the best scene occurs when the girls are forced to listen to a piano concert. The film more or less plays it straight and ends very abruptly. I suspect that the film isn’t wild enough to be picked up by Something Weird video, but Problem Girls was good for a few cheap laughs and in spite of its many flaws, nonetheless I enjoyed it for its campiness.

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Filed under Cult Classics

Dark City (1950)

“Guys like you ought to be put away.”

dark cityWWII still echoes in the 1950 noir film Dark City starring Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston. Dark City was Heston’s first major role and here he is cast against his later mould, and instead of playing General Gordon, Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, Ben Hur, John the Baptist, El Cid and Moses, here Heston plays the damaged and slightly nasty bookie, Danny Haley. Danny owns a piece of a bookie joint and looks forward to the day he’ll have enough cash to leave the city and go… somewhere else.  

The film begins with a raid on the bookie joint, and as luck would have it Danny isn’t caught up in the raid but he watches it happen. While he escapes arrest, he watches as his pals Barney (Ed Begley) and Augie (Jack Webb) are carted off to jail. The group’s slightly slow sidekick, Soldier (Harry Morgan) cleans up after the raid and then Danny appears and makes phone calls. The raid wasn’t supposed to happen and Danny and his pals paid big bribes to ensure they were safe. This is the second raid in three months and it’s left Danny and his pals in a bad spot.

Although Danny owns just a piece of the bookie joint, he has a leadership role with Barney, Augie, and Soldier. Augie is a cheap thug who gets his kicks out of tormenting easy targets while Danny is the brains of the operation. But there’s something wrong with Danny, and just what that is begins to become evident when he goes to see his girl, Fran Garland (gorgeous Lizabeth Scott), a singer at local nightclub Sammy’s. Fran sings sweet love melodies to a room full of mesmerised men, she’s really just singing her heart out to Danny as he sits at the bar and listens. But while Fran gazes at Danny like a love-sick Cocker Spaniel looking for a new home, Danny continually warns Fran to give him space, not to question him, and not to expect too much. It’s clear that where women are concerned, he has a giant chip on his shoulder.

At Sammy’s, Danny runs into a pleasant, friendly and guileless stranger, Arthur Winant (Dan DeFore), an athletic director from Los Angeles who’s there to buy gym equipment, and they strike up a casual conversation about their mutual WWII  experiences stationed in England. Danny spots a $5,000 cashier’s in Arthur’s wallet and invites him to a friendly little card game with Barney and Augie.

After the card game goes sour, the players are picked off one at a time in this tense noir tale of revenge. At one point, Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger), the vice cop responsible for raiding Danny’s bookie joint begins hauling Danny in to the cop shop in an effort to make him see the error of his ways. Danny, it turns out, is the son of one of those American blue blood families, a Cornell grad to boot. Garvey’s dressing down of Danny is one of the best played scenes in the film.

Heston plays a great jerk. He’s sarcastic and his superior air is underscored by a disdainful sneer. Lizabeth Scott acts her heart out as she tries to get Danny to love her, but Danny has a lot of lessons to learn along the way, and some of these come from the sweet and complex Mrs. Winant (Viveca Lindfors). The film’s moral centre is found in the characters of Mrs Winant and Soldier–with both characters tweaking Danny’s conscience. Soldier, damaged by one too many punches considers Danny to be worse than his pals Barney and Augie because he ‘knows better.’ Somewhere buried in Danny’s brain, there are the remnants of a conscience but he’d rather leave it hidden–along with his painful past.

One of the film’s severest faults is its underutilisation of Scott. Scott’s singing scenes (that’s someone else’s voice) are delivered with stiff moves. With sappy lines and a lovesick gaze, Fran isn’t given much scope beyond becoming Danny’s doormat. Although the plot hands Fran the ability and the insider knowledge to affect what happens, her fairly cardboard cutout figure role is limited to convincing Danny to go back on the straight and narrow, and she doesn’t act beyond cajoling and pleading. If Fran’s role were written differently, Dark City would have been a much better film.  The plum roles here are reserved for Heston as Danny–a man who had the best start in life and proceeds to flush his advantages down the toilet, and Viveca Lindfors as Mrs. Winant, a kind, patient and understanding woman. Dark City is directed by William Dieterle.


Filed under Film Noir, Lizabeth Scott