Tag Archives: schoolgirls

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cult Classics

The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

“It’s an orgy!”

The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery is the fourth and final film in the extremely popular St Trinian’s comedy series. For those who don’t know, St Trinian’s School for Girls was first created by cartoonist Ronald Searle, and the cartoons became the basis for the films.

When the film begins, St Trinian’s School for Girls is homeless once again–this is the result of three arson fires in four years. Currently camped out in an army barracks and “living like refugees,” the school is on the brink of collapse.

Meanwhile, it’s Election Night in Britain. With the advent of a new Labour Party Government, officials at the Ministry of Education (normally Tories) anticipate broad cuts in private schools, so a celebration is underway with the employees at the ministry partying the night away as they predict the closure of St Trinian’s, the notorious all-girls school. But it seems that the celebration is a little premature–little do they know that the headmistress, Amber Spottiswood (Dora Bryan) counts the new Labour Minister of Education as one of her many lovers.

With 80,000 pounds in hand (a grant from the very friendly Minister), Miss Spottiswood is able to revive St Trinian’s yet again. Miss Spottiswood purchases a new home, the abandoned Hamingwell Grange for her ‘progessive education’ school and summons her merry band of mistresses to join her. The Mathematics Mistress leaves her card-sharp life, the French Mistress creeps away from “modelling,” the Arts Mistress gives up stripping, the Games Mistress abandons the professional wrestling ring, and the Deputy Headmistress is released just in time from Holloway jail to join the rest of the crew.

As the St Trinian’s girls settle in their new home, they are blissfully unaware that 2.5 million pounds is secreted away in the cellar by a gang of thieves led by hairdresser Alphonse of Monte Carlo (Frankie Howerd). And it becomes Alphonse’s mission–guided by Mr. Big who sends messages through the salon’s sterilizer–to recoup the money. Meanwhile disgruntled school inspectors–convinced that orgies commence nightly at St Trinian’s–bravely volunteer for a secret mission…

This is the fourth–and unfortunately–the last film in the original St Trinian’s series, and the only colourized film in the bunch. Made in the 60s, it has a very different feel to the other St Trinian’s films, and as fans of British 60s comedies know, The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery stars many of the great talents from that period–comedienne Dora Bryan as the dotty headmistress Amber Spottiswood is a joy to watch as she slips from her upper class accent (when she placates and manipulates the minister) to her working class voice as she empties the wallets of parents on Parents’ Day. Some of the best scenes involve Dora Bryan (her bedroom is decorated like a brothel) and her “mad Machiavellian minister.” Parents’ Day is an incredible event with the St Trinian’s girls at their worst as they fleece any parent they can. Lecherous Frankie Howerd is perfect as the obsequious, slimy hairdresser, Alphonse, who takes a turn as a Morris dancer and comedian Reg Varney appears in a small role as a crook. George Cole returns as Flash Harry, and this time he builds a bookie’s office with a special children’s entrance–and the office includes counters set at different heights so the smaller third form girls can bet their pocket money on the gee-gees too.

The film is a thinly veiled reference to the real Great Train Robbery that took place in 1963. One of the best things about the film is that it illustrates the girls’ resourcefulness and independence, so in the ‘bigger’ scheme of things, the ‘education in life’ that they receive at St Trinian’s is valuable. At no point in the film do the girls contact the ‘authorities’ for help, and the headmistress doesn’t hesitate to direct the girls in her schemes against anyone who threatens “our happy days.” The film also creates parallel scenes of the crooks gathering and the girls gathering, and the implication is that the girls of St Trinian’s form a larger, formidable gang. Check out the book titles for the school library; The Perfumed Garden, The Carpetbaggers, Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Great stuff–a classic–and a must-see for fans of 60s British comedy. Directed and written by the team Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Some quotes:

“Lovely untamed egghead!”
“Just some young bucks visiting the sixth form, I expect.”
“They’re only a bunch of schoolkids.”
“10,000? That’s not a reward, that’s a deterrent .”

Leave a comment

Filed under British, St Trinian's

The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)

 “I’ve been lenient with her to the point of imbecility.”

“The natives have risen, old sport.”
“I propose to storm the barricades.”
“I thought hockey was a game, but with you girls it’s more like jungle warfare.”
“You’ve no idea what’s going on in the summerhouse. It’s practically an orgy.”
“I’ve never seen such an exhibition of savagery.”

The Belles of St Trinian’s is the first of four British comedy films centered on the infamous girls boarding school, St Trinian’s. Cartoonist Ronald Searle created the idea of St. Trinian’s, and this first film appeared in 1954. These immensely popular films quickly earned cult status, and they remain some of my all-time favourite comedy films. The films appeared in this order:

The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)
Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957)
The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960)
The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

belles1There have been some cheesy knock-off St Trinian’s films over the years, but in my mind, these films don’t ‘count,’ so they are not included here.

St Trinian’s is the antithesis of the snotty, private school for ‘young ladies.’ We tend to think of British schoolgirls as demure, obedient and well behaved. Well leave that idea behind and enter the World of St Trinian’s and see a very different sort of intrepid British schoolgirl. Indeed as Miss Millicent Fritton (Alistair Sim in drag) is fond of saying:

“In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared.”

The Belles of St Trinian’s begins with a wealthy Arab sheik (Eric Pohlmann) deciding to send his precious daughter, Princess Fatima (Lorna Henderson) to a proper British boarding school, and the Princess’s current governess, dressed in modest tweeds, suggests sending the Princess to St Trinian’s–a school run by a former chum. The Sheik, blissfully unaware of the school’s awful reputation but impressed with the school’s proximity to the racetrack, agrees and little Fatima embarks for the boarding school.

Meanwhile back in England, it’s the start of a new school year with the return of the girls. Pandemonium reigns at the train station and locals who live in the nearby village board up their shop windows when news breaks of the girls’ imminent arrival. From the local police constabulary all the way to the Ministry of Education, St Trinian’s school is perceived as a blot on the British educational system. Indeed Superintendent Samuel ‘Sammy’ Kemp-Bird (Lloyd Lamble) would love to shut the place down, and Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis) at the Ministry of Education has sent a number of inspectors to the school, but attempts to reign in this out-of-control school for delinquents has led to the mysterious disappearance of several school inspectors, and the subsequent formation of a club known as ‘The Lotus Eaters’ in the school’s greenhouse. So the region suffers from an unchecked crime wave involving: “arson, forged fivers, poison pen letters.” Bassett and the police superintendent join forces and decide to send policewoman Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) undercover into the school posing as games mistress, Chloe Crawley (she rapidly becomes known as Creepy Crawley).

St. Trinian’s is beleaguered by financial problems, and the headmistress, Miss Fritton, has been forced to pawn the school trophies, so it is with delight that the teachers and headmistress receive the wealthy Princess Fatima and her allowance of one hundred pounds. Clarence, Miss Fritton’s evil twin brother is an avid gambler, and he is also delighted that Fatima is attending the school. He intends–along with his daughter (another St Trinian’s pupil)–to nobble the Sheik’s horse, Arab Boy in the upcoming races and thereby win a bundle. To complicate matters, Miss Fritton also bets on Arab Boy to win.

Things turn ugly when the fourth form (who put aside their gin-making temporarily) battle against the sixth form, and it’s every man for himself on Parent’s Day when war wages between the besieged fourth formers and the aggressive sixth. Fortunately, a bus full of ‘old girls’ comes to the rescue armed with Zulu spears and shields.

Alastair Sim doubles for both the delightfully distracted Miss Fritton and her twin brother, the conniving Clarence. Miss Fritton has a marvelous way of ignoring the unpleasant aspects of the girls’ behaviour, chalking it up to ‘high spirits,’ and she positively encourages the St Trinian’s girls in their violent behavior during the hockey match. Joyce Grenfell is extremely funny as the besotted, long-suffering, lovelorn police woman Ruby Gates–persuaded against her better judgment to operate undercover as Creepy Crawlie, St Trinian’s Games Mistress. And George Cole is marvelous as Flash Harry–the odd character who haunts the bushes of St Trinian’s–and who imagines that he is the soul of discretion. I think he’s my favourite character in the entire film.

Keep your eyes open for comediennes Beryl Reid (Miss Wilson), Irene Handl (Miss Gale), and Joan Sims (Miss Dawn). Sid James also stars as Clarence’s side kick, Benny, and very young Barbara Windsor and Shirley Eaton appear as St Trinian’s girls. Directed by Frank Launder and with the script co-written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Leave a comment

Filed under British, Comedy, St Trinian's