Young and Willing (1954)
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The story centres around Jean Raymond (Glynis Johns) who is the subject of an elaborate frame when she can't pay her gambling debts. In reality, a half competent barrister could have destroyed the case against her, should it have ever come to court in the first place, but here she's sent down for twelve months. There follows her experiences in the grim Blackdown Jail and then The Grange, a progressive 'prison without bars'. Many of the usual clichés of such films are avoided and the staff are shown as being very strict, but fair. One of the comedy episodes features a comical family of shoplifters headed by Sid James and Olive Sloane; Sid's prominent position in the cast list, despite a relatively brief appearance, is notable even at this stage of his career. Another piece of nonsense has a wooden Sybil Thorndike attempting to murder her husband, and then framing Athene Seyler for blackmail. By contrast the scenes in the prison hospital are more realistic, with Jane Hylton giving perhaps the best performance as Babs, haunted by the death of the baby she had neglected. Though third billed, Diana Dors is not very memorable in what is little more than a supporting role. A couple of years or so later she was to give her finest performance for the same director in YIELD TO THE NIGHT.
The finale, with the orchestra in full flow, is as contrived and sentimental as anything that Hollywood could produce. Despite or because of its various eccentricities, I quite enjoyed this.
Once rolling, Johns meets various other female prisoners while incarcerated and to almost each one the film fades into a vignette of the "facts" that led each one to wind up in prison. It is definitely a film of its time, a strikingly clichéd British film of the '30s, '40s and early '50s style and was made with a method dying out by the mid-50's when British cinema began a darker more realistic mode of direction.
This film has nothing on many earlier American prison dramas ("20,000 Years in Sing Sing" some twenty years before for example) but the film was never intended in my opinion to be anything overtly powerful. Though there is no direct sermonising about right and wrong written into the film it was directed intentionally to make one think what prison may be like (at least for that generation) while the film rides on a very comfortable sponge through tranquil waters, despite trying to focus on rehabilitation. Very muddled.
Regrettably, the film's earlier momentum starts to fizzle out about halfway through as the vignettes continually are sugar-coated (the only possible exception is the story of the gaoled women in the infirmary involving her baby) and the acting is rather appalling with a rather dreadful ending by today's terms. Even the attempt at humour with Sid James's family is more sad than funny (perhaps that was the intention).
Not one of Lee-Thompson's best and I rate it a generous 2 out of 5 stars but is worth a single sitting as a curio.