Pretty salacious title, huh? This early postwar British drama concerns a rebellious teen, Gwen (Jean Kent). To escape her abusive father (George Carney), she leaves home, gets involved with all sorts of folks and has some adventures, including hitting a cop while driving drunk.
Gwen has so many people in her life that we have a huge cast: Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, Peter Glenville, Flora Robson, Beatrice Varley, Hugh McDermott, John Blythe, Zena Marshall, Diana Dors, Amy Veness) Elwyn Brooks-Jones, Jill Bacon, Harry Ross, Jack Raine, Danny Green, and Griffith Jones.
We start out in juvenile court with a Miss Thorpe (Robson), who has to deal with wayward runaway Lyla (Dors). Thorpe brings up the example of Gwen, who had similsr circumstances, and made a mess of it. So, the frame story segues into the main plot concerning Gwen.
In the pawnbroker’s shop where Gwen works, we see her put back a purse she’s ‘borrowed’; her boss, the creepy Pottinger (Brooks-Jones) , accosts her. Then he insinuates if she is “good” he’ll overlook her indiscretion. She rebuffs his moves, so he threatens to get the police; the alternative is merely that she’s fired.
When she gets home, her sister warns her that Pottinger’s already told their dad. He (Carney) immediately sets about smacking her. Next day, she tells her mom she’s leaving. She finds an apartment from a fusty landlady, Mrs. Chalk (Veness); also she meets the dapper Jimmy Rosso (Glenville).
Jimmy is on the make with Gwen; but he reads her well, figuring why she’s left home. He thinks he can get her a job as a hat-check girl in the club where he works as a waiter. There she gets hired by the creepy Max (Lom). Like Jimmy, Max is openly disgusting, but immediately accepts her.
Anyway, she hits it off with the customers right away. Art (Blythe) and Red (Price) are with the club band. “youre in the middle of a spider’s web.” Red sees her after work, but Jimmy takes her home. of course he puts the moves on her too. Her mom comes to see her; the whole family’s messed up because dad lost his job. Basically, she’s being ordered home to provide for the family.
Now Max is going to promote her. Red says she’s a born cybarite,” liking fancy stuff and such. But he seems to care for her, implying by his playful tone that he knows he’s full of it. Someone’s lurking in the shadows…Jimmy, probably jealous of Red, looks in on her; based on what we see in the next scene, he’s hit her. Max stands up for her, and fires Jimmy. As a parting blast Jimmy threatens both of them.
Red tells her, aptly “you have strong men fight over you…but you’re the one that gets hurt.” Jimmy apologizes to her; and with no end to his swagger, he asks her to pawn some of his mom’s (translation, stolen) jewelry. She does it, but gets a promissary note or something instead of cash. “I’m not finished with you” he says, evasively, reiterating his threat to Max into the bargain.
Sure enough, Max gets jumped by two guys on a dark street. The doorman and Gwen pick him up and bring him back to the club, where a doctor fixes him up. She tells Red that she knows Jimmy’s behind it; not to mention that he’s still up to something with her. He says that she can stay with him.
Back at the club, Max calls on his henchman, Billy (Green). Retaliation for the attack is brewing…Sure enough, Billy the goon finds Jimmy in a pub, and jabs him with a broken bottle. At Red’s though, all is quietly domestic; she takes a bath, he plays the piano. He tells her she can stay the night, but then has to look out for another situation. He continues to be polite and caring.
However, the police come looking for her in the morning. Jimmy has set her up; his jewelry she pawned for him was stolen from the landlady (didn’t we figure some such). So we flip back to the Lyla/Miss Thorpe frame story briefly. Then, good old juvenile court for Gwen’s case. How did Jimmy survive the attack? Anyway, he tells the court a different story, of course. He even has the nerve to blame her for injuries inflicted by Max’s goon.
Red stands up for her, and backs her story. She’s still found guilty. Lecture-city from Thorpe. So, “we’re going to send you somewhere else…an approved (reform) school.” First she gets framed, then railroaded, and literally sent-up. At least she gets to talk to Red; he’s the only one who cares about her. She says she loves him.
Man, the school is pretty much a gothic castle. First thing is hazing from the other girls. There’s Roberta (Bacon), the bully. Gwen gets some points for chewing out the matron. Now she’s going to see the shrink. Gwen’s affected a survivalist form of politeness. The big deal now for the girls is getting mail. What’s interesting is how Gwen can be such a hard case, which is off-putting, but she’s pushed into defensiveness.
Anyway, thanks to a huge free-for-all in the cafeteria, Gwen has a chance to escape. What’s going to happen? Which is one of the best aspects of this movie, that, despite the constraints of the social commentary theme, Gwen’s life is completely unpredictable. It’s sort of a film noir in a strange parallel universe alongside a cautionary tale.
Well, she gets away, wisely changing clothes. Of course, the guy who picks her up has designs on her; she gets rid of him. Problem is, when she goes to call Red, his wife (Marshall) answers. When she finds her way back to the club, she gets the doorman’s attention. It seems that Max has a club in Brighton.
He’s hardly glad to see her; “this is a respectable club,” meaning, ok, but hide upstairs. She doesn’t. Instead he has to introduce her to some of his respectable mates, Danny (Griffith Jones), Billy (Green), and Fruity (Ross). Bad timing, as a detective (Raine) is passing through the club. They take off in Danny’s car, ending up at a party. She’s getting a bit tipsy.
Danny’s ‘turn’ to put the moves on her. “I’m a rough boy,” he says, lamely. More party action, and more, this time at the club. They’re up for a ride; Max doesn’t want her to go, but Danny gets her in the car; not only that but she’s driving. Whang! She runs over a policeman who’s on a bike.
They drive away. Danny knows they’re toast. Back at the club, he takes charge “there’s nothing to worry about as long as you keep your traps shut!” Except that the nosy detective notices bits of damage on Danny’s car. He knows about the cop who was killed. Gwen acts up, telling off the detective.
Time for her to leave town again; well, looks like Danny trailed her aboard the train. He threatens her–more than that–he slugs her, and then pushes her into the corridor. Two U.S. soldiers see her lying there; she’s ok, but her luggage is gone. She goes off with the soldiers, as she’s got no plan.
Apparently, they’re a couple of deserters, Al and Mickey (McDermott and Colleano). They overwhelm some M.P.s and split. Now, the three of them are basically running the streets, rolling easy marks. Mickey figures that they should split up, and get to Manchester. So, they get her to flag down a car (but it’s Red). She tries to warn him off, but they attack him.
She tries to get away; but they shoot Red, and stuff Gwen in the car. Well, the jig’s up. Everyone’s caught. Back to Thorpe wrapping up the story for Lyla. That girl, convinced both that the stodgy lady is decent, and Gwen’s story is so nightmarish (Gwen got fifteen years), that she agrees to go home. The end.
This is an interesting movie for a couple of reasons. Gwen is an enigmatic character; she always seems to make the wrong choice. On the other hand, she’s at the mercy of others (mostly creepy guys) for the whole time. Only Red is consistently good to her. It’s really hard to determine if her malleable personality is meant to show how she has to adapt to her situation, or if we’re to think that she has no conscience and is truly ‘delinquent’.
The other odd thing about her character is Kent’s age; she’s been described as a young-looking twenty-seven, but that hardly helps her pass as a sixteen-year-old. She’s simply too self-assured and savvy for the average teen. Kent does a lot with a complex role, but it’s too bad that Dors, a genuine teen at the time, couldn’t have played Gwen.
The supporting cast really fills out the multitude of major and minor players whom Gwen has to manuver around. Some are just sort of stock hood types; all except Red are compromised or flawed in some way.
Like the plot, the tone shifts from the preachy to the poignant, and back to the merely wreckless and hedonistic. Especially sad is the scene at Gwen’s apartment when her mom visits. It’s nothing but bad news, along with a terrible sense of hopelessnes; likewise when she’s sentenced to the reform school.
The reckless and the poignant themes intersect with tragic results when Red’s murdered. Ultimately, this shows a very pessimistic view of society, and the difficulty of even beginning to participate in it. Gwen’s destroyed bit by bit; the only consolation remains Lyla’s second chance.
Different, well-worth watching. 8/10.