Marissa Cooper (Milly Vitale) has just gotten off the bus in the big smoke of London and she’s looking for work. Unfortunately, she’s so green that she sticks out a mile among the more experienced denizens of the city, and quickly grabs the attention of unpleasant sorts who approach her in a café as she pores over the appointments pages of the newspaper. They persuade her that they could get her a job with decent money and all she has to do is party all night with the social elite in an exclusive club called The Golden Bucket; it sounds simple enough, and Marissa doesn’t see what the catch could be, so she agrees. But on her first night, she finds herself dancing and drinking with overbearing businessmen and has to be saved from one by a dashing American, Tony Giani (John Derek)…
Don’t trust him, Marissa! The Flesh is Weak was an early attempt by a British film to tackle the issue of prostitutes and their controlling pimps, a subject that had largely been addressed obliquely before, but as social realism became voguish in the fifties (it had before that, to be fair, but not to this anti-escapist extent) problem pictures of a style that Hollywood had been flexing its relevancy muscles with – drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, corruption and so on – were aped by British films. Much of these were created by low budget studios, and Eros was the one responsible for this, not the cheapest around but by no means the most expensive either, though they had managed to secure the services of a proper American star.
John Derek was he, and he looked to be relishing the opportunity to play the villain as his work from the other side of the Pond cast him as the good guy, with his role in The Ten Commandments his most celebrated. He would soon show off a different side to his talents (assuming you thought he had a talent for acting, that is), when he eschewed the career of the pretty boy movie star and branched out into directing, usually casting his wife of the moment as a much lusted after sex object: Bo Derek was probably his biggest success there. Some might say that his part as a manipulative pimp here had given him ideas, but that would be rather crass, especially as he didn’t completely convince as an out and out evildoer.
Bizarrely, the one pulling Tony’s strings would appear to be his brother, Angelo, I say bizarrely because he was played by Martin Benson, an esteemed character actor who was not exactly a heartthrob like Derek, and chose to put on an accent for his reading, but not an American accent, an Italian accent which not coincidentally the leading lady Vitale sported an authentic version of, only her surname in the story was Cooper. So with accents all over the place, it was better to concentrate on the plot which may have been keen to highlight a very pressing issue, with every variation of wrongdoing and exploitation they could get away with in the late nineteen-fifties, but there was an atmosphere of sleaze, as if the film was itching to portray just what it was that happened in the bedrooms between the ladies of the night and their clients.
Nudity was a no-no back then unless it was in an art film (or an “art” film) from the Continent, so Milly remained fully clothed, leaving the problems a victim such as she would face. Even there a sense of copping out a little pervaded, for example the first time she faced a client she takes off the street he turned out to be such a nice guy, pressured into visiting by his workmates to salve a messy breakup with his ex-girlfriend, that he makes his excuses and leaves before even taking off his jacket though not before giving her the money anyway. Elsewhere, Milly is not so lucky, as Tony and his cohorts grow ever more threatening and the police are circling, preferring to pick off the women rather than aiming for the big boys. She has a knight in shining armour in the shape of investigative journalist Lloyd Buxton (William Franklyn) who may not offer any romance, but he is crusading on behalf of her and those like her, which ultimately draws her trials to a close (literal court trials, in some cases). When films from the late sixties onwards tackled this subject, they became more titillating, so if nothing else it was interesting to watch it approached with a thriller, film noir edge while still retaining a frank attitude, not that it looked anything but rather cheap and seedy. Music by Tristram Carey.
British director best known for directing fantasy favourites Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C, both of which featured groundbreaking Ray Harryhausen effects. Chaffey also directed Hammer’s Viking Queen, but much of his work was in television, both in the UK (The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase) and, later, the US (Charlie’s Angels, CHiPs, Airwolf). Also made kids’ favourites Greyfriars Bobby and Pete's Dragon for Disney.