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  Weak and the Wicked, The Care of Cell 44
Year: 1954
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Glynis Johns, John Gregson, Diana Dors, Olive Sloane, Rachel Roberts, Jane Hylton, Athene Seyler, Jean Taylor Smith, Cecil Trouncer, Ursula Howells, Edwin Styles, Sid James, Eliot Makeham, Joan Haythorne, Sybil Thorndyke, Sandra Dorne, Irene Handl
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jean Raymond (Glynis Johns) has been sentenced to a twelve month prison sentence for her dealings in fraud, a case she was hoping would fall apart but that has not happened, and now she faces the public shame of incarceration. After the judge tells her the fate she will face, she is taken to below to meet with her boyfriend Michael (John Gregson), who she has trouble speaking to she is so upset, and asks him if he can secure her some makeup, since that is hard to come by where she is going. Once she has managed a terse goodbye, she is escorted to a holding cell where the next year begins to sink in - but she's not alone, for in the cell is someone else who has been sentenced, Betty Brown (Diana Dors), a new friend.

In the nineteen-fifties, the women in prison genre was not what it would become by the seventies, that was an excuse for titillation and cheap thrills, as there was still an attempt at treating the subject seriously and not something designed for male viewers to pruriently enjoy the sight of all women together and getting up to all sorts. This was one such example, and part of the reason it was so dedicated to understanding the unfortunates who ended up behind bars was that its writer had suffered the same ordeal. She was Joan Henry, and thanks to a gambling problem had been in the same circumstances as the Jean character, she was clearly a surrogate for her; not only that but her husband was the director, J. Lee Thompson, who obviously had an interest in the subject so close to his wife's heart.

Therefore a social problem picture was on offer, with selected inmates given the benefit of a flashback all the better to understand their dilemmas, all drawn from the people Henry met when she was inside and had penned a book about (with the decidedly less sensational title of Who Lie in Gaol). Jean was up first for that treatment where we can see she was framed, but also that she couldn't pay her debts anyway so was not going to protest her sentence when things could have been even worse, and here we also got to see what a terribly nice chap Michael was, strongly intended to mark out the path of the straight and narrow should Jean choose to follow it (and him). Oddly, Betty didn't get a flashback, no matter that rising star Dors was basically the co-lead, but it was an ensemble effort in some ways.

Dors would win a better role from Henry and Thompson shortly after when she took the lead in Yield to the Night, based on the Ruth Ellis case of the last woman to be executed in Britain, but here she was more blowsy and less grave, though that said she couldn't be too cheery and had to break down in tears at least once, just to show prison is no picnic. Olive Sloane's character might disagree, a career shoplifter whose entire family are banged up, one of two lighter hearted sequences, the other being a black comedy reading of two old ladies (Athene Seyler and Dame Sybil Thorndyke) who plot to kill one of their obnoxious husbands only to see their plans go awry, all very Ealing. But in the main this was misery-based.

And centred on the misery of Jean, as she is shamefaced throughout about her situation, not to mention not all the authorities having the inmates’ best interests at heart. One foreign jailbird (the tragically short-lived Simone Silva) is victimised by a warden, which leads her to try to stab her with scissors in the sewing room, but proving this was still Johns' big role, she is the one who gets cut in the melee and sent to the prison hospital where we realise this is an excuse to tell the tales of what happens if you're pregnant or a young mother while inside. The flashback we get here is about a neglectful parent (Jane Hylton) whose baby died (though it does look like cot death), yet time and again we are questioned on our idea that women prisoners are the "wicked" of the title, or actually simply "weak". The last act sees Jane and Betty in an experimental open prison, a pleading for a more liberal service for sentenced females, but this operates just as well as a straight drama. Music by Leighton Lucas.

[A decent print on Network's DVD, and trailers and a gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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J. Lee Thompson  (1914 - 2002)

Veteran British director frequently in Hollywood, usually with stories featuring an adventure or thriller slant. Among his many films, including a number of Charles Bronson movies, are capital punishment drama Yield to the Night, adventures Ice Cold in Alex and North West Frontier, the original Cape Fear, Tiger Bay, wartime epic The Guns of Navarone, What a Way To Go!, horror Eye of the Devil, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and slasher Happy Birthday to Me.

 
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