Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Passport to Shame.

In the 1950’s the British Board of Film Censors reluctantly allowed producers to tackle prostitution as long as the film masqueraded as what they called ‘awful warnings’. One such film was Passport to Shame (1958) also known as Room 43, which was introduced by Robert Fabian, former Detective Superintendent of Scotland Yard, with the following ‘warning’: ‘The film your about to see deals with a steamy frightening subject, prostitution. The crooks that organise this racket are highly ruthless, I know because I served for nearly 28 years with the police force of London and most of it in the West End. This city today (late 1950’s) probably has the worse prostitute problem in the world. Your see for yourselves the terrible methods used to turn innocent girls into prostitutes. The film deals with the problem frankly, dramatically and accurately and by exposing this as it does I feel it would make us all realise what is going on and maybe do something to wipe out this awful social evil’ What a quaint attitude, mind you it’s same today the way people look down on working girls, the simple answer is to legalise the trade which can then be regulated and the gangsters that run the girls would be put out of business overnight. But I don’t think the hypocritical British authorities will ever agree to that?  Anyway back to the film.
The Villain.
A very pretty waitress Malou Beaucaire (the beautiful French actress Odile Versois) working in a Paris bar is tricked into coming to London on the pretext of working as a companion to a rich lady (Brenda de Banzie) in a large well furnished apartment in a well to do Street in Central London.  Little does this sweet delicate young girl know! Her rich employer is a madam in the employ of the cruel and evil sadistic Nick Biaggi (Herbert Lom) and the large house that she is expected to live in has an adjoining link to next door which is a high class brothel with girls working from ever room! But Biaggi has to get his ‘new girl’ a work permit and the quickest way to achieve that is to get her married and then have it annulled. To this end he offers a hard up cab driver £200 to marry the girl. But Johnny McVey (Eddie Constantine an American born actor that found fame in both France and Germany where he worked with the great filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder) falls head over heals in love with the girl and decides that he will save her from a life of selling her body to strangers.  But of course Nick Biaggi has other ideas! Also involved in this noirish crime drama is the wonderful Diana Dors as the friendly platinum blond whore Vicki whom she plays with a veiled eroticism that threated to boil over at any minute. Vicki owes Biaggi for disfiguring her sister with acid when she refused to become part of his vice ring. B-movie regular Elwyn Brook-Jones plays the villains corrupt solicitor.  Also interestingly we have some upcoming stars in uncredited role including a very young looking Michael Caine as the man waiting to get married and Joan Sims as the phone operator in the Taxi office.
The friendly whore.

Directed by Canadian born Alvin Rakoff a man best known for his work in television, for which he directed over 100 plays, rather than for feature films. He spent most of his career performing his trade in England. The DOP was Jack Asher who started his working life in films in 1930 at Gainsborough’s Islington Studio’s, and when on to work with Terence Fisher at Hammer in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He also worked on Cast a Dark Shadow (1955). The screenplay was by British novelist Patrick Alexander and the music was composed, arranged and directed by Ken Jones who also did the musical score for Tom Thumb (1958) that starred Jessie Matthews. As I said at the beginning, the movie sets it self up as a cautionary tale showing the seamy side of life and it certainly has a sleazy energy for a British film of its time and also includes a surreal oneiric sequence when Malou is drugged!

The Madam.

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