Probably just about everyone who was a high school student in the 80’s has the shared experience of getting to watch the Academy Award winning documentary “Scared Straight” at school. They were doing what they could to keep us vicious suburban kids out of the slammer. Back in the 50’s, of course, there were movies about juvenile delinquents that masqueraded as warnings to the youth of America. Today’s film predates those films of the 50’s by a few years, but has some similarities. It’s part film noir, part girls prison movie…the 1948 British production “Good-Time Girl.”
The film begins with a police officer bringing a young lady (Diana Dors) to have a talk with Miss Thorpe (Flora Robson) an official from the juvenile court. The officer hopes that Miss Thorpe will share the story of another teen girl which will help get this young lady on the right track.
Miss Thorpe proceeds to tell us the story of Gwen Rawlings (Jean Kent), a troubled 16-year old. As is the norm for juvenile delinquent flicks, she’s a very old looking 16. Kent was at least 10 years older when she filmed this. Gwen works in a pawn shop but she gets herself in trouble when she “borrows” a brooch from the shop for a party. Her boss is willing to look the other way in exchange for a kiss. She refuses and heads home. Things aren’t much better there. When her father learns of her sticky fingers, he beats her viciously.
Well, enough is enough, so Gwen packs up and moves into a boarding house. Her neighbor across the hall is a smooth-talking gangster type named Jimmy (Peter Glenville) and he immediately takes a liking to her. He ends up getting her a job as a hat-check girl at the club where he works. It’s run by the shifty Max Vine (Herbert Lom…yep Inspector Dreyfus). At the club, she also meets Red (Dennis Price), one of the musicians.
Unfortunately, Gwen is not exactly big on street smarts. One day, she does a favor for Jimmy by taking some jewelery to a pawnshop. Everything seems to be going well, until Jimmy grows angry that Gwen is not responding to his advances and give her a shiner. This prompts Max to fire Jimmy. But Jimmy isn’t taking that sitting down. He arranges for Max to be attacked in an alley one night, leaving a big knife scar on Max’s cheek. Gwen is now scared for her safety and heads to Red’s place to hide from Jimmy. But while there, the cops come inquiring about the jewels, which it turns out had been stolen from Jimmy and Gwen’s landlady. Gwen is framed for the crime and sent to a reform school.
While there, she quickly becomes one of the top girls…using violence and intimidation to get her way. After she’s been there for several months, a fight breaks out one day in the mess hall. She seizes on the opportunity to make her escape.
Now out in the world again, she first searches for Red, but is disappointed to find that he is back together with his wife. She then goes to Max, who wants nothing to do with her, but allows her to stay briefly in a room above his new club. Though she is not supposed to enter the club, she defies Max and quickly catches the attention of one of the club regulars, Danny (Griffith Jones). This leads to a night of drinking and, eventually, driving. While behind the wheel, Gwen plows into a bicyclist, killing him. Now she’s sure the cops are on to her, and Danny, fearing she’s about to crack, sets out to silence her for good.
As you can see, no good time is had by the “good-time girl.” This is a fairly gritty and violent film full of all sorts of unpleasant characters. By today’s standards, the violence is nothing but there are still some fairly shocking moments. The accident involving the bicycle is especially jarring, showing the impact in dramatic fashion. Also unsettling is the sequence where Danny attacks Gwen on a train.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that it shifts styles a bit throughout. The first part of the film is very film noir with it’s.dark alleys and creative use of light and shadows. But this is somewhat abandoned when Gwen ends up in the boarding school. These scenes do resemble the style of the teens in trouble films that would be so prevalent in the next decade. It shifts back to that noir feel when Gwen flies the coop. To describe it feels disjointed, but it actually works quite well.
I enjoyed most of the performances in the film. Jean Kent is quite good in the lead, though waaaaaay too old for the part. There’s no way she passes for 16. My favorite performance, though, was turned in by Herbert Lom. I’m so used to seeing him as the fuming Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films that it was tough to recognize him as a smooth club owner with questionable business associates. But he pulls it off great and is quite intimidating.
“Good-Time Girl” is an interesting film the succeeds as both a gritty crime drama and a juvenile delinquent film. I don’t know if it ever scared anyone straight, but it’s still an entertaining film.
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