TURN THE KEY SOFTLY: Three women of very different backgrounds leave Holloway prison on the same morning in this 1950s drama. Monica Marsden (Yvonne Mitchell) is a well bred young woman who served time for a crime that her treacherous boyfriend (Terence Morgan) had committed,. Stella Jarvis (Joan Collins) is a beautiful working class girl whose easy virtue led to her incarceration while Mrs Quilliam (Kathleen Harrison) is a shoplifter who is old enough to know better. Over the course of the next 24 hours, each faces a struggle with herself to avoid a quick return to her criminal ways. David still exerts a powerful hold over Monica, Stella is drawn back to her old haunts and their promise of maximum financial gain for least endeavour, Mrs Quilliam has no money but somehow has to provide for herself and her Johnny. Will the women succeed in resisting temptation or will they find themselves back behind bars?
TURN THE KEY SOFTLY, 1953, a treat for devotees of British cinema of the ‘50s, and somehow one that eluded me - well I was too young to see it initially. Coming in at a neat 76 minutes, this is a fascinating social document now as we look at early ‘50s London – there is extensive shooting around Piccadilly Circus as well as more working class locations, like that area where Thora Hird has that boarding house where Mrs Quilliam (Kathleen Harrison, downtrodden as usual) returns after her stint in prison for shoplifting. The film is a mix of humour and pathos as it follows 3 women on their first day out of prison. Well bred society girl Yvonne Mitchell took the rap for her no-good heel boyfriend Terence Morgan, who has new plans for her now.
Young Joan Collins is the glamorous Stella, easily swayed by money and bright shiny objects like jewellery – can she stay on the straight and narrow with her bus conductor boyfriend in Canonbury (an outer suburb of London) or will she be like those wised-up party girls she meets? Jack Lee’s film follows the predictable pattern, but it is all perfectly done, as the trio meet that evening for dinner at a good restaurant, a treat by Mitchell. Fascinating too seeing them smoking on those old underground carriages. Yvonne Mitchell – that delicate, intelligent actress who could convey so much with just a look, and is marvellous as ever here, and Joan Collins was obviously going places - and we just know what is going to happen with Kathleen Harrison and her beloved Johnny, yes he is a dog ….. Another fascinating London film too.
TURN THE KEY SOFTLY starts with women leaving prison, J. Lee Thompson’s 1954 drama starts with another society dame, Glynis Johns, being sent to prison – framed for not paying her gambling debts. Again we follow the procedure of life inside. Glynis makes pals with Diana Dors, playing Betty Brown, another good-time girl, who really is a good girl.
Amusement is provided by the teaming of Sybil Thorndike and Athene Seyler as a pair of battling old dears, and a young Rachel Roberts in traditional feisty mode. Dependable John Gregson is the guy outside … and humorous subplots involve Sid James and his shoplifting family. It is all rather genteel and polite but none the less entertaining. Thompson’s 1955 YIELD TO THE NIGHT (with Dors and Yvonne Mitchell again) would be a more hard-hitting look at prison and punishment. Ill-fated Simone Silva (who committed suicide) is in both films, uncredited in TURN THE KEY SOFTLY though she has several scenes with Joan Collins, as the West End girl luring Joan back ....
Another good one is THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, Lewis Gilbert's thriller from 1954 importing Americans John Ireland, Richard Basehart and Gloria Graham to this tale of a robbery gone wrong, as led by Laurence Harvey with Stanley Baker and Margaret Leighton and Joan Collins again, before she left for Hollywood.
Later British '50s thrillers include VIOLENT PLAYGROUND, NO TREES IN THE STREET, HELL DRIVERS, HELL IS A CITY, Losey's BLIND DATE and THE CRIMINAL (Stanley Baker label), PAYROLL and others yet to be reviewed.
Well, I think thats enough early '50s social realism for now, lets head off to the '70s rock scene in California next ....