So Evil, So Young (1961)


"Girls caged without their guys!"  So the one-sheet for this movie screams, highlighted by a young woman in a nightie.  What are these young ladies getting up to at this reform school?  What kind of naughtiness are these bad girls capable of?

Well, this is 1961.  In England.  That means the poster is about as raunchy as things are going to get. 

Teenagers Lucy (Jocelyn Britton) and Claire (Bernice Swanson) decide to rob the house of Lucy's former employer.  While going through their haul, the owner arrives.  Claire knocks him over the head with a candlestick, and the girls flee.  Lucy knows it's only a matter of time before the cops come calling for her, but Claire was not able to be identified.  Lucy decides to trust her to hold on to the jewelry until she gets out.

While waiting to get nicked she decides to stop by a diner she frequents, only to find that Tom (John Charlesworth), a musician that she is infatuated with, has found a more permanent interest in Ann (Jill Ireland).  Angry at Ann for stealing what she considers her man, and knowing that all the homeowner was able to tell about Claire was she was also blonde, she plants a piece of jewelry on Ann and informs on her to the police.  Ann and her father (John Longden) both insist on her innocence, but the case against her is strong enough to land her in the girls' reformatory home at Wilsham - in a bed right a cross from Lucy.

Ann protests her innocence throughout, but that doesn't impress either the Matron (Joan Haythorne) or her second-in-command, Warden Smith (Ellen Pollock).  Smith especially has some issues with how things are run, believing that physical and psychological punishment are what the girls need to shape up, while the Matron is under the impression that the carrot and stick method is a bit better for turning them into productive members of society.  While the Matron takes a liking to Ann, an early fight with Lucy strikes a different not with Smith. 

After Ann faces Smith's wrath, Lucy begins to take every opportunity bully her and try to goad her into another fight.  At first intent on telling the Matron what is going on, she is warned by Mary (Sheila Wittingham), a slightly mentally disabled but good-natured longtime resident, of the consequences of doing so.  Her and Mary become friends, but that's still no protection from Lucy.  Ann is again tricked into fighting with her in the work room, and receives two weeks in solitary.  However, after her time is up, she gets the first bit of good news in a while: the Matron, instead of having her work making mail bags, is in need of a secretary. 

Smith is still unimpressed and continues to mete out her own form of discipline.  This comes to a head when Mary receives word that her probation came through and she will finally be leaving.  The other girls decide to throw her party after lights out.  When Smith discovers the party, the other girls, save Mary, head back to bed, leaving her to be the one disciplined.  Smith tells her that she is going to get another 12 months.  It's a blatant lie, but Mary believes it and commits suicide, sparking the girls, except Ann, to riot and attack Smith and some of the other wardens.

Initially Ann is spared punishment since she did not take part in the riot, but she still refuses to tell on the ringleaders, and ultimately asks to be punished the same as the other girls.  For standing with them she receives some information from Jane (Olive McFarland), who largely played the role of Mary's protector during her time there.  It turns out Claire has been showing up around town with fancy clothes and claiming the money came from a new boyfriend.  However, Tom becomes suspicious, and shares his concerns with Ann's father.  Jane provides a final clue that may finally prove Ann's innocence, but Ann must make a daring escape and risk everything to get the information to Tom.

In terms of what one would expect from a reform school or women-in-prison film, this definitely quite tame.  There was no way at this time period, and especially in England, that they were even going to slightly go in the direction that most of these movies do for titillation.  Instead, we just stick with the sadistic Miss Smith and her disdain for her charges.  Ellen Pollock's performance stands out more so than any of the others, with her pent-up rage at both times, and the promotion to matron she always expected, passing her by.  There is an instance where Lucy insults her to her face, and the effort not to do physical harm in return is real enough that one wonders if it was acting or a sudden, involuntary reaction.  Typically this character in these movies is driven by religion or moral duty, but Pollock makes Smith more than a one-dimensional villain.

Jill Ireland is in an early role here, but she went on to many bigger and better things.  Her performance is decent, but really there wasn't too much for her to do than play the innocent, put-upon society girl that suddenly finds herself in the wrong place.  Jocelyn Britton is nasty as Lucy but, where Smith is given some sort of depth, Lucy never gets to be more than a thug and a bully.

As can be expected, none of the girls look like teenagers.  Even Ireland was 24 or 25 at the time this was made, and many of the other "girls" look quite a bit older.  But then, the Danziger brothers never let anything like that stand in the way of turning a pound out of whatever they felt they could get away with.  The main draw to this movie at the time was, unlike most of their productions, it was in color, even if it recycled script and soundtrack elements from their previous films. 

What we get in the end is a rather tame film that barely pushes the envelope at all.  The riot scene here is rather well-done, and is really the only point of the movie where it seems to loosen up and truly go into actual exploitation territory.  For the most part, though, the only thing that stands out in the movie are the pink pyjamas the girls are forced to wear.

So Evil, So Young (1961)
Time: 77 minutes
Starring: Jill Ireland, Jocelyn Britton, Ellen Pollock, Joan Haythorne, John Charlesworth
Director: Godfrey Grayson

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