So Evil, So Young

Dir: Godfrey Grayson
Star: Jill Ireland, Ellen Pollock, Jocelyn Britton, Joan Haythorne

Great title, and the film makes a decent fist of living up to it (if not, perhaps, what the poster promises), thanks mostly to Ellen Pollock's fabulous portrayal of evil wardress Miss Smith (right), complete with a limp. She takes a dislike to Ann (Ireland, the late Mrs. Charles Bronson), who got two years after being framed for a robbery she didn't commit, and thus has to prove her innocence while surviving on the inside. It doesn't help that one of Ann's dorm-mates is the girl who set her up, who rapidly turns the other inmates against her.

Bear in mind this was made in 1961, so don't expect sleaze. However, the performances, led by Pollock, are on the mark, and the film canters along at a gallop: catfights, a death, and the obligatory riot are all crammed into barely 75 minutes. Indeed, it seems only to realise its time is up after 72 of them; I've never seen a movie deal with every loose end so fast. That's kinda unsatisfactory, especially if you're hoping to see Miss Smith get the come-uppance she truly deserves. Still, as a quaintly British period piece (did American audiences know what a "borstal" was?), it represents a rare Anglo entry in the women-in-prison genre, even if the perky jazz-pop toons are wildly inappropriate. And if you ever catch me snapping my fingers in time to music, please shoot me.

May 2004

Agent Smith
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