“Girls Caged Without Their Guys! Bad girls…and the not-so-bad…walking a tightrope of tension in a girls’ reformatory. Anything can set it off - sky high!,” read the posters for the British film So Evil, So Young (1961). Shot in 1960 by Danziger Productions, Ltd., for the New Elstree Studios, So Evil, So Young was exactly the kind of film the Danzigers made: cheap, fast and exploitative, as evidenced in the narration of the film’s trailer, “Here they are, the bewildered, and the beat. The young ones who live every excitement-packed moment to the hilt against the off-beat rhythm of drums and guitars. The good-time girls and the bad-time girls. So evil, so young, who play their dangerous games for kicks and for keeps. They’re all here in this woman’s world of hate and revenge. In the shock-filled story of women without men.”
Under the working title of No Prison Walls, So Evil, So Young was shot in Technicolor (a rarity for a Danziger film) and written by studio veteran writer Mark Grantham and directed by workhorse Godfrey Grayson. It tells the story of well-born Ann (Jill Ireland) who is dating Tom (John Charlesworth) when she is framed by his ex-girlfriend, Lucy (Jocelyn Britton) for a jewel robbery Lucy committed with her friend, Claire (Bernice Swanson). Ann, who has had a necklace slipped into her pocket by Lucy, is wrongly convicted and sent to Wilsham, a minimum-security all-girls prison headed by the sadistic matron Miss Smith (Ellen Pollock). One of the girls tells Ann that she knows she is innocent of the robbery and to talk to a pawn shop owner (Otto Diamant). Ann escapes but later turns herself in, while Tom talks to the owner and finds the proof of Ann’s innocence.
The “women in prison” trope had been used many times in the decade before So Evil, So Young was produced, not the least by the Danziger brothers themselves, who had produced So Young, So Bad in 1950. The recycling of plots to save money was par for the course for a Danziger film. The American-born brothers Harry and Eddie had come to England in 1952 and formed an extremely low-budget film studio built on a derelict site that had been used by the British Ministry of Supply in 1941 for the creation of engine test beds for aircraft manufacturing. The Danzigers had their art director, Erik Blakemore, make the buildings resemble an American film studio and the result was a seven-acre campus which opened in 1956. The Danzigers were not above renting out the facilities to other production companies, as actor Christopher Lee remembered his own experience at New Elstree. “There was water pouring down the cement walls and the duckboards between the stages, traversing a sea of mud. There was an absence of windows in the dressing rooms, and the lights didn’t work. That was just a few of the Spartan delights.”
Like the poverty row studios in Hollywood, the Danziger’s New Elstree studio created films and early television series that were made extraordinarily cheap – and looked like it. The films were not intended to be high art but to create B pictures that were shown at the lower part of the bill in cinemas. Actors working on a Danziger film were often embarrassed to say they were in those movies but were grateful for the work and the tiny salaries, which were usually paid in cash. Director Nicolas Roeg spent part of his early career working at New Elstree, later saying “The Danzigers gave a lot of work to up-and-coming people. They gave some their break in the industry. From a business point of view, though, they did only pay half the salary of other studios. They did, however, put a lot of energy into their productions and were always enjoyable to work for.”
So Evil, So Young was released in Britain through United Artists in 1961 but did not reach the United States until 1963. A forgettable film, it did little to help the careers of the stars. Sadly, John Charlesworth, who played Tom, did not live to see its release, having taken his own life in April 1960, shortly after filming had been completed. Although it was not favorably received, So Evil, So Young did not harm Jill Ireland’s career. She would soon become a star in film and television, and in the late 1960s, famously divorced her husband, actor David McCallum, to marry American action star Charles Bronson. She would later use her celebrity to advocate on behalf of those, like herself, who had cancer. Ireland would remain married to Bronson until her death at the age of 54 in 1990.