Cast & Crew
In England, middle-class Jean Raymond is sentenced to a year in prison after unknowingly being involved in an insurance fraud, engineered by a gambling casino owner to whom she owed money. Jean is concerned that her conviction may affect the career of her boyfriend, Michael Hale, who has recently qualified as a doctor, but Michael assures Jean that he will stand by her. Before being transported to prison, Jean shares a holding cell with Betty Brown, who has been convicted of possessing stolen goods, which were left at her place by her boyfriend. Jean and Betty become friends and are taken together to Blackdown Prison, a women's penitentiary, where they undergo the process of being integrated into the prison population. Jean meets several of her fellow inmates, including Nellie Baden, matriarch of a family of shoplifters, who explains to Jean the tricks of her trade and how the family was finally caught. The prison's female governor explains to Jean that, if she demonstrates good behavior, she may later be transferred to an "open" prison, one without bars and cells. Jean soon adapts to the prison routine and looks forward to visiting days when she can see Michael. Although Betty's boyfriend has promised to visit her, he does not appear. Michael tells Jean that he has turned down a three-year contract in Northern Rhodesia as the post is open only to unmarried men and he still intends to marry her. Later, Jean intervenes when a prisoner attempts to stab one of the officers. She is wounded in the arm and transferred to the prison's hospital. There she meets several pregnant inmates and some who have recently given birth. Jean learns that the mothers are allowed to keep their babies for only nine months, then are forced to put them up for adoption. Babs, one of the women in the ward, tells Jean that while rearing two children after their father deserted them, she went out on a date with a new boyfriend, leaving her children alone. When she returned at dawn, Babs discovered that her baby had choked to death during the night and she was subsequently arrested for child neglect, but still hopes that she can have custody of her older child upon her release. After the governor tells Jean that she and Betty are suitable candidates for the open prison, "The Grange," Jean says goodbye to her new friends. Just before she leaves, however, she receives a visit from Michael who informs her that, upon advice from a colleague, he has changed his mind and is taking the job in Rhodesia. Although upset, Jean tells Michael that she understands, but asks him not to write to her. At "The Grange," the female governor explains to Jean and Betty that they are part of an experiment, which may change the character of prisons throughout Britain. The prison offers remedial classes, pleasant surroundings, no bars or fences and operates on the honor system. To date, no one has walked away from the prison. Jean and Betty enjoy their new freedom and their fellow inmates, including the elderly Millie Williams, who tells her tale: She is there because she tried to help her former friend Mabel, who had pursued a rich old man, Harry Wicks. After marrying Mabel, Harry promptly takes to his bed for the next ten years and fights constantly with Mabel. Millie suggests to Mabel that they kill Harry and split his money, but before Mabel can administer a fatal dose of weed killer, Harry dies a natural death. Millie, assuming that Mabel has poisoned Harry as agreed, is dismayed when Mabel refuses to share Harry's money and threatens to tell the police. Mabel calls the police and invites Millie to tea. From a hiding place, police officers overhear Millie blackmailing Mabel, arrest her and she is sent to prison. In the present, the weeks pass quickly, even pleasantly, at "The Grange" although Betty receives a letter from a friend telling her that her boyfriend is now with another woman. Betty feels that if she could just talk to her man, she could convince him that they still have a future together. When the time draws near for Jean's release, the governor offers her the chance to go into a nearby town for a day. Jean can also take Betty with her, but is responsible for her. At the end of their day, they visit a fair and when Jean goes on a ride, Betty decides to leave. Jean returns to "The Grange" and is being reprimanded for causing the honor system's first failure, when Betty comes back, having realized her mistake. On the day of her release, Jean says goodbye to Betty and promises to stay in touch, then walks outside to find Michael waiting for her. He tells her that he has quit his job in Rhodesia and asks her to marry him, and she accepts.
A. E. Matthews
Jean Taylor Smith
Herbert C. Walton
L. V. Clark
Harold V. King
A. G. Scott
Young and Willing -
These themes came to be exploited by women-in-prison B movies made in the mid-1950s into the 1970s. Yet, British filmmaker J. Lee's Thompsons's Young and Willing (1954) (known as The Weak and the Wicked in England and formerly as Women Behind Bars) stands out for emphasizing the complex lives of incarcerated women over pulp melodrama and sensationalism - perhaps at the expense of showcasing the brutal realities of prison life.
Young and Willing is based on the prison experiences of author Joan Henry, a socialite and gambler, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for a fraudulent cheque. Henry served eight of the 12 months, first at HM Prison Holloway in London and then at the more liberal HM Ashkam Grange, an open prison in North Yorkshire. At Ashkam Grange, she met and was deeply inspired by Mary A. Size, an Anglo-Irish penal reformer of the English prison system.
Henry's memoir about her time in jail, Who Lie in Gaol, was published in 1952 and became a bestseller. After reading it, Thompson, with the backing of Robert Clark, the head of production at Associated British, decided to turn it into a film. Both Henry and Size were brought on as advisors.
The film follows Jean Raymond (Glynis Johns), who is framed by a lender to settle a gambling debt. Like Henry, she is found guilty of fraud and incarcerated. In jail, Jean meets women who have been imprisoned for protecting their drug dealing lovers, shoplifting, blackmail and manslaughter. In a series of flashbacks, the women's lives are portrayed sympathetically but not tragically. Most poignant is the film's portrayal of pregnant inmates whose babies are given away for adoption nine months after being birthed - as if severing parenthood is part of the punishment.
As socially conscious as Young and Willing is, it is not a cautionary tale. Inching toward the exploitation style filmmaking that often marks its genre, the film cast Diana Dors as Betty Brown. Dors was hired only a few weeks after having been convicted in real life of stealing alcohol from a friend's house. The role was a shift for Dors, who was mostly known for her "blonde bombshell" style, sexy comedic roles and risqué modeling. Elstree Studios told Dors, "Audiences won't see your legs and figure this time. But you'll have the chance of proving you're a good actress, if you're game enough to shed your glamour." Resisting typecasting, Dors retorted: "I've been a dumb blond long enough." And the film seems to balance Dors' reputation by casting Glynis Johns, who Henry said was a fine actress but "a bit goody-goody." And perhaps Jean Raymond - with her reformatory marriage wish to "live for someone" and to someday "be a good wife" to her boyfriend on the outside - is more conservative than Henry. In any case, Henry's assessment seems prescient; Johns would go on to play Winifred Banks in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins (1964).
The film features a talented troupe of influential British actresses as a motley crew of female inmates: Olive Sloane as Nellie Baden, Jane Hylton as Babs Peters, Rachel Roberts as Pat and Athene Seyler as Millie Williams, with Sybil Thorndike as her friend Mabel Wicks. At times, Young and Willing revels in the all-female space of the prison, while highlighting it as a space of alternative gendering. Only allowed cream and powder, the women are denied cosmetics, rendering femininity a privilege and not given. And because they reside away from the men in their life, who often abandon them during their long sentences, these women forge identities and intimacies that are not based on recognizable gender roles. As queer film critic Jack Halberstam has pointed out, "Prison films always allow for the possibility of an overt feminist message that involves both a critique of male-dominated society and some notion of female community."
The film was a success. Like Thompson, audiences were taken by Henry's story. Indeed, Thompson was so taken that he wound up falling in love with Henry and left his wife and two children to marry her.
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Anne Burnaby and J Lee Thompson in association with Joan Henry, based on her book Who Lie in Gaol
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Editing: Richard Best
Music: Leighton Lucas
Production Company: Marble Arch
Cast: Glynis Johns (Jean Raymond), Diana Dors (Betty Brown), John Grfegson (Dr. Michael Hale), Olive Sloane (Nellie Baden), Rachel Roberts (Pat)
By Rebecca Kumar
Young and Willing -
The order of the opening and closing cast credits differs greatly. The opening cast credits read: Glynis Johns, Diana Dors, Jane Hylton, Sidney James, A. E. Matthews, Anthony Nicholls, Athene Seyler, Olive Sloane, Sybil Thorndike, also starring John Gregson.
Correspondence in The Weak and the Wicked file in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that Allied Artists had a pre-production involvement. After the film was released in Britain at 88 minutes, it was cut to 72 minutes for U.S. release. The print viewed, which was British, ran 84 minutes. It is possible that some of the actors listed in the credits above did not appear in the version released in the U.S. Although the film is a drama, the sequences involving "Millie" and "Mabel" provided comic interludes.