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  Passport to Shame Innocence Despoiled!
Year: 1958
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Stars: Diana Dors, Herbert Lom, Eddie Constantine, Odile Versois, Brenda de Banzie, Robert Brown, Elwyn Brook-Jones, Joan Sims, Yvonne Buckingham, Percy Cartwright, Jackie Collins, Robert Fabian, Rosalie Marshall, Lana Morris, James Ottaway, Cyril Shaps
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nick Biaggi (Herbert Lom) has his business in London all sewn up, and his business is corrupt to the core. One of his rackets is snaring young girls into his prostitution ring, he has a technique he employs with his staff to work out who is the most vulnerable, then contrive to exploit them once they are trapped in his web of lies and subterfuge. Take Malou (Odile Versois) for example: she had a job in one of Nick's coffee houses, and the proprietor pretended she had stolen from the till. Apparent tourist Aggie (Brenda de Banzie) stepped in to save her, thus placing Malou in her debt, and taking her to London where her boss's machinations come into play, all to make her into a whore...

Somewhat comically to modern eyes, Passport to Shame begins with one Fabian of the Yard, as he styles himself, telling us the film we are about to see will teach us a sobering lesson about one of the worst blights on British society, which is the aforementioned prostitution. London is the worst city in the world for it, too, according to the lawman. Whether those illegal operations were actually going about their business quite like the shenanigans seen in this movie are more open to question, as director Alvin Rakoff, working from a script by Patrick Alexander, was more keen to fashion one of those British answers to Hollywood's film noir, why not? They were very popular in their day.

Whether they were more popular than actual American movies was up for debate too, and quite often they would draft in a star from the United States to lead the action, just to sort of but not really fool audiences on both sides of the Atlantic that these efforts were just as good as what Hollywood was producing. In this case, that might have been true, since British X-rated films were allowed to mention subjects like prostitution and drug abuse the American pictures were far more cagey about - it had just been three years since The Man with the Golden Arm had brought heroin use into the mainstream, and in this little item there was a druggy sequence as well, if not as sensible.

That's because once Malou works out what is being planned for her, she tries to get away, and after being threatened with acid in the face she is given - gasp! - cannabis to sedate her, leading to a tripped out set of scenes where Rakoff let his imagination run wild. It was ridiculous to watch, yet it was also strikingly bold, summing up in metaphorical imagery what the heroine was suffering on stylised sets and with woozy effects and screams. The rest of this was further down to earth, but no less outlandish from a modern perspective, such was the curse of trying to deal with sensational subject matter in a serious, even grave, manner which after the passage of time tended to appear a bit silly when censorship did not allow things to get too violent, or sexual, or transgressive, for the general audience.

Diana Dors was billed as the guest star in the opening titles, but was given first place in the end credits, to indicate that the project needed a big star but were not willing to pay her the big bucks to keep her around for the whole story. She played a prostitute of Nick's trying to raise enough money with her body to amass enough funds for her sister's plastic surgery, as she has already suffered the acid treatment to teach her a lesson. Probably the second most famous person in the cast back in '58, at least in Europe, was aforementioned import Eddie Constantine, best known as the granite-faced American protagonist in the French Lemmy Caution series; almost a parody of the Continent's idea of a Yank tough guy, here he was a taxi driver who is tricked into Biaggi's schemes, marries Malou to get her a British passport, then hits the vengeance trail when he realises what is actually going on. Yes, it was pure pulp rather than a sincere issue picture, but as far as that went the equivalent of leafing through a vintage paperback, great if that was your preference. Music by Ken Jones (very "budget Elmer Bernstein").

[Network release this as part of The British Film, fully restored and with an image gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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