‘Good Time Girl’ (1948) is quite the hidden gem. I unearthed it on You Tube, and I’m sure that I have neither seen nor heard of it previously. This is odd, because it has a stellar cast. Jean Kent has the starring role and she is supported by Herbert Lom, Dennis Price, Flora Robson, Diana Dors and Jill Balcon. As you would imagine with a cast with this kind of quality, the film is no turkey – it is compelling and atmospheric. So why is it not a household name?
I wonder if this is because the film was too radical in its outlook for the times. Did it have a subdued reception in 1948 because, in general, people found its message difficult to deal with? This in turn might have led to it becoming quickly buried and forgotten.
The story focuses on Kent’s character, a girl of sixteen called Gwen. We are invited to watch her spiral down into a life of crime and eventual imprisonment by the haughty and moralising magistrate (Robson). We first find her living at home with her parents and five siblings, where the father drinks away what little he earns and regularly beats his entire family. After losing her job in a pawnbrokers, Gwen is on the receiving end of what she decides will be her final belting and leaves home. She then becomes prey to a series of ne’er do well men and she slides down towards alcoholism, manslaughter and theft. Her crimes are undoubtedly heinous. There is no tiptoeing around the fact that she is in the wrong. Yet we sympathise because we are shown that she was born to be a victim. The fault is not all hers, society has a role to play – society turns a blind eye when fathers beat their children senseless; society allows adult men to take advantage of teenage girls with a nudge and a wink. And whatsmore, society allows people to sit in judgement of girls like Gwen when they have absolutely no insight into poverty and abuse. They only see the crime and seem to have no concept that the criminal can also be a victim. All it would have taken to prevent Gwen’s crimes would have been a safe home and a job. But she was condemned the minute that she tried to fight back against her lot in life. She didn’t know her place. Uncomfortable, isn’t it? Because this isn’t history. At least in the modern world systematic abuse makes newspaper headlines and launches official enquiries. It’s one baby step in the right direction but look how long even that has taken us.
The modern audience of ‘Good Time Girl’ are not unfamiliar with the concept of criminal as victim. Most of us have now at least learned that there is more than one aspect to any story. We can watch this film and accept what it tells us about our faults. But its burial over time perhaps shows that post-war society was still inclined to accept what was dictated to them by a rigid hierarchy. People were not expected to question, and in fact may have viewed this film very differently to me or to any of us now. Perhaps it should be re-released or re-made because this story is still, unfortunately, very relevant.