‘The Weak and the Wicked’ (1954) has joined my list of must-see films. It stars Glynis Johns as a well-heeled lady who comes a-cropper due to her addiction to gambling. Her debts land her with a prison sentence of 12 months, and it is her journey through the prison system that forms the foundation of the film. She meets a range of women, and we learn about their stories in a series of asides.
These small roles for some very familiar faces are wonderful vignettes. Diana Dors plays the naïve young bombshell who has been dropped in it by her boyfriend – whom she pines after with tear filled doe eyes. Jane Hilton plays the lonely single mother, desperate for love and approval. But best of all, Athene Seyler and Sybil Thorndike play a pair of friends who plot to poison Thorndike’s husband. I so desperately wanted to see more of these two dotty old devils! To say that this film is about prison and the desperation and frailty that leads people there, it is quite lighthearted. I never expected to laugh as much as I did – there are also small roles for the likes of Irene Handl and Sid James, bringing their own comic personas to the mix.
This film was another glimpse into 1950s attitudes to women. All of the characters appear to have been led astray by men – it is their wickedness that puts the women in prison in the first place. Their view of the prison system is sympathetic towards the women – they suffer separation from their children and even give birth there and it is awful. Their future prospects are under threat. When Glynis is moved to an open prison it suggests that this is what the prisoners need – not punishment, not sympathy, just training and trust.
It looks like it could be a case of “dear me, these poor little women led astray by man’s wickedness, we must not be too harsh on the dear things.” They are not capable of thinking themselves into crime! I’m not sure whether this view is insulting or not! But I suspect that it is a very romanticised view and not that true to real life. Take the film with a pinch of salt, and enjoy a cosy look at crime and punishment 1950s style.