Here’s a small review for Turn the Key Softly, a British thriller from 1953 about three female prisoners released on the same day from Holloway Prison. The drama follows the three convicts on the first day of their release. Waiting patiently in their prison uniform’s for their release orders. The three are from varying backgrounds and standing in society. Each had committed a different crime but nothing that had resulted in long hard time, yet…
There was Monica (Yvonne Mitchell) an elegant middle-class lady caught up in a robbery that her boyfriend, David (Terence Morgan) had cowardly escaped. She had taken the blame and loyally hadn’t snitch.
Next up was Granny Quilliam (Kathleen Harrison). A sweet old lady with a compulsive urge to steal. “Only small things, they don’t really matter do they?“. Her sentence has meant she left her beloved Johnny at home. Hopefully, he’ll be there when she returns?
Which leaves Stella (Joan Collins). Glamorous and vain. Stella likes the finer things in life. Expensive jewellery turn her head and makes her smile. She’s a gold digger and, possibly hinted at, a lady of the night. She tells the other two she got a fella who’d be waiting for her. Ready to propose.
The warden turns the key softly and slowly as the ladies wait anxiously ready by the prison gate… “There you go ladies, London. The biggest city in the world and it’s all yours.“
So off they go, as we follow them. Revealing, slowly, how each of their stories will play out over the next twenty four hours. Showing how hard it could be to fit back in, to rely on compassionate people and friends. How will employers and landlords now reflect on your record of being a criminal? Can you change your ways, or will you soon have a one-way ticket back to the slammer?
Tagline – An Intimate Study in Passion and Suspense…!
What I enjoyed about Turn the Key Softly is it manages to tell a story in a easy fashion that doesn’t happen to mean it will end up at the place you think. It does enough to give you a few little surprises whilst, I thought, keeping the tale as real as it can while still keeping it believably exciting. No doubt, by today’s standards, it all feels rather pedestrian, however, I always like to put myself in the mindset of the time. Whereas it maybe a low budget little film, it does feature a lot for your buck. The editing and the way the story joins together is nicely written. The cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth is great. He manages to give us a panicked and frantic noir lit scene that reminded me in essence of the The Third Man (1949). That caught in the headlight’s moment. It is a desperate and feverish scene played out at breakneck speed which looked filled with danger to have filmed.
The more I thought back today, whilst at work, I couldn’t help but think about the plight of these three ladies. Turn the Key Softly features lots of heart with a sprinkle of bittersweetness. All three give a great performance, especially Kathleen Harrison, the little old lady trying her best against the odds of poverty. Yvonne Mitchell commands her role in a headstrong and elegant way as she deals with getting her life back together and the obstacle of David (Terence Morgan), the rogue boyfriend that left her to take the heat. Which leaves us with 20 year London lass Joan Collins’ in one of her first main roles as she struts about looking very sexy showing off her natural, naughty beauty.
A few things to add…
- Turn the Key Softly was written as a novel by John Brophy who I just read lied about his age at 14 and enlisted in the army to fight in in WW1. Serving for four years in the infantry before going off to University!
- The film is directed by Jack Lee who made a collection of films that I haven’t seen. Only A Town Like Alice (1956) is the only one I’ve heard of. Jack Lee would also supply the screenplay of the novel along with Maurice Cowan.
- A few familiar faces pop up in small character parts. Look out for Thora Hird as the landlady. Glyn Houston smooches his cad ways in a Terry Thomas style. And Geoffrey Keen aka the Minister of Defence in a whole bunch of James Bond films.
- Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth has a cool list of films in his name. From camera operator on A Matter of Life and Death (1946) to Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) to Murder on the Orient Express (1974) to Superman (1978) but we all know it’s all about this little film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
- There’s also a small part from a stunning lady called Simone Silva, an Egyptian-born French actress who’s like a kind of madame to our Joan in the film. She just turns up all glamorous and smiles. Of course I had to do a google search. Haha she made a sensation when she posed topless with actor Robert Mitchum for photographers at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It would be rude not to put the picture here, right?… (There’s lots more in the sequence of photos if you are interested? Haha I know silly question, here you go…. Simone and Robert link.)
Ok the film is in no way essential viewing however if you fancy a well written and nicely acted little, short film which pulls a few nice twists in the tale, then you can’t go wrong with Turn the Key Softly. With that hour and twenty minute run-time it fits in well with your working week. Even better, it’s on YouTube at the time of writing to stream HERE.
Feel free to let me know if you watch it or have seen it.