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Passport to Shame (1958)


Main image of Passport to Shame (1958)
35mm, black and white, 86 mins
DirectorAlvin Rakoff
Production CompanyUnited Co-Productions
In association withBritish Lion Films
Produced byJohn Clein
ScreenplayPatrick Alexander
PhotographyJack Asher
MusicKen Jones

Cast: Diana Dors (Vicki), Eddie Constantine (Johnny), Herbert Lom (Nick), Odile Versois (Malou), Brenda De Banzie (Aggie), Robert Brown (Mike)

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An honest taxi-driver is tricked into marrying a French girl to give her a British passport so she can be forced into prostitution by a callous crime boss.

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Opening with a solemn introduction by Inspector Robert Fabian (of Fabian of the Yard fame) in which he expresses his disgust at the rise of organised prostitution rackets, or "the white slave trade", Passport to Shame is in fact a typical piece of 1950s (s)exploitation, claiming to expose a pressing social evil while rarely missing an opportunity to show 'guest star' Diana Dors parading in basque and suspenders.

She plays prostitute Vicki, trying to raise enough money to pay hospital bills for her sister Maria, scarred for life in an acid attack by the vicious Nick Biaggi (Herbert Lom), a dapper gangster whose surname hints at the Italian and Maltese dominance of the Soho sex trade of the time. Shortly after the film was released, the 1959 Street Offences Act attempted a crackdown on street prostitution, but this had hardly any effect on operations like Nick's, where the prettiest girls would be "groomed" to service high-profile clients behind the scenes.

Malou (Odile Versois) is doubly trapped: wanted by the police in France for (framed) theft, her arranged marriage lets her work legally, but also makes her wholly dependent on her new masters. Depressingly, the mechanics of her enslavement are virtually identical to the scenario depicted in Lukas Moodysson's Lilja 4-Ever (Sweden/Denmark, 2002), suggesting that little has changed in nearly half a century.

This was Canadian-born Alvin Rakoff's first cinema feature after a few years in television. His treatment is broadly realistic, with the occasional Expressionist flourish, notably a startling dream sequence that anticipates the much later Repulsion (d. Roman Polanski, 1965) in its images of anonymous clutching male hands. Less effective is the contrivance of Malou clutching a kitten throughout her discovery of the true nature of her new home. Versois' performance has enough genuine wide-eyed innocence to make such heavy-handed symbolism over-obtrusive.

Some now-familiar faces make fleeting appearances: Carry On icon Joan Sims as a telephone operator, novelist Jackie Collins as one of Nick's "girls" and an uncredited Michael Caine as a bridegroom. Of the leads, Dors and Lom were the biggest names, while Versois (sister of the actress Marina Vlady) and the American-born Eddie Constantine spent most of their careers in France, each making a handful of British films in the 1950s. Constantine would later appear in The Long Good Friday (d. John Mackenzie, 1979), a vastly superior exploration of the seamier underside of London gangland life.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Fabian introduction (0:58)
2. Lady Agatha's mansion (2:26)
3. Malou's nightmare (3:54)
4. Wedded bliss? (2:33)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Fabian of the Yard (1954-56)
Caine, Michael (1933-)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Lom, Herbert (1917-2012)
Roeg, Nicolas (1928-)
Sims, Joan (1930-2001)
Social Problem Films