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Good-Time Girl (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Good-Time Girl (1948)
35mm, black and white, 93 mins
DirectorDavid Macdonald
Production CompaniesGainsborough Pictures, Triton Films
ProducerSydney Box
ScreenplayMuriel Box, Sydney Box, Ted Willis
Original novelArthur La Bern
PhotographyStephen Dade
MusicLambert Williamson

Cast: Jean Kent (Gwen Rawlings), Dennis Price (Red Farrell), Flora Robson (Miss Thorpe), Herbert Lom (Max), Peter Glenville (Jimmy Rosso), Diana Dors (Lyla Lawrence)

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A teenage runaway finds herself on the road to perdition after she gets involved in crime. Sentenced to three years at an "approved school", she plays the system for her own ends - and afterwards returns to her old ways, with tragic consequences.

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When Sydney Box was appointed head of production at Gainsborough Pictures in 1946, he resolved to steer the studio away from the glossy, sensationalised melodramas with which it had made its name in the mid-1940s, preferring more realistic dramas exploring contemporary social issues. Good-Time Girl was one of the first of these, but the finished film bore as much resemblance to its melodramatic predecessors as to what Box (who was also co-screenwriter with his sister Muriel and Ted Willis) was presumably aiming for, its attempt at realism further undermined by a wary British Board of Film Censors shortening some of the more violent scenes.

The film's heart is certainly in the right place, taking scrupulous care to present all its authority figures - juvenile court magistrate Miss Thorpe (Flora Robson), the approved school staff, various police officers - as being not only sympathetic to the plight of their charges but also aware of how their actions are often shaped as much by their environment as by their own unfortunate decisions, a theme that would be developed further in Boys in Brown (d. Montgomery Tully, 1949), a similar Gainsborough-produced study of male juvenile offenders.

But these thoughtful elements are undermined by a narrative that stacks the odds so overwhelmingly against Gwen Rawlings that it's hard to envisage a better outcome even if she'd played scrupulously by the rules. She ends up in the approved school in the first place because the court refused to believe in two genuine acts of kindness (Gwen helping Jimmy; Red in turn helping her), and it's arguably this crucial misjudgement (which Miss Thorpe never acknowledges, despite her role as narrator) that sets her along the road to perdition far more decisively than her troubled family background or choice of career: both family and state have failed her.

Jean Kent was ten years older than the role required, but otherwise copes well, her constantly shifting accent suggesting Gwen's deep-seated need to fit in with her companions (Cockney in the clubs, more refined with Red and her mother, a Transatlantic twang with the US Army deserters). As the rebellious Roberta, Jill Balcon reveals the roots of her son Daniel Day-Lewis' much-lauded versatility: the same year, she also appeared in costume drama Nicholas Nickleby. Meanwhile, a sixteen-year-old Diana Dors makes her screen debut as troubled teenager Lyla Lawrence - the first of many similar roles in British social problem films.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. A cautionary tale (3:09)
2. Jimmy's jealousy (3:18)
3. Approved school (3:56)
4. A fatal mistake (1:40)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Balcon, Jill (1925-2009)
Box, Muriel (1905-1991)
Colleano, Bonar (1923-1958)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)
Lom, Herbert (1917-2012)
Price, Dennis (1915-1973)
Robson, Flora (1902-1984)
Gainsborough Melodrama
Social Problem Films
Teen Terrors On Film