After spending time in jail, a burglar’s girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell, Tiger Bay), a prostitute (Joan Collins, Land of the Pharaohs) and a compulsive shoplifter (Kathleen Harrison, David Lean’s Oliver Twist) attempt to move on with their lives.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I’m a jailbird… Now I’m going to live that down and start again.”
This is another movie with a misleading title: Turn the Key Softly sounds like a film noir, doesn’t it? Not so fast! This is really a low-key (no pun intended) character-driven British drama about the seemingly endless difficulties three distinctly different female ex-convicts face as they try to adjust to life on the outside.
Turn the Key Softly takes place over a 24-hour period, a tricky format that, if not handled properly, can limit the scope of the story. And that’s exactly what happened here. The film is unable to achieve the narrative structure’s true potential. I wish it had used flashbacks to explain how the women ended up in prison. Unfortunately, this is a skin-deep movie that leaves you wanting for more.
Written by Maurice Cowan (Trouble in Store) and director Jack Lee (A Town Like Alice), Turn the Key Softly also wobbles as it tries to wrap things up. The film, for reasons unknown to me, takes a sudden and very annoying detour into crime drama territory. The movie climaxes with a long heist sequence and, for me, that’s a huge problem. It’s a completely unnecessary twist that goes against the themes of the story.
Turn the Key Softly does have several good features. The film is honest about the prejudice against former inmates. In addition, it was shot in an almost naturalistic style. Geoffrey Unsworth’s (Cabaret and Murder on the Orient Express) cinematography perfectly captures the dreariness of life in post-war England.
And the performances are quite good. While Yvonne Mitchell gets the most attention, I thought a very young Joan Collins played the most interesting character in the film. Collins is a cockney prostitute with delusions of grandeur. She is excellent and you can clearly see why Hollywood grabbed her. There is also a funny scene where Collins is admiring a huge poster of Gregory Peck (in The Snows of Kilimanjaro) — Collins will co-star with Peck in the western The Bravados (1958).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Turn the Key Softly is an unremarkable but pleasant enough B-movie that anticipates the British kitchen-sink-drama of the 1960s. The narrative lacks edge, and the ending is all wrong, but the film was competently shot and the acting is good. And I have to admit that it was a lot of fun seeing pre-stardom Joan Collins working her darndest best to steal as many scenes as possible from her co-stars. B&W, 81 minutes, Not Rated.