Playgirl After Dark / Too Hot to Handle (1960) ***

Passable British crime B-picture, mainlining on sleaze, plot as flimsy as the costumes of the dancers, rescued by, flipping her screen persona on its head, a heartfelt performance by Jayne Mansfield.  Career tumbling spectacularly after her Frank Tashlin heyday (The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, both 1957) she was loaned out to any outfit that would have her. Director Terence Young’s (Dr No, 1962) career was also at a low ebb after Safari and Zarak (both 1956) while Carl Boehm (Peeping Tom, 1960) and future Carry On stalwart Barbara Windsor, minus trademark Cockney accent, were on the way up.

Ostensibly an expose of the Soho strip club business, invests too much time in cabaret, though Midnight Franklin’s (Jayne Mansfield) number is surprisingly well done. Parallel plots see journalist Robert (Carl Boehm) investigating the industry while rival night club owners Johnny Solo (Leo Genn) and Diamonds Dielli (Sheldon Lawrence) duke it out over the spoils.

As you might expect, such clubs are populated by seedy customers, some harmless like a Leipzig salesman falling for disinterested showgirl Lilliane (Danik Patisson), others on the creepier side like Mr Arpels (Martin Boddey) who tempts unwary girls with talk of setting them up in the movie business. Naturally, so many girls together, jealousies simmer and tensions flare, resulting, as you might expect, in a catfight. But that’s nothing compared to the beating handed out to Johnny by Diamonds’ thugs. Matters aren’t helped by Johnny’s manager Novak (Christopher Lee) being in the pay of the opposition.

Apart from wearing outfits that would give the censor of the time a heart attack, Midnight is really a sensible girl, hating violence, warning boyfriend Johnny to get out of the business before he ends up dead. She’s got few illusions left, hardly expecting Johnny to pop the question, but like Richard Widmark in yesterday’s Two Rode Together (1961) gradually becoming repelled by his actions.

For the most part she accepts that Johnny effectively pimps out his acts to wealthy customers like Arpels but recoils when he attempts to do so with Ponytail (Barbara Windsor) whom most people believe to be under-age. However, when Ponytail’s attempted rape turns into murder and the police turn up at the nightclub, Midnight, initially obeying the laws of omerta, turns on Johnny after she discovers his gun. But in a wonderful closing scene, she picks up the discarded flower he wore in his lapel and kisses it.

There’s some surprisingly potent dialogue and sharp one-liners – “that’s a very nice dress you nearly got on” / “I had a friend once but it didn’t take”/ “there’s not enough milk of human kindness around here to fill a baby’s bottle” / after a date with Arpels “some girls came back with promises…one came back with a baby.” A good bit more of such zingers and the movie would barrel along regardless of limp plot.

Energy is lost by focusing too long on the cabaret acts and on the growing romance between Robert and Lilliane. As glamorous fading nightclub star, Midnight provides the necessary oomph in more ways that one, but the movie would have benefitted by concentrating more on her ruefulness and self-awareness. Though besotted by Johnny, she knows he’s no lifetime ticket, tries to keep from herself as long as possible acknowledgement of his more sinister side, not so much knowing her place but aware which barriers not to cross. There’s a terrific scene in the middle of the night when she guesses he might be in trouble but hesitates over telephoning him in case this would be deemed over-familiar intrusion. Even she doesn’t know why she still hangs around a joint like this except “fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly.”

Bombastic on stage, she’s subtle off. You will come away believing Jayne Mansfield can actually act. But there’s nothing much to get excited about from the other performers, mostly in the stolid category, though it’s interesting to see what Barbara Windsor can do without  reverting to a Cockney accent. Oscar-nominated Leo Genn (55 Days at Peking, 1963) proves that even crooks can possess a stiff upper lip. At this point with only a couple of horror pictures to his name Christopher Lee (The Devil Rides Out, 1968) could still be found in dramatic fare, but this is no break-put role.

Herbert Kretzmer, credited with the screenplay along with Harry Lee (All That Heaven Allows, 1955), would go onto worldwide fame and enormous wealth for Anglicizing French hit musical Les Miserables. While posters boast of Eastman color, which would have added to enjoyment of the dance routines, you can pretty much only find this in black-and-white and with ten minutes lopped off.

Wanna feel sorry for Jayne Mansfield, this is for you.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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