Monday, June 29, 2015

They Were So Young (1954)

They Were So Young (originally titled Mannequins für Rio) is a slightly odd inclusion in VCI’s Forgotten Noir DVD set. Although released under the Lippert Pictures banner it’s a 1954 West German production and to call it noir is stretching things quite a bit. However it’s not entirely without interest.

We start with the arrival in Rio of a group of girls from various parts of Europe. They have all been attracted by advertisements promising glittering careers as fashion models. Among the girls is Eve Ullmann (Johanna Matz), an attractive 20-year-old from Düsseldorf. 

Eve is innocent and a bit naïve but she’s not a complete fool. It doesn’t take her long to figure out what’s really going on at Madame Lansowa’s glamorous modeling agency in Rio - it’s a cover for white slavery!

Dutch girl Connie Voorhees (Ingrid Stenn) has figured things out as well. Eve and Connie decide to go to the police but the police either don’t or won’t believe Eve’s story. Then Eve remembers a handsome young American, Richard Lanning (Scott Brady), to whom she’d been introduced after her first fashion show. He’d tried to pick her up but in spite of that he’d seemed like a kind and decent young man and besides Eve knows from watching movies that handsome young Americans are always willing to help damsels in distress.

For once she gets lucky. Lanning really is a knight in shining armour. The trouble is that this white slaving gang is well-organised and has the support of some wealthy and powerful people. Eventually Eve and Lanning realise that these people might include Jaime Coltos (Raymond Burr), who happens to own the mine at which Lanning is employed as an engineer.

Rescuing Eve is obviously going to be quite a challenge, especially when she and Lanning  are stuck in the middle of the Brazilian jungle.

I suppose the atmosphere of corruption and the idea that Eve and Lanning aren’t sure who they can trust might give this movie some very very tenuous film noir credentials. Mostly though it’s a potboiler with some major exploitation elements.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer a certain amount of enjoyment. The setting gives it a certain sleazy exotic glamour. Even though it relies mostly on stock footage to persuade us we’re in Rio it does just about succeed in convincing us. The fashion model angle and the exquisite clothes the girls get to wear add even more glamour. 

Of course this being 1954 the exploitation elements are handled with caution but in some ways that makes them all the more effective, and we’re certainly not left in any doubt as to the fate in store for the unlucky girls.

The highlight of the movie is Raymond Burr’s silkily menacing performance - he really was one of the most effective movie villains of the early 50s. Scott Brady does the noble hero thing fairly well, Johanna Matz is appealing and quite competent as Eve. Gisella Fackeldey  is delightfully evil as Madame Lansowa and Gert Fröbe also makes an appearance. One of the advantages of making a cheap B-movie in Germany in the 50s was that these were the only movies being made so you could get some pretty impressive actors who were grateful for any film work they could get.

Director Kurt Neumann was born in Germany but worked mostly in Hollywood, mostly in low-budget movies which included some minor sci-fi classics such as Rocketship X-M and The Fly. Within the obvious budgetary constraints of this film he does a very competent job.

VCI’s DVD offers a pretty good anamorphic transfer. Their Forgotten Noir Series 1 DVD set represents excellent value. Most of the six movies are reasonably entertaining with the George Raft feature Loan Shark being the standout. Portland Exposé is also not bad, and Arson Inc. is well worth a look.

They Were So Young is no masterpiece but it does offer a nice mix of sleaze and glamour, of romance and suspense, and Raymond Burr’s presence is a very big plus. Recommended.

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