Alvin Rakoff (director)
Network on Air (studio)
23 March 2020 (released)
26 March 2020
Considering that this British low-budget 'sexploitation' movie was made in 1958, its sensationalist content is now almost laughable. The subject matter, however, IS a serious one and if anything proliferating worse than ever in todays climate of women sold or forced into prostitution.
To emphasize the fact that the topic is a serious we even have an introduction by no less a man than Detective Superintendent Robert Fabian. It goes without saying that Fabian is practically forgotten these days but he was a household name in the 1950's and there was even a TV series based on his memoirs. Fabian was in particular interested in clamping down on vice and comes over like his contemporary Edgar Lustgarten - a crusty old fossil from the Byzantine age. At 57 he could just as well have been 97. Of course, these people are a joke to a modern-day thinking audience.
The plot is a simple one though that doesn’t mean the film lacks excitement. Marie ‘Malou’ Beaucaire, an attractive French girl (the then popular Odile Versois on import) is spotted by 'Madame' and 'talent scout' Aggie (Brenda DeBanzie) who works for Nick Biaggi (Herbert Lom), a crooked insurance company manager who also happens to run a big brothel in London's West End. Aggie observes Malou working in a Parisian cafe where she is promptly set up by her, resulting in the poor but honest waitress getting the sack for apparently having had her hands in the till. Aggie (who would have been more suited to Gertrude in ‘Hamlet’'Madame' and 'talent scout' Aggie (Brenda DeBanzie) considering her theatrical delivery) promptly brings Marie back to London and Biaggis’ grand building which is in effect a ‘cat house’. The gauche French girl does not appear to have a clue as to why this is happening and thinks 'Madame' is her new guardian angel. Didn’t all the girls standing on the balconies of the large West End cathouse give her a clue when she arrived? The dastardly Saville Row-suited Nick Biaggi (an East End boy made good, or bad in this case) actually has 'plans' for Malou. He does not intend her to be one of the ordinary working girls who go out soliciting on the streets and bringing punters back to the whorehouse; he is going to set her up - on account of her being so much classier and better looking than average - as a real high class prostitute – thus she will be expected to entertain only the creme de la crème. Not only will she get paid really well, she will also have the privilege of being Biaggi's girl as well. He seems to think he's offered her a pretty good proposition and is far from pleased when she is appalled by the idea. This crooked world that we live in clearly has no place for virtue.
In order to get the majority of these girls working for him (many not being English) passports are needed. Biaggi, using a few slippery ruses, does well in finding assorted blokes and pays them well (200 quid - a fair bit of money back in 1958) if they agree to marry these girls and then… ta ta, bye bye. Unfortunately for Biaggi, one of the guys he persuades is a London taxi cab driver called Johnny McVey (then also popular Eddie Constantine). After initially being taken in by the suave and smarmy Biaggi, on meeting his bride-to-be Malou at the office of Biaggi’s bent solicitor they actually DO fall in love. The somewhat naive Johnny's card is soon marked by his mate and fellow taxi driver Mike (the ever solid Robert Brown) when Johnny reveals the marriage was arranged by his new friend Nick Biaggi: “Don't you know he's the biggest pimp in London?” This ensues in an all out war and soon a large consortium of London taxi drivers close in on Nick Biaggi and his gang.
If this isn't enough to wet your appetite we also have blond bombshell Diana Dors on hand. Here she plays Vicki, one of the prostitutes working at Nick's brothel. Although initially cold towards Malou she soon keeps her under her protective wing, not least because the French Mademoiselle reminds her of her younger sister – horribly disfigured by Biaggi for not following his rules. Vicky, unlike Malou a pretty sharp and sussed individual, has her own agenda when it comes to taking revenge on Biaggi – thus providing us with a sizzling climax in the truest sense of the word.
We also get a few uncredited appearances from Joan ‘Carry On’ Sims as a receptionist working for the taxi company, a young Jackie Colling as one of Biaggi’s prostitutes, and a likewise very young (blink and you’ll miss him!) Michael Caine as a man about to get married (though not to a prostitute). Alvin Rakoff (best known as a TV director) keeps this film going at a speedy pace and it is well photographed by Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth). However, if this low-budget affair was supposed to be taken seriously it most certainly does not succeed on that level now and the over emphatic score by Ken Jones enhances this even more. Nonetheless, PASSPORT TO SHAME is not only a well-acted sexploitation thriller but also has moments of good fun - well we know that after crusty old Fabian's introduction.
This Blu-ray release offers an Image Gallery as its only bonus feature.