The Girls of Pleasure Island

Year: 1953
Studio: Paramount
Director: Alvin Ganzer/F Hugh Herbert
Writer: F Hugh Herbert
Cast: Leo Genn, Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Bromiley, Audrey Dalton

For years my wife told me about this movie she watched on TV as a young girl and fell in love with, the same way our generation fell in love with Star Wars or Ghostbusters .

No, it's not porn. It's from a very specific movement in pop culture in the 50s, the same trend that gave the world those 'Road to...' movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Proper English gentleman Roger (Leo Genn) lives on and administers (yes, it was the pre-politically correct colonial era) a gorgeous island in the Pacific during the Second World War, which amounts to sitting around drinking gin while wearing a cravat whilst giving orders to and rolling his eyes at his cor blimey guv'nor housekeeper to keep his palatial home in order.

He also has three winsome daughters in their teens and early 20s, Hester (Audrey Dalton), Violet (Joan Elan) and Gloria (Dorothy Bromiley), who live a blissful life swimming, dressing up and taking tea in the sun kissed climes. But they're as sheltered as they free spirited, and they know nothing about the world around them, including the love and romance they might find in it.

So when their respective allied governments organise for an American Marine unit to occupy the island to build a military airstrip, the girls are beside themselves with excitement at all the men who'll suddenly be around.

But their Dad knows the world and wants to protect his daughters' purity for as long as possible – not easy considering they're itching to get out of the house and experience dancing, kissing and beyond, and certainly made more difficult by the legions of crass, loudmouthed, strapping and horny (depicted appropriately for the era) young men baying like hounds after them.

While the precocious Gloria falls in with a klutzy young petty officer and party girl Violet shares her affections around with several men (not like that – it was the tail end of the Hays code era), the quieter, more reserved and more romantic Hester falls for the commander of the unit.

Their romantic hijinks are all tangled up in their father's devotion and fears about their prospects because of the truth about what happened to their mother, but even the darker aspects of the story are all very 50s-friendly.

It's not quite a musical but the staging, telegraphed acting style (particularly from Bromiley) and set pieces have just the kind of appeal and studio-shot aesthetic the Hollywood system was best at back then – aside from some stock shots of WWII troop movements and sandy beaches it was all filmed on the Paramount Pictures backlot.

The same premise is a very different proposition these days, and even most young men watching it (and in it) would be hyper-aware of all the knotty depictions of consent and misogyny, but I imagine it was a nice fantasy for a little girl to behold in the mid 1970s.

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