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Films about 'women in prison' had begun in 1931 with Sylvia Sidney starring in Ladies of the Big House and became popular in the 1950s. Director John Cromwell had just visited the genre with the edgy Caged (1950), starring Eleanor Parker, when he made The Company She Keeps (1951), a softer, post-prison film with Lizabeth Scott as a parole officer and Jane Greer as the ex-con who tries to take away her fianc, played by Dennis O'Keefe.
Written by Ketti Frings (who later wrote The Shrike (1955) and Come Back, Little Sheba, 1952), The Company She Keeps was nothing more than a soap opera with its advertising posters proclaiming "She fought for love with KISS, with CUNNING, and with CLAW!" Lizabeth Scott, on loan to RKO from Paramount, wanted an alternative to the stereotypical 'tough' roles she'd been given by playing a sympathetic woman. A softer character needed a softer wardrobe. As designer Michael Woulfe later remembered, "When RKO borrowed Lizabeth Scott for The Company She Keeps, I didn't make any sketches because I assumed she'd bring Edith [Head, Paramount's legendary costumer] with her. When I was called to the producer's office and I didn't have anything, I told Scott this, and she said, 'But I've been trying to get away from Edith Head!' So I designed the whole film and I was trying to get her away from the severely tailored looks (she was playing a probation officer). I found out that we had to get Hal Wallis' approval on everything, even though it was an RKO film, because Scott was under contract to him and he wanted her very tailored! Anyway, after it was over, Scott went back to Paramount and told Wallis she wanted to borrow me for her next picture for him."
The Company She Keeps was not a success and put RKO in the red to the tune of $315,000, due perhaps to the casting. John Reid wrote in his book Your Colossal Main Feature Plus Full Support Program: "It seems incredible that any man would prefer dowdy Jane Greer to stylish Lizabeth Scott, yet that is precisely O'Keefe's choice in this oddly miscast movie! Miss Scott seems a natural for the parolee part and Miss Greer would not have disgraced the role of the parole officer. Yet the casting director has reversed this natural order of succession!"
Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review asked, "What would you do, dear reader, if you were a woman parole officer and one of your charges, just out of prison, stole the love of your fianc? Would you ship the girl back to the pokey, to do time instead of beating yours, or would you be big and make every effort to help the girl gain her civil rights? This is the big, burning question resolved in The Company She Keeps [...] And we don't think we'll ruin the film for you if we tell you that Lizabeth Scott, who plays the parole officer, does the latter thing. Magnanimously, she arranges for the beautiful parolee, Jane Greer, to obtain clemency so she can be married to the butt of their affections, Dennis O'Keefe. Don't inquire now if it makes sense. That would be slightly absurd. And Miss Scott playing a woman parole officer is the least of its sheer absurdities. The whole picture has, indeed, a flavor of the cheapest and pulpiest romance, typified in the banal flirtation by which Miss Greer and Mr. O'Keefe fall in love. As for its entertainment value, that, we would say, is on a par. Things might have been a little better if Miss Scott had sent Miss Greer back to jail."
The Company She Keeps may not have been one of 1951's more memorable releases, but it did mark the film debut of one-year-old Jeff Bridges, who appears with his nine-year-old brother, Beau, and their mother Dorothy in the train station sequence.
Producer: John Houseman
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: Ketti Frings
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Leigh Harline
Film Editing: Robert Swink
Cast: Lizabeth Scott (Joan Wilburn), Jane Greer (Diane Stuart aka Mildred Lynch), Dennis O'Keefe (Larry Collins), Fay Baker (Tilly Thompson), John Hoyt (Judge Kendall), James Bell (Mr. Neeley), Don Beddoe (Detective Jamieson), Bert Freed (Smitty, plainclothesman), Irene Tedrow (Mrs. Seeley), Marjorie Wood (Mrs. Haley), Marjorie Crossland (Mrs. Griggs), Virginia Farmer (Mrs. Harris).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Edith Head by David Cierichetti
Your Colossal Main Feature Plus Full Support Program by John Reid
The Internet Movie Database
The All Movie Guide by Hal Erickson