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So Evil So Young

So Evil So Young(1961)

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teaser So Evil So Young (1961)

They may not have wielded the power of the Warner Brothers, nor enjoyed the whispered infamy of the King Brothers, but the Danziger Brothers certainly knew how to make their own fun. Only two of seven children born to Polish refugees who made a new life in New York City, Edward J. and Harry Lee Danziger lit out to see the world and make their fortune when they were barely out of high school. (Before he was 30, Harry is said to have explored the Amazon, played violin with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and been awarded a Silver Star for gallantry during World War II.) Fearless speculators, the Danzigers later acquired the popular Coney Island amusement park Luna Park but lost their investment in a disastrous fire that all but destroyed the attraction in August 1944. Switching business models, the Danzigers dabbled in film production, working fast and cheap and banging out a plethora of crime films shot on both sides of the Atlantic. An early effort for the brothers was So Young So Bad (1950), which starred Hollywood apostate Paul Henreid as a progressive psychiatrist who attempts to rehabilitate youth offenders Anne Francis, Rita Moreno, and Anne Jackson.

The Danzigers kept their options open by varying their film subjects - subsequent releases included the deliriously kitsch Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a sexually-charged take on Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart (1960), and the coy The Nudist Story (1960) - but the bulk of their back catalogue challenged the wisdom that crime doesn't pay. Among their many underworld thrillers were Great Van Robbery (1959), No Safety Ahead (1959), Web of Suspicion (1959), and Gang War (1962) - many of these written by future The Avengers scribe Brian Clemens. Shameless recyclers of their own material, the Danzigers reshuffled elements of So Young So Bad with the "wrongly accused protagonist" plots of Sentenced for Life (1960) and Man Accused (1959) to create So Evil, So Young (1961), the tale of an innocent secretary (Jill Ireland) framed for robbery and assault by her boyfriend's jealous ex (Jocelyn Britton) and sentenced to three years in a reformatory. Derivative in concept, So Evil, So Young strived for novelty by being one of the Danziger's only films shot in Technicolor.

A former Rank Organization contract player, Jill Ireland had married British actor David McCallum the year they appeared together in Hell Drivers (1957). With McCallum's casting in the American TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1963, the couple relocated to Hollywood. Mother of three children with McCallum, Ireland took occasional work on US television, appearing on episodes of Twelve O'Clock High, Shane, and five times on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. . A 1967 divorce led to Ireland's second marriage, to Charles Bronson, with whom she would go on to costar in a slew of action pictures, among them The Mechanic (1972), Breakout (1975), and Death Wish II (1982). Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984, Ireland became a tireless advocate for medical research and authored two memoirs before her 1990 death at the age of 54. Tragedy also touched the lives of two of Ireland's So Evil, So Young costars. Leading man John Charlesworth (who had played Peter Cratchit to Alistair Sim's immortal Scrooge a decade earlier) committed suicide prior to the film's theatrical release while Jocelyn Britton was soon to become the widow of political cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, who died of leukemia at age 27 in 1963.

As for the Danzigers, they made 55 films in all, hopping from one rented studio to another before finding semi-permanence in a disused airplane testing plant in Hertfordshire - which they christened New Elstree Studios (while having nothing to do whatsoever with the more established Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire's Borehamwood). New Elstree Studios served as a home base for the Danziger's later films and television projects, which included the second features The Silent Invasion (1962) and Tarnished Heroes (1962) and the TV series The Cheaters (1960-1962) - starring American actor John Ireland (no relation) - and Richard the Lionheart (1962-1963). As the utility for cheap second features began to wane, and as even television budgets escalated with the standardization of color, the Danzigers abandoned the entertainment industry to become celebrated hoteliers, whose acquisitions included London's Mayfair Hotel as well as properties in Brighton, Monte Carlo, and the Bahamas. Before their deaths in 1999 and 2005, Edward and Harry Danziger also gained controlling interests in the Shipman and King film exhibition group and in the venerable French jewelry firm Cartier of Paris.

By Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

Ladies Man: An Autobiography by Paul Henreid, with Julius Fast (St. Martin's Press, 1984)
British Popular Cinema: British Crime Cinema edited by Steve Chibnall and Robert Murphy (Routledge, 1999)
Timothy Birdsall: The Greatest Cartoonist You've Never Heard Of by Christopher Booker, The Spectator, June 8, 2013

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