Cast & Crew
In the mid-1950s, Gen. Rodriguez, the former head of Brazil's intelligence organization, dictates his memoirs to an American reporter. Rodriquez comments on a portrait of his former friend, Jaime Coltos, who, after losing a bid for the Brazilian presidency, decided to emulate his American hero, Aaron Burr, by attempting to establish a confederacy of southern Brazilian states. Coltos' vast empire and power were enhanced by his importation of foreign models, who supposedly worked as fashion mannequins, but were actually used to obtain information from government officials. Rodriguez then states that Coltos was destroyed by the courage of one young woman: One day, German Eve Ullman and her Dutch friend, Connie Brewers, arrive with a group of girls in Rio de Janeiro, where they are to work as fashion models at the luxurious Villa Braganza. That night, Eve and Connie appear in their first show, and Eve catches the eye of American mining engineer Richard Lanning, who has been developing mines for Coltos deep in the jungle. Lanning has been brought to the villa by Coltos, but is unaware that he owns it. Madame Constancia Lanzowa, who runs the establishment, takes Connie and Eve to Lanning's table, but when the drunken Lanning makes advances toward Eve, she clouts him over the head with a carafe. Lanzowa chastises Eve and Connie, telling them that because the Villa Braganza paid their education expenses and brought them to Brazil, they must follow her orders. When the girls express their desire to leave, Monsieur Albert, Lanzowa's "enforcer," reminds them that he has their passports. The next morning, the resolute Eve sneaks out with Connie, but they are followed, and when they split up to find the police station and the Dutch Consulate, Connie is apprehended by Albert. Eve returns to the villa with the police, who are easily fooled by Lanzowa's assertions that Eve is mentally disturbed. After the policemen leave, Albert takes Eve to Connie, who has been beaten and sedated. Still determined to leave, Eve flirts with a businessman during the next fashion show and persuades him to take her to the hotel where Lanning is staying. Eve is again followed, but eludes her escort and pleads with Lanning to let her in his room. Eve explains her situation to Lanning, who believes her but, after receiving a call from Coltos stating that the mine has flooded, unwittingly decides that the best place for her to hide will be at Coltos' country hacienda. After a long drive, the couple reaches the hacienda, and there, Coltos pretends to be shocked by Eve's story. Lanning leaves, and the next morning, Coltos tells Eve that he has arranged to obtain her papers and will send her to safety. Eve becomes suspicious, however, when Coltos claims that Connie has decided to remain rather than return to Germany. Realizing that Coltos does not know that Connie is Dutch and not German, and that he must somehow be involved with the villa's operation, Eve runs away. The frightened young woman staggers along the road to the mine, while farther on, Lanning meets up with fellow worker Antonio Garza, who tells him that the mine is functioning perfectly. Lanning is puzzled as to why Coltos had lied to him, but when he finds Eve during his return trip and hears her tale, he also deduces that Coltos is not the respectable tycoon he appears to be. The couple drives back toward Rio, but are forced to spend the night at an inn due to the breakdown of the only boat that can ferry them across the river. During the night, Eve is kidnapped by Coltos' men, and in the morning, an infuriated Lanning, who has fallen in love with Eve, storms into Coltos' hacienda. Coltos maintains his ignorance of Eve's whereabouts, but while Lanning is searching the grounds, Felicia, Coltos' girl friend, informs him about the boats owned by the businessman that offer "entertainment" to plantation workers. Felicia tells Lanning that Eve has been taken aboard one of the boats and where it will be docking that night. Coltos' henchman Pasquale overhears Felicia's revelation, and after Lanning leaves, Coltos orders Pasquale and another hood, Fernando, to take him to the boat, on which he will now force Felicia to work. That night, Lanning and Garza, dressed as migrant workers, board the boat, which is heavily guarded by the crew of Capt. Lobos. Eve, who is locked in a cabin below deck, is unaware of Lanning's presence, although he quickly locates Connie, who was sent there after Eve's escape from the villa. Pasquale and Fernando board the craft with orders to kill Eve, while Garza starts a brawl so that Connie and Lanning can slip below deck unnoticed. Meanwhile, Lt. Manuel Caravallo, a Brazilian policeman who has been posing as a crew member, has hidden Eve in the kitchen. During the search for Eve, Connie is stabbed by Pasquale, but before she dies, she points Lanning toward the kitchen. There, Lanning and Pasquale struggle until Pasquale is himself stabbed to death. Manuel enters and reveals his true identity, then adds that he was stationed on the boat to find a witness with enough courage to testify against Coltos. Manuel's reinforcements arrive, and when Coltos tries to flee, Felicia removes the keys from his car as revenge for his attempt to force her into a life of slavery. Coltos then tries to bluff his way out of the situation, but Manuel arrests him and allows Lanning to slug him for his treatment of the women. Soon after, Lanning and Eve leave Brazil together, and Coltos is condemned to life imprisonment. With his reminiscences at an end, Rodriguez grimly comments that if he had had better advice in his youth, Coltos could have been a great man.
Georg Von Block
Robert L. Lippert
The working titles of this film were Adventure in Rio, Mannequins for Rio, Beautiful and the Damned, Mannequins, Party Girls for Sale and Violated. The viewed print's title card reads, They Were so Young and so in Danger, but this title card is not included in the January 31, 1955 cutting continuity deposited in the copyright records and was added after the film's release. Jacques Companeez' onscreen credit reads: "Based on an outline prepared from official documents by Jacques Companeez with the cooperation of Interpol, Paris (International Police.)" As noted by contemporary and modern sources, the picture was shot on location in Rome, Italy and Munich and Hamburg, Germany. In addition to the European location shooting, the film features stock footage of Rio de Janeiro.
The film was produced both in English and German; the German version was released as Mannequins für Rio. Although a June 4, 1954 Daily Variety production chart includes Margot Hielscher in the cast, her appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. They Were So Young marked the American screen debut of German actress Johanna Matz, who, according to the Variety review, was the only one of the "three topliners" to appear in the German-language version of the picture.
According to information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in June 1954, the PCA rejected the screenplay, telling the film's distributor, Lippert Pictures, that "the subject of white slavery is prohibited by the Production Code." In April 1955, long after production on the picture had been completed, new footage featuring "Gen. Rodriguez" explaining that Coltos was a corrupt tycoon with political ambition was added, and the PCA, feeling that the emphasis had changed from white slavery to racketeering, awarded the picture a certificate on May 6, 1955. The January 1955 cutting continuity does not contain the framing device featuring Rodriguez, and as noted by several contemporary sources, the picture was initially distributed without a PCA certificate. [The actor playing Rodriguez could not be identified in the viewed print.]
Although a November 30, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that Lippert had scheduled the picture's world premiere in Rio de Janeiro for January 15, 1955, the picture opened in the United States prior to that date, and it has not been determined if a special premiere did take place in Brazil. Despite the picture's controversial subject matter, most of the reviews were positive, with the Los Angeles Times describing it as "not awfully lurid" and the Hollywood Citizen-News reviewer noting that the "taboo subject [was] handled with good taste." The Motion Picture Daily critic asserted that the picture could "easily serve as a document of precaution, to be absorbed by `eighteens' and over who are susceptible to `bait' in speeding thoughtless ambition or satisfying frustrations."