Sexy Criminals.

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Director Charles Saunders was near the end of his career when he made Jungle Street in 1960 (AKA Jungle Street Girls) and had been doing a lot of British television at the time. It shows. If he’d spent some time rethinking the lighting in order to achieve a darker, more shadowy and ominous look, Jungle Street could easily have been a somewhat quirky, albeit decidedly tawdry, bit of post-noir nastiness. Instead, it looks more like a low-budget exploitation film. Which, after all, it pretty much is. Seems only fair that it was titled Criminal Sexy for Continental release.

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 The screenplay was penned by Alexander Dore, who directed the children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a few years later, if you can believe it. Not to be confused with a U.S. PBO sleaze novel with the same title from the year before by ‘Don Elliott’ (Robert Silverberg), Jungle Street was actor David McCallum’s last of many UK juvenile delinquent roles. Soon enough he’d globe-trotting across American television screens as Ilya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But here he’s a particularly creepy little Shepherd’s Bush grease monkey and small-time crook, feeling guilty (but not too) that his former partner in crime’s doing time in prison for a failed robbery. Which is convenient, since McCallum’s smitten by that same partner’s girlfriend, a London strip club’s lead dancer played by his real-life spouse, Jill Ireland. But she’s as repulsed by McCallum’s weasly wooing as she is by the club manager’s ham-fisted advances. Things can’t go well in a film like this, and they don’t. With the former partner in crime out of jail, one more heist is on the agenda. Things go bad, McCallum makes one final play for Jill Ireland and when he’s rebuffed, takes her hostage once the cops converge. No one feels bad for him when he’s hauled off to a likely (and well-deserved) hanging.

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Ireland gets some decent scenes (a miracle in a film like this), giving as good she gets opposite McCallum and his fellow thug Kenneth Cope. For good or bad, she also gets to perform a lengthy and leering striptease scene early on, but acquits herself well, somehow looking fetching, resigned and just plain weary all at the same time while she preens, prances and fusses with her Merry Widow snaps, garter clasps and nylons. No huge surprise that this particular sequence lurks all over the place online while the complete film only resides here and there.

Jill Ireland acted in several other films with her then husband, along with a number of episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but the couple divorced soon after and she may be better known for the fifteen action films she appeared in with second husband Charles Bronson before her death from breast cancer in 1990. But here in Jungle Street she’s a reluctant but convincing denizen of London’s underworld.

“Criminal”. “Sexy”. A classy title it’s not, but I guess “Criminal Sexy” does say it all.

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