Over-Exposed (1956)

Noir? Nope. Kinda-fun vintage sleaze with a dark veneer? You betcha. 

Over-Exposed is a 1956 low-budget Columbia Cleo Moore leer-fest from director Lewis Seiler. If Moore’s collaborations with writer-director-actor Hugo Haas teased and titillated (with more sizzle on the films’ posters and lobby cards than on-screen), this one makes no excuses about being an exploitation flick. And yet, it’s pretty engaging and written/shot/acted much better than it had any need to be.

The film opens with Cleo Moore dragged from a paddy wagon along with a group of fellow clip-joint B-Girls and (we’re to assume) hookers while a crime photographer snaps away. The cops tell her to be on the next bus out of town if she wants to stay out of jail, but she ends up bunking down at the crime photographer’s dumpy home studio. He may be old and a drunk but they become pals and he teaches her some studio basics from both sides of the lens. Gifted with some of his old camera gear, she finally buys that bus ticket and heads for the big city, anxious to become a news photographer, but unprepared for the cut-throat competition. 

She hooks up with a young, handsome reporter played by Richard Crenna (on a break from the last season of his long-running radio/TV role as geeky high-schooler Walter Denton on Our Miss Brooks). He’s smitten right from the start, but Cleo’s not looking for love, she’s looking to make it big in the big bad city. She’s working soon enough, but only as a mob-connected cocktail lounge’s “flash girl” where the fit of her skimpy costume is more important than her camera skills. Ambition gets the best of her, though. “Green becomes me,” she says, and soon enough her camera’s got her tied up with a sleazy columnist, mobsters and blackmail schemes, ultimately kidnapped by the mob.  

Cleo Moore’s not Ida Lupino or Lauren Bacall. Richard Crenna’s not Bogart or Mitchum. And director Seiler (who started out in the silent era) isn’t Fritz Lang or Nicholas Ray, though he did direct Whiplash in 1948. This is pure exploitation drive-in fare, ripe with leering mid-fifties naughtiness (which means it’s kind of tacky). But Moore delivers this time, the story moves along at a decent clip and there’s a nicely crafted shot or two along the way. And by that I don’t mean all the ogling of Cleo Moore prancing around her apartment studio in a black leotard and mesh hose or tussling with lushes in in her “flash girl” costume. Over-Exposed is in rotation on the Movies! Network’s two night’s of sorta and sorta-not noir films, and if you have that channel, I’d give this one a try. 

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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