For a humble exploitation film West End Jungle certainly managed to rattle the establishment’s cage back in 1961. Produced in response to the Wolfenden Street Offences Act of 1959, which removed prostitutes from the streets on London, the film argues through a series of “dramatized re-enactments” that the act merely drove prostitution underground, and created numerous fronts for vice in the form of strip clubs and massage parlors where men in search of sex for sale would fall victim to a variety of con games. “The streets of London have been swept, apparently, clean, but the dirt still remains out of sight. It's still there in the West End Jungle” claims the film. Findings that were like a red rag to a bull for Lord Morrison, a Labour peer and self-styled “Father of London”, who just happened to be the president of the British Board of Film Censors at the time and used his position to have West End Jungle banned, claiming the film would bring London into disrepute.
Despite the questionable motivation behind the film, and director Arnold Louis Miller and cameraman/co-producer Stanley Long’s background in girlie magazines and 8mm glamour films, West End Jungle garnered many high profile supporters in the form of the News of the World tabloid and several religious figures who campaigned for the film to be shown in London, without success. Questions were even asked about the film in the Houses of Parliament, culminating in the film being screened to a selection of MPs.
True to the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity, various local councils overruled the BBFC’s ban on the film allowing it to be shown outside of London, and the film also enjoyed an overseas release as well, even being picked up in the States by American International Pictures. With Northerners and foreigners all eager to see just what was really going in London, the film proved successful enough for Stanley Long to make further “torn from today’s headlines” type film exposes like London in the Raw (1964), Primitive London (1965) and The Wife Swappers (1969). Until a relaxation in censorship and the more permissive climate of the early 70s meant Long could finally drop the moralizing pretence and make out and out sex films, including the hugely successful “Adventures of” 70’s sex comedy series.
Cut to 2009, and 48 years after the fact West End Jungle finally has a censor’s certificate for its DVD release, a ‘15’ certificate no less. Content wise even a ‘15’ seems harsh, but the film’s tone makes it easy to see what wound Lord Morrison up so badly. Long and Miller always had a great inclination towards sensationalism, and here scenarios and narration evoke the most lurid of pulp paperbacks of the time. The London of West End Jungle is one where mustachioed pimps hang about railway stations on the prowl for girls from the provinces “by getting in that car she is taking the irrevocable step to degradation and eventual self disgust” comments narrator David Gell on the pimp’s latest pick-up. Most of the films casualties are however men, usually in the form of sad old blokes taken in by heartless tarts who fawn all over them, but secretly regard them with contempt, or tired businessmen lured into “near beer” clubs where they are easy prey for “hostesses” who working on commission turn on their feminine charms in order to get the men to shell out for overpriced drinks. At the end of the night the men inevitably end up dumped on the street, out of pocket and shamefaced.
As there wasn’t exactly a queue of real life prostitutes and their gullible clientele willing to reenact their con-games on the big screen, most of the men in the film were just friends and family of the crew, including director Miller’s uncle, Nat Mills, one half of the “Nat Mills and Bobby” comedy team of the 1940s. While the ‘prostitutes’ were procured from a nightclub in London’s Dean Street, with the promise of a fiver each for whoever turned up on location the next day, a casting technique that was still being used way into the 1970s by many sexploitation filmmakers looking to “flesh out” their casts with the sort of non-actress strippers and au pair girls who hung around Dean Street. Dressed in lingerie that Miller had bought from Woolworths, the girls certainly look the part. Whether they could act the part is hard to tell, since all their dialogue is delivered in voiceovers. Amusingly, voiceover artist Heather Russell has a tenancy to sound like either Barbara Windsor or Dora Bryan when impersonating the films various prostitutes, lending further hilarity to already comic scenes like the one where a hostess lays on a sob story about her father being dead and her mother a cripple to a rich mark in order that he’ll buy her an overpriced cuddly toy that were served in the clubs. Overpriced drinks, overpriced cuddly toys, these dodgy nightclubs really did have every angle sown up!!!
In another memorable encounter a timid young man uses the pretense of being a photographer in order to call on a “model” who offers her services through an ad in a newsagent’s window. The object of his affection turns out to be a slovenly glamour girl, made up- very badly- to resemble Marilyn Monroe, complete with glue-on beauty spot and a blonde wig that doesn’t match her painted on black eyebrows. Ranking alongside Leonard in The Wife Swappers and Billie Harris in Eskimo Nell, as one of the most unforgettable characters ever to appear in a Stanley Long production, the threadbare Marilyn’s guise is so hopelessly awful that when the would be photographer starts handing over the cash for her to remove her clothes piece by piece, you almost expect the wig to come off as well. A scenario that David Gell bitchingly sums up as a “5 minute session of peering at a girl who could do with a good wash”
Of course the real star of West End Jungle is London itself. Much of the film was shot at night, either on the streets or from a moving car, to the degree that at times the film suggests the work of a curb crawler inadvertently hired to make a film noir with his car radio permanently tuned into an all night jazz station (the actual music in the film is from the library music company DeWolfe, with the title sequence music familiar from its use in many other British and American nudies of the period, it was even used on the intros of Something Weird Video’s 1990s VHS releases). What had once caused Lord Morrison to blow his top, now seems like a real time capsule of smoky nightclubs, seedy Soho back alleys, Piccadilly Circus neon, and can-can girls and strippers doing their thing in the dimly lit, black and white underbelly of London captured here on film nearly half a century ago. “Laughable or Sordid…. perhaps something of both” claims David Gell describing one of the film’s saucy encounters, though he might as well be providing the film’s own epitaph. West End Jungle is certainly laughable and sordid, but its also pretty entertaining as well.
DVD extras include an 8 minute interview with Arnold Louis Miller, a Pathe newsreel from the 1950s on drinking clubs (featuring an ill at ease Paul Raymond), an archive interview with Lord Wolfenden and a booklet which among other things includes reproductions of the News of the World’s campaign to get the film shown, and -testament to West End Jungle’s well traveled status- the original Japanese poster.
West End Jungle: amazon.co.uk | play.com