“The Flesh is Weak” (1957)
As if the film’s suggestively salacious title weren’t clue enough, if there were any doubt as to the direction to be taken by Don Chaffey’s “The Flesh is Weak”, look for no further guidance than in the direction in which the camera is pointed during the opening credits: toward the gutter.
A young woman arrives in London, checks into a hostel and is immediately set upon by predatory agents of a vice ring who plan to enter the unwitting woman into a forced career in the sex trade. By what the film seems to suggest, it is unsafe for any girl to stroll a sidewalk or sit in a coffee house in England without an armed escort.
A supposed exposé of prostitution rings, “The Flesh is Weak” is so contrived in the melodramatic manipulations used by pimp Tony Giani (John Derek) against innocent but almost pathologically gullible Marissa Cooper (Milly Vitale) that it finally collapses under the absurdity of its own suspect stratagem; the protracted and tenuous charade pretending a nurturing domestication by which Tony initiates Marissa into emotional enslavement seems both impractical and economically unsound. Compounded with the unconvincing extremity of Marissa’s ignorance (which extends to her being blind to the nature of her fate even after servicing several men), is the film’s unsavory portrayal of women suggesting that, perhaps, they are unwittingly but still culpably complicit in their ruin by a surrender of protective reason in order to satisfy their own hunger for material gain and/or even fleeting emotional gratification. (Significantly, there is only one minor female character introduced in the entire movie who isn’t, in some fashion, employed in catering to the more handsy factions of the Queen’s subjects, a disturbing exercise in occupational census taking.) That Marissa affects a distant, almost instantaneous hardened attitude, once she finally reaches a point of resignation toward her circumstances, is more an act of pouting than of remedial cognizance.
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