Loretta (Francis) is an unwed teen mother sent to a reformatory along with shy Dolores (Moreno), a runaway, and Jackie (Jackson), a thief. Dr. John Jason (Paul Henreid), a psychiatrist newly arrived at the corrections school, earnestly wishes to help the girls, but unbeknownst to Dr. Jason, the institution is a horrific place run by a pair of sadists (Cecil Clovelly and Grace Coppin).
Dr. Jason eventually wises up to what's happening at the school behind his back and sets out to change things, aided by social worker Ruth Levering (Catherine McLeod of A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER). But making the changes permanent won't be easy.
Francis was 19, Moreno 18, and Jackson was 23 when the film was made. Francis and Jackson had previously done some TV work or bit parts, but in each case this was their first substantial film role, and it was Moreno's first credit; in fact, she's billed as Rosita Moreno. They're all quite good, with particular kudos going to Francis and Moreno. Francis's character, Loretta, has learned to use her sex appeal to survive, while Moreno's Dolores "checks out" mentally and/or physically when she can't cope with her surroundings. Francis has a particularly good scene when she's reunited with her unwanted baby at a foundling home.
Anne Francis passed away last year, but Moreno and Jackson are still with us over six decades later. Jackson has been married to actor Eli Wallach for a remarkable 64 years.
Turner Classic Movies website, Paul Henreid was serving as an uncredited associate producer and helped with the casting of the girls' roles. He also received half of the film's profits, making this little movie the most lucrative film of his career. He has the most sympathetic role in the film as the doctor determined to make a positive difference.
Henreid has a particularly good scene with Catherine McLeod where they argue about tactics; he persuades her that by trying to change things in a small way from within the institution, she's actually been co-opted into cooperating with the bad things occurring. The scene ends with McLeod stomping off in a huff, and the actress bravely takes a header down a flight of steps, not sparing her dignity in the process.
My biggest problem with the film is that the conditions depicted at the school are so horrific and abusive that the storyline veers into the cartoonish, making it difficult to believe that such a place could actually exist in the U.S.; at times it seems more like the girls are in a concentration camp, and that doesn't seem like much of an exaggeration.
A scene where vindictive matrons turn a firehose on a group of trapped girls is particularly disturbing. There are a couple other scenes which were so upsetting they had me pushing the fast-forward on the remote for a couple minutes.
I also didn't buy into a plan whereby those who had created the problems at the school were allowed to remain in their positions. It created a fair amount of drama late in the film, but it didn't make sense.
The cast also includes Enid Pulver, Mike Kellin, Phyllis Love, and Elliott Sullivan.
This black and white low-budget movie was filmed on location in New York and Connecticut by Don Malkames; the director was Bernard Vorhaus, with uncredited work by Edgar G. Ulmer. The running time is 91 minutes.
This film is not available on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.