They Never Learn (1956)

Recorded in a bathroom?

UK / 46 minutes / bw / E.J. Fancey Productions, New Realm Dir & Scr: Denis L. Kavanagh, Edwin J. Fancey Pr: Edwin J. Fancey Cine: Hal Morey Cast: John Blyth (i.e., John Blythe), Jackie Collins, Graham Stark, Adrienne Scott, Michael Partridge, Ken Hayward, John Crowhurst, Campbell Singer (voice), Diana Chesney, Geoff Roberts, Brian Goff, Jack Gray, Robert Vince, Joyce Jeffery PLUS, as Holloway inmates, Fay Witmond, Dorothy English, Joyce C. Maloney, Jean Rice, Gladys Clark, June Pennock, Dorothy Budman, Anita Ellery, Pauline Hedgecock, Irene Cast.

A quota quickie that’s so bumblingly amateurish that it’s really quite fun to watch: it’s not a movie that’s “so bad it’s good” (a trope to which I’ve never much subscribed) but one that seems almost puppyishly anxious to please. The incompetence is puppyish too. If you prefer your crime movies to be lean, smoothly powerful Dobermans, then They Never Learn isn’t for you. But, if your heart really belongs to that three-month mongrel pup from the pound that’s wagging its tail in a blur and could well wet the floor in its eagerness to be tickled behind the ears, then you have a treat in store.

Which is all to say that They Never Learn is a thoroughly bad movie but I enjoyed it even so.

Adrienne Scott as WPC Marie Watson.

One oddity is that the sound effects have clearly been added separately. All the dialogue, too, has been very obviously dubbed on afterwards, and not especially adroitly. (It gives the impression, in fact, of having been recorded in a bathroom.) This is taken to the extreme that, while one of the main characters, Inspector Netter, is played by an uncredited actor (whom I recognize but infuriatingly can’t identify), Netter’s voice is credited in both opening and closing credits to the dubber, the veteran character actor Campbell Singer.

Inspector Netter (uncredited).

WPC Marie Watson (Scott) is summoned from her beat in central London to Scotland Yard by Inspector Netter (uncredited but voiced by Singer) to help his efforts to nail a counterfeiting gang. She is to spend three months undercover in Holloway Prison cozying up to gang moll Lil Smith (Collins). The two women will be released together at the end of that time, and Lil’s new friend is sure—Netter hopes—to be welcomed by gang leader Frank “Frankie” Strutton (Blythe) and his sidekicks “Plum” Duff (Stark) and The Dropper (Hayward).

The great Graham Stark as “Plum” Duff.

A passing thought: If Netter already knows who the gang’s kingpins are, why does he need Marie to endanger herself infiltrating them? If his problem lies in catching them in some incriminating act, surely assiduous surveillance would do the job quicker and with less hazard to a young officer? Another passing thought: Why assign a pretty beat cop to this job, with the small but non-negligible risk that she might be recognized from the streets by someone in the gang, rather than a trained undercover officer?

Warning: This is a short movie. If you start worrying about such things you’ll not have finished doing so by the time the credits roll.

Jackie Collins as Lil Smith.

With the cooperation of Marie’s boss Inspector Grant (Chesney), off goes the WPC to Holloway. Under the relentless eye of the wardress (Jeffery) she successfully befriends Lil and in due course, sure enough, Frankie and Plum meet them both at the prison gates and accept Marie as one of their own.

Joyce Jeffery as the stern wardress, oo er.

Over the next few weeks Marie acts the part of a gangster’s moll, including on a trip to Paris so that Frankie and Plum can visit the printers of the notes they’re passing and receive a lecture, complete with extended flashback, from gang boss Paul “Charles” Dubesque (Vince) and his sidekick Leon Becker (Partridge) on how the French are passing forged large-denomination dollar bills in Europe. The technique is to buy expensive jewelry with them, then scarper before the jewelers’ bank has had a chance to scrutinize the relevant green stuff. Since this appears to be exactly the method Frankie’s lot are using in Britain, it’s not quite clear why the lecture is needed.

Michael Partridge as Leon Becker.

Talking of lectures, Marie has been using the pretense of making periodic trips to see her demanding old mum in order to meet up with Netter to keep him informed. On one of these he takes her to the Yard’s special anti-counterfeiting laboratory so that she can have a lecture—on things like watermarks. What we as audience learn from this lecture is that white-coated boffins in special anti-counterfeiting laboratories say “rhubarb” a lot.

Needless to say, by the end of the movie Netter and his men have rounded up the bad guys—all except one, who throws himself off the top of Westminster Cathedral—and all the good guys agree they couldn’t have done it without the splendid and courageous contribution of Marie, hurrah.

Ken Hayward as The Dropper.

Along the way, in addition to the two lectures, there are other learning opportunities. Here, for example, is a chance to gasp at the exchange rates back in 1956:

Dropper: “He’s prepared to take two thousand [dollars]. At the current rate, that’s seven hundred and fifteen quid. He’ll give you seven fifty.”
Frankie: “Nothing doing. Make it eight hundred and you’ve got a deal.”

Another line of dialogue that caught my pedantic ear came as the cops mount their obligatory all-points search of London for the car in which Frankie has abducted Marie:

“’Ere. Reverse back a minute.”

—as opposed to reversing forward. The real puzzler, though, comes when Frankie and Plum a couple of times park their car outside the Blue Streak Club, go inside for a while, then come out again and drive off. That’s not the puzzling bit. It’s that in each instance the car they arrive in is what looks to my untutored eye to be a Rolls while the one they drive off in is, according to the script, a Ford Zodiac.

John Blythe as Frankie Strutton.

The movie offers us a chance to see Jackie Collins—the younger of the two Collins sisters—very early in her not especially prolific acting career. Unlike big sister Joan, Jackie would become far more famous for the string of raunchy novels she wrote, in which (to judge by the couple I read one-handed in my avid youth) extraordinarily ghastly but extremely rich people have lots of feverish sex with each other.

Geoff Roberts as Netter’s sidekick, Geoff Thompson.

Adrienne Scott, despite appearing fourth in the credits list here, is the real star of the piece, arguably alongside the uncredited actor playing Netter. She was the daughter of They Never Learn’s producer, co-scripter and co-director, Edwin J. Fancey. Despite her apparent primness in this movie, she’d go on to become producer—as Adrienne Fancey/A.M.B. Fancey—of a couple of those 1960s “naturist” movies now probably remembered only by, um, connoisseurs. She then executive-produced The World Is Full of Married Men (1979) dir Robert Young, with Carroll Baker, Sherrie Lee Cronn, Georgina Hale and a galaxy of other stars including no less than ex-Formula One driver Gareth Hunt. This was of course based on the 1968 bonkbusting novel of the same title by her co-star here, Jackie Collins. Small world. But her biggest coup as a businesswoman came a few years earlier when she bought the UK distribution rights to Emmanuelle (1974) for a song.

8 thoughts on “They Never Learn (1956)

    • I can’t now remember where I found it, I’m afraid. I’ve just quickly checked the usual suspects (YouTube, the Archive, Jimbo Berkey’s site) but without success. Sorry, mate.

  1. You’ve loaded this review with plenty of gems: the word “boffin”, the note about 1956 exchange rates, and pointing out “reverse back” vs “reverse forward” (which made me laugh out loud.)

    However, you’ve provided what’s probably the best piece of movie-watching advice I’ve ever read: “If you start worrying about such things you’ll not have finished doing so by the time the credits roll.” I need to keep that in mind for a lot of films.

    • Many thanks for the kind words: I’m glad you found things to enjoy in my description of the movie.

      Yes, there are some movies that are laden with howlers but are still lots of fun for all that. This particular movie has so much wrong with it that it’s hard to keep track, but I still found it a joy.

  2. Yes, sometimes these amateur enterprises are tons of fun, as long as we don’t take them too seriously. Buffo review here!

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