West End Jungle Review
This was the West End of London prior to the year Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-Nine, part of a city of some seven hundred-odd square miles, populated by more than eight million people...and, as near as anyone could judge, ten thousand prostitutes. (Opening narration.)
Then in the wake of the 1957 Wolfenden Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, came the 1959 Street Offences Act. Gone were the prostitutes on street corners; instead they were driven into flat windows, drinking clubs, massage parlours and striptease shows. West End Jungle, made in 1961 “in the actual places of vice”, is a tour of the London which resulted.
Despite what the moralists thought, filmmakers realised that sex sold. Or at least as much sex as they could get past the censor of the day. In the same year, 1961, as Stanley A. Long and Arnold Louis Miller (both wrote and produced, Miller directed and Long photographed) made West End Jungle, they made two other films Nudes of the World and Nudist Memories, at the end of the nudist-picture boom. West End Jungle, on the other hand, was an ostensible exposé of what was going on in the decadent capital. Shot in what looks like 16mm, in black and white, it's a well-made film of just under an hour, though to take it as a serious piece is to take it at face value only. Given that a list of names are credited at the end of the film (apart from the narration and male and female voiceovers) does beg a question, which isn't answered anywhere: how much of this is actually documentary and how much re-enacted.
As with so many films of this type, the narration (read by David Gell) is Very Concerned about the fate of young girls who come down to the bright lights of the capital but are lured into the life of clubs, strip joints and prostitutes, “the path to inevitable degradation and [...] self-disgust”. This is the price to show as much as the makers think they can get away with. There's little actual nudity on display, apart from some footage of striptease shows, so you wonder if 1961 punters would get their money's worth. They never had the chance, as the BBFC rejected West End Jungle outright, so it has never had a UK commercial release until this DVD, available now to deprave and corrupt anyone over the age of fifteen.
Miller continued his career, turning up as one of the producers of Michael Reeves's The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General. Stanley Long later turned director, making amongst others Adventures of a Taxi Driver as part of the softcore sex comedy boom of the 1970s. Like his colleague he ventured into horror as well, with the portmanteau project Screamtime.
West End Jungle is released by a new label to me, Strike Force Entertainment, though this turns out to be an imprint of Network DVD. The disc is single-layered, and (unlike most of Network's releases) encoded for all regions.
The DVD is presented in 1.33:1. I don't know if that is the intended ratio. Given that West End Jungle was intended for commercial cinemas, probably blown up to 35mm as well, I'm dubious if that is the intended ratio. It would likely have been cropped to 1.66:1 at least. The print is clean – I'd guess this film has hardly been shown in the last thirty-seven years and is in very good condition. Given its origins, some softness is inevitable.
The soundtrack is mono, and as this is mainly narration with some voiceovers and a brassy music score, entirely serviceable.
Extras include two contemporary newsreels: “Clubs Galore!” (3:32), from 1958, which includes an interview with Paul Raymond of Raymond's Revue Bar fame, and “Sir John Wolfenden on Prostitution and the Street Offences Act” from 1959 (2:15). The final extra is an interview with director Arnold L. Miller (8:16). Miller, now in his eighties, describes the London of the day in the wake of the Street Offences Act, and how he as a filmmaker cashed in: he thinks films like this one performed a service. He describes his dealings with the BBFC of the day, who found the film an advert for prostitution and disliked the whole tenor of the production. Miller quite rightly says that his film would have no problem being passed today, though he's overly cautious in predicting an 18 certificate.
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