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Prisoners of Gender: Women in the Films of J. Lee Thompson. Edition No. 1
VDM Publishing House, February 2009, Pages: 252
When the director J. Lee Thompson died in 2002, his
obituaries gave little indication that he might ever
conceivably be regarded as a 'woman's director' -
unsurprisingly given his expertise in macho films
such as 1961's The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear.
However, during the first 10 years of his
directorial career in Britain, Thompson made a
number of striking films which examined a rich
variety of female experience. These range from the
women's prison films The Weak and the Wicked (1954)
and Yield to the Night (1956), both starring Diana
Dors, to the tale of domestic disaster Woman in a
Dressing Gown (1957); from the war film that finds
room for a central female character, Ice Cold in
Alex (1958) and the depiction of 1930s slum life No
Trees in the Street (1959), to an optimistic
farewell to Britain before departing for Hollywood
(as well as Hayley Mills' ebullient debut film)
Tiger Bay (1959).
Melanie Williams makes a case for the significance
of these films to British cinema in terms of their
unusual representations of femininity, with female
protagonists who are 'prisoners of gender'
struggling to get free.
Melanie Williams is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University
of Hull, United Kingdom. She has written on British cinema for a
number of edited books and journals including Sight and Sound,
Cinema Journal, Screen, Film Quarterly and the Journal of
British Cinema and Television, and is the co-editor of British
Women's Cinema (2009).