Directed by Gordon Parry and written by Sylvia Rayman and Anatole de Grunwald, when a nightclub singer is arrested for murder, his pregnant girlfriend moves into a boarding house for women, but the mother-to-be soon discovers that her new lodgings harbours a horrific secret. Starring: Freda Jackson, Rene Ray, Lois Maxwell, Vida Hope, Joan Dowling, Dora Bryan, Dorothy Gordon and Laurence Harvey.
It’s not often you find a film made in the 1950s that almost exclusively stars and follows the story of women, especially single mothers. If we’re honest it’s still not entirely common in today’s landscape. Even more so, if you did get a number of different women in the film, they didn’t have as varied and distinctive personalities as they do in Women of Twilight.
The writing is impeccable, not only does it have a hidden growing secret that brings a wonderful intensity, but it would even work without it. Simply watching the women’s conflict within the house is plenty entertaining on its own but adding that touch of darkness, manipulation and maliciousness makes it even better. It’s paced out perfectly to give things away but still feel like a satisfying finale, although if you truly want to go into this fresh then you might want to avoid reading the majority of descriptions you’ll find online.
Obviously for a story filled with strong women, you need a strong ensemble at the helm and that’s definitely what you get with Women of Twilight. Funnily enough the weakest element of the entire film is Laurence Harvey, the film would have worked even better without him as his brief scenes are over-melodramatic and serve as purely distractions. You can see why a studio in the 1950s would want to inject a familiar actor to help sell the film to men but it’s also easy to see that he’s entirely superfluous.
The focus should, and mostly does, stay with these incredible women, beginning with Rene Ray and Lois Maxwell who really serve as the heart of this story. Their characters come from very different backgrounds but they instantly bond because of their empathy. Maxwell gives us a typically buttoned up woman who’s utterly unimpressed with the rundown house but has no choice. While Ray gives us a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, pregnant and seeing the father being hauled away on a murder charge. It’s like two sides of a coin, one is the compassion that exists between these women and the other is the conflict and sinister history of the house.
Gordon Parry’s direction does a great job of leaning into the intensity of the story. It’s an incredibly worthwhile exploration of the treatment of single mothers, giving birth outside of marriage making them second class citizens. Parry manages to capture the vulnerability of that situation and how limited their options are without ever making them feel weak. He portrays their fear, insecurity and desire for stability while also showing their determination and love of their children. With the exception of those taking care of the house, played by Freda Jackson and Vida Hope who bring the coldness, greed and duplicitousness which drives the darker side to this story, and they do it well.
Women of Twilight is a rare celebration of talented women for its time, not only telling a poignant story of the treatment of women but giving the limelight to an ensemble of fantastic actresses to do so. It’s well paced, surprisingly intense, has plenty of drama and intrigue to offer and the restoration work is excellent. It’s undoubtedly a classic film that deserves a lot more attention.