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Wicked as They Come

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wicked as They Come
Wicked As They Come film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Hughes
Written byKen Hughes
Sigmund Miller
Robert Westerby
Based onnovel Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger[1]
Produced byMaxwell Setton
StarringArlene Dahl
Philip Carey
Herbert Marshall
CinematographyBasil Emmott
Edited byMax Benedict
Music byMalcolm Arnold
Film Locations
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 22 May 1956 (1956-05-22) (UK)
  • February 1956 (1956-02) (US)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Wicked as They Come (Portrait in Smoke in the United States) is a 1956 British film noir directed by Ken Hughes and starring Arlene Dahl, Philip Carey and Herbert Marshall.[2]


Poor girl from the slums Katherine Allenbourg trades on her looks. She enters a beauty contest, then charms the elderly gentleman running it, Sam Lewis, into fixing it so she will win first prize, a trip to Europe. She promptly abandons Sam.

On a plane to London, after changing her name to Kathy Allen, she is attracted to Tim O'Bannion, who works for an ad agency. However, she's determined to land someone wealthier and photographer Larry Buckham, whom she meets at her London hotel, fits the bill. Invited to use his charge account at a department store for a wedding dress, Kathy makes many purchases, pawns the merchandise, and leaves Larry without a word.

She gets a job at Tim's advertising firm and seduces Stephen Collins, the man who runs it, and who is married. Tim arouses more passion in her, but Kathy's strictly out for herself. She demands Collins divorce his wife Virginia, whose father John Dowling owns the agency. Virginia tries to pay her off, but Kathy requests a transfer to the agency's Paris headquarters, where she immediately uses her wiles to get Dowling to marry her.

Anonymous threats begin by mail and phone. Someone in the shadows begins stalking her. Kathy picks up a gun and shoots, killing her husband. No one believes her tale of a prowler and Kathy is tried, convicted and sentenced to die.

Realizing that Larry is the man behind this turn of events, Tim reveals to him something he only just discovered, an explanation for Kathy's cruel treatment of men. When she was a girl, she was brutally assaulted. Larry has a change of heart and confesses to stalking her. Kathy's prison sentence is reduced, and she hopes Tim will give her another chance once she gets out.



The film was based on a novel Portrait in Smoke which was published in 1950.[3] The novel was adapted for TV in 1950.[4]

In May 1955 it was announced Mike Frankovich had purchased the screen rights to the novel, to be made under his deal with Columbia. It was the third property Frankovich had purchased, the others being Joe MacBeth and ''Wise Guys Never Work.[5] The film would be made by an associated company, Film Locations, run by Maxwell Setton.[6]

Laurence Harvey was offered a lead role but turned it down.[7] Lead roles eventually went to Arlene Dahl, Phil Carey and Herbert Marshall.[8]

Filming was to have started in London on 28 November 1955 but eventually started 2 December 1955.[9]


The Los Angeles Times said it was "written and directed with humour as well as ironic drama".[10]

Filmink said "The film would have been better off following the lead of the poster art rather than the script: at heart this should have been a campy Joan Crawford vehicle but it’s far too reticent and dull."[11]


In March 1957 Arlene Dahl filed suit against Columbia for $1,000,000 claiming the advertising for the film was "obscene, degrading and offensive."[12] She said she was humiliated by the use of composite drawings and photographs advertising the film.[13] The case went to trial in May. The judge was unsympathetic during the hearing say he felt the photograph was refined.[14] The case was dismissed in August.[15]


  1. ^ Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110951943 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "Wicked As They Come (1956)". Archived from the original on 14 January 2009.
  3. ^ "Fiction In Brief: Connecticut Heaven Doomed Eden Paid in Full Hemming in Earnest", New York Times 6 August 1950: BR9.
  4. ^ Review of tv production at Variety
  5. ^ "Buys 'Portrait in Smoke'", Chicago Daily Tribune 15 May 1955: q2.
  6. ^ "SETTON TO FILM BALLINGER NOVEL: Own Company to Begin Work in London Next Month on 'Portrait in Smoke'", Special to The New York Times. 4 October 1955: 39.
  7. ^ "Drama: Laurence Harvey Faces Heavy Duty; Lew Ayres' Religious Films Unique", Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 October 1955: B11.
  8. ^ "Drama: Autry Frames His Life Film; History of Ballet Due; Dahl Partners Set", Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 22 December 1955: B7.
  9. ^ "Drama: Noted Heavy Raymond Burr Sets Up Company; Kelly, Sinatra to Team", Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 4 October 1955: B9.
  10. ^ Arlene Dahl "'Wicked;' 'Nightfall Good Meller'", Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 17 January 1957: B9.
  11. ^ Vagg, Stephen (14 November 2020). "Ken Hughes Forgotten Auteur". Filmink.
  12. ^ "ARLENE DAHL SUES ON AD: Actress Charges Film Publicity Is Obscene and Degrading", New York Times 7 March 1957: 25.
  13. ^ "Arlene Dahl Suit Over Ads Delayed", Los Angeles Times 16 April 1957: 22.
  14. ^ "New York Justice Tells Arlene Dahl Photo Is 'Refined'", Chicago Daily Tribune 2 May 1957: c6.
  15. ^ "ACTRESS LOSES SUIT: Miss Dahl Sought $1,000,000 Over Ads for Movie", New York Times 27 August 1957: 31.

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This page was last edited on 25 January 2023, at 20:22
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