Wicked as They Come

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Wicked as They Come
Wicked As They Come film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Hughes
Produced byM.J. Frankovich
Maxwell Setton
Written byKen Hughes
Sigmund Miller
Robert Westerby
Based onnovel Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger[1]
StarringArlene Dahl
Philip Carey
Herbert Marshall
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyBasil Emmott
Edited byMax Benedict
Frankovich Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 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 starring Arlene Dahl, Philip Carey and Herbert Marshall. The film was directed by Ken Hughes.[2]


Poor girl from a dirty and gritty tenement building in the United States, Katherine Allenbourg, is abandoned by her entire family. She has to trade on her looks in order to drag herself out of the slums. A local beauty contest seems like her best chance. Katherine charms the elderly gentleman, Sam Lewis, who is running the beauty contest. She convinces Sam that he should "fix it" so she will win first prize which is $1,000 and a trip to Europe. Once Katherine wins the beauty contest, she promptly drops the unsuspecting Sam. She uses him and moves on to her next victim.

On a plane to London, after changing her name to Kathy Allen, she meets Tim O'Bannion who works for an ad agency. Tim is handsome enough. However, she's determined to land someone much, much wealthier than Tim. Enter photographer Larry Buckham, who is staying at the same London hotel as she. Kathy and Larry begin spending time together. Kathy sees Larry as her meal ticket. He wines and dines her. But, she is also quickly going thru her $1,000 prize money. Larry proposes marriage almost immediately. Kathy hesitates to commit. But, once all of her money is gone...she acquiesces to be his fiancé. Kathy owes the hotel a good deal of money for rent and meals. She sees Larry as her only way to get out of the debt that she has incurred while living in London. Once she agrees to marry Larry, he gives Kathy use of his charge account at a prestigious London department store in order to purchase a wedding gown. But, Kathy racks up a bill in the amount of thirteen hundred British Pounds for extravagant furs and jewels. She leaves the department store without having bothered to even try on a wedding dress. She pawns the expensive merchandise for cash, pays her hotel bill and then disappears. She leaves Larry without a word and sticks him with the department store bill. Once Larry discovers that he has been had, he becomes volatile and loses all rationale.

After she uses Larry, Kathy then sets her sights on obtaining a job at the same advertising firm where Tim O'Bannion works. She takes courses in order to get her foot in the door. But, she also uses her association with Tim O'Bannion to secure a position. Once she lands the job, Kathy tries to make herself indispensable to Mr. Stephen Collins who is the director of the London office. Collins is married, but this fact doesn't seem to faze Kathy. Tim O'Bannion continues to pursue Kathy and arouses more passion in her than she ever believed possible. However, Kathy is strictly out for herself. She tells Tim to get lost. Then, she demands that Collins must divorce his wife, Virginia. Not only is Virginia the wife of Stephen Collins. She is also the daughter of John Dowling who owns the agency and runs the Paris office. Virginia tries to pay Kathy off. But, Kathy strikes a deal with Virginia. If Virginia can arrange for Kathy to transfer from the London office to the agency's Paris headquarters....she will give up Stephen Collins for good. Virginia agrees. Once Kathy arrives in Paris, she goes after the much older John Dowling. Kathy uses her wiles to get Dowling to marry her. But, before the marriage takes place, Tim O'Bannion begs Kathy not to marry Dowling. Tim implores her to do the right thing and consider her true feelings. Nevertheless, Kathy ignores Tim's pleas and proceeds with the marriage to Dowling.

After their honeymoon, Kathy begins to receive anonymous threats by phone and by mail at the Dowling estate in Paris. Kathy has no idea who it is. Someone in the shadows is stalking her. It is none other than Larry Buckham from London back for his revenge. Kathy becomes more & more agitated as the calls and notes continue to come. However, Kathy confides in no one. She begins arguing with her husband over the slightest things. Plus, she destroys the threatening letters in a fire. She doesn't not want to alert her husband to the situation. One evening, she sees and hears a prowler approaching her room. Kathy picks up her husband's revolver, closes her eyes and begins shooting. Unfortunately, it is her husband who has also heard unusual footsteps and goes to check on his wife. John Dowling is shot three times by Kathy and falls to the ground. The Dowling house servants run into the room and discover John dead on the floor while Kathy is still holding the revolver. No one believes her story of being fearful of a prowler in their home. The servants tell the police how Kathy has frequently argued with Mr. Dowling. With no evidence of the threatening notes, Kathy is tried, convicted and sentenced to death by guillotine. (This is Paris after all.)

Tim O'Bannion ultimately comes to the aid of Kathy while she sits in prison awaiting execution. Realizing that Larry Buckham is the man behind the threatening phone calls and letters, Tim decides to entreat Larry to go to the police and tell them the truth. Tim also reveals to Larry the real reason for Kathy's dismissive and cruel treatment of all men. When she was a girl of fourteen, Kathy was brutally assaulted and raped by a gang of hoodlums. Larry has a change of heart and confesses to stalking her as part of his revenge. Kathy's prison sentence is miraculously reduced! Final scene is where Tim goes to the prison to visit Kathy. Now, she asks Tim if he might give her another chance once she is released from prison. Fade to black. The End. We never really know if Kathy and Tim get together. This 1956 movie is beautifully photographed even though it is black & white film.



  1. ^ Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). "The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film". Walter de Gruyter – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "Wicked As They Come (1956)".

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