It is 1720 and a group of little uniformed girls in an orphanage are apprehensively awaiting the annual inspection by the Governors. One by one, the children are presented and dutifully answer questions as to what they would like to be when they grow up . . .
“A dairymaid,” says one; “A maid-servant,” replies another, and so on down the line until the Mayor (Cecil Parker) stops to question a pert and pretty little girl, who astounds him by answering, “A lady!” The little madame’s name is Moll Flanders.
We next come across Moll (Kim Novak) when she is grown up and find her in the household of that same Mayor who was touched by her artless reply to his question when she was a child.
Although nominally a serving wench, Moll is treated as one of the family and her natural charms have been much enhanced by what she has learned from her “betters”.
She is rather drawn to the Mayor’s eldest son (Daniel Massey) who flatters only to deceive and promises marriage to Moll if she will agree to other proposals. The poor girl succumbs only to find herself without a ring or her virtue.
The heat of a summer day prompts Moll to take a dip in a cool lake, leaving her clothes on the bank. Two highwaymen, Jemmy (Richard Johnson) and Squint (Leo McKern) happen along and promptly go through Moll’s clothing, hoping to find something of value.
Moll starts for the shore to save her things and is rescued from Squint’s ribaldry by the timely arrival of the Mayor’s youngest son (Derren Nesbitt) who puts the highwaymen to flight, but is himself overcome by the sight of the comely Moll emerging from the lake as Mother Nature made her.
He insists on immediate marriage, and despite the family’s misgivings, Moll accompanies him to the altar.
Sadly the marriage is doomed from the start as Moll’s husband’s real love is the bottle, and he spends most of his time in his cups. One day, when he is more drunk than usual, his gig overturns and Moll becomes a widow.
No help is forthcoming from her husband’s family so the poor girl has to fend for herself, obtaining a post as lady’s maid to Lady Blystone (Angela Lansbury), a middle-aged woman with a weakness for an Italian Count (Vittorio De Sica).
Moll is sent ahead to London with her mistress’s baggage, and finding Lady Blystone’s finery quite irresistible, borrows some of it for herself. A fellow passenger in the coach, a banker (George Sanders) is deceived into thinking her a grand lady and makes tentative advances.
Things are going just fine when along come our two highwaymen friends, Jemmy and Squint, to hold up the coach. Moll has her wits about her and manages to save most of the banker’s treasure by an astute ruse for which he is deeply grateful.
If Moll proved herself to have amorous inclinations when she was in the countryside, they were nothing compared to what happens after she has installed herself in Lady Blystone’s London house.
The fact that two men think she is a great lady (when she is, in truth, only a lady’s maid) necessitates several quick changes.
There are plenty of comings and goings and lots of feudin’ and fussin’ and fightin’ all over town, and even notorious Newgate Jail and its fearsome Governor (Hugh Griffith) begins to loom ahead for our heroine.
It’s a funny, bawdy 18th-century romp in the tradition of Tom Jones (1963), lavishly filmed in Technicolor and based on Daniel Defoe’s novel.
Vittorio De Sica
The Mayor’s Wife
The Mayor’s Elder Son
The Mayor’s Younger Son
Officer of Dragoons
Lord Mayor of London
Convict Ship Captain
Convict Ship Officer