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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955) - Silly, Sloppy but Strangely Endearing

The Fifties, the folks who lived through it tell us, was a period of repression.  What that meant, besides a lot of analyst bills, was an opportunity.  The opportunity was to create films that, while walking just this side of the (also repressive) Hays Code, created just enough innuendo to let your mind fill in the blanks of stuff the movies were not allowed to show.

Another Saturday night, and I ain't got nobody....

So, we have this classic of the exploitation genre, "Teenage Crime Wave."  Two tough dames are locked up in the joint.  They are easy on the eye and itching for relief.  What happens.  Do they go quietly to sleep?

Oh, wait, maybe I do!

Why, no they don't, thank you very much.  Now, what do you think might happen after lights out?  That's the part where you fill in the blanks.

No, really, a nice girl like you belongs in Hollywood, not prison.

 Then one of the gals goes on the lam with her man.  Such a sweet little thing.  Does she stay on the right side of the law?  What do you think?

Get those hands in the air or, or, or I'll scream!

 They stumble onto an isolated farmhouse.  Such a sweet family lives there.  Maybe they'll all be friends and go to church together?

Hi there!  Can we borrow some sugar?

 Actually, they don't.

This film is easy to attack, for its bad acting, its didactic writing, its cheap sets, and, well, just about everything else. It most resembles a public service announcement designed to enlighten fearful parents about what they should do to keep their little darlings on the straight and narrow. Actually, come to think of it, there IS even a TV public service announcement shown in the film that bemoans the terrible teenage crime wave supposedly sweeping the nation. So perhaps you think I'm going to completely pan this? Well, no, I'm not. I actually found it endearing.

The start to countless 1950s male fantasies.
  It is so sophomoric that it passes the so-bad-it's-good test and becomes almost charming. What stupid thing will the young crooks do next? How will they try to evade the inevitable consequences? It all becomes almost fascinating, like watching a drunk walking on a ledge, as there is absolutely no possibility that they can get away with it, yet you keep trying to think it through for them - "No, don't go that way! And hide that car better!"  Near the beginning is a tantalizingly good scene, as the female half of this Bonnie and Clyde duo, played by the enticing Molly McCart, picks up a middle-aged man in a bar and walks him outside where her buds can rob him. Not content to just shake him down, though, she gets in a couple of kicks in the shin as well, admonishing him, "That's what you get for picking up girls" and so forth. Well, I couldn't turn it off after that kind of campy opening, could I? So I sat through the whole thing. And, actually, I'm glad I did, and may watch it again.
I said I wanted cream in my coffee, old man!

Naturally, the girl has to get into some kind of bitchy situation with some other females or it wouldn't be right, you know?

Make one move, sister, and I'll blast ya!

After all the sensationalism, though, you know and I know and, especially, the Hays Commission boys know that crime doesn't pay, not in 1950s exploitation movies.  So, we get a bang-up ending.

No, don't die, I want you to star in Irma La Douce!  And you're not supposed to make it look like it hurts so good, dig?
 The plot, in essence, is the familiar "thugs take over a family's farmhouse and hold them captive." You know, like Bogart's "The Desperate Hours" of the same year. The crooks here are so lame-brained, though, that they leave their stolen car outside in a ravine right off the main road where even the dumbest of cops would find it. But forget logic and allow yourself to go with the flow and you may just enjoy yourself. Molly gets a good, long chance to emote in the farmhouse, at one point doing a little dance to the radio for absolutely no reason, at another trying to seduce the family's son. The seduction scene, though brief, is a classic, as you could see it brewing up for the previous half hour. Molly was quite the looker, too bad she retired shortly after this film. She reminds me here of a young Shirley MacLaine. Seriously. No, I'm not kidding.

Nobody else in the film can act at all, with a particularly bad job by the male half of the duo, played by Tommy Cook.  Rumor is that he actually was a hairdresser given a shot at stardom, probably because he fixed up someone's hair really well.   I can't blame the actors for the low quality, though.  This looks like it was shot in about three days with one take allowed per scene. For all that, it has a campy quality that holds my interest right up to the final improbable shootout.

Worth catching if only to see a truly amusing performance by Molly McCart.  Molly, wherever you are, good day to you.

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