Monday, 5 November 2007

The Violent Years (1956)

The Violent Years isn’t just a juvenile delinquent movie, it’s a JD movie scripted by Ed Wood jnr! And it has the classic Ed Wood touches – lots of incredibly but amusingly clunky speechifying, dialogue that you have to hear to believe, and some very interesting hints of gender-bending. A gang of bad girls dress up like men and carry out a series of daring and violent armed robberies. They become involved in a communist conspiracy to vandalise schools and desecrate the flag. The most interesting of their escapades, however, comes when they terrorise a couple of innocent young kids making out in Lovers’ Lane. They force the girl to get partially undressed and tie her up. They then march her boyfriend off into the woods, start forcibly undressing him, and the last shot we see is the leader of the girl gang starting to remove her clothes. The poor boy is clearly about to suffer a fate worse than death. These girls are beyond bad! The pyjama party scene is also pretty memorable. We eventually find out that it’s not really Paula’s fault (Paula being the chief of this gang of female delinquents) – she’s been the victim of terrible child abuse. Instead of giving her love and lots of mother-daughter heart-to-heart talks her uncaring mom just keeps buying her expensive new dresses and a new convertible every year for her birthday. The poor kid! Luckily the kindly judge is on hand at the end to instruct parents on the proper way to bring up their children – lots of attention, frequent church-going and regular beatings in the woodshed. The most entertaining thing about the movie is the way Wood’s own preoccupations keep subverting the ostensibly conservative social message. Not only do these girl hoodlums engage in cross-dressing, they also call each other by masculine names – Paula becomes Paul, Georgia is known as George, Phyllis becomes Phil, etc. One can only assume that censors at the time didn’t even realise what Wood was up to here.

The acting is bad of course, but it’s good bad, it’s the sort of bad acting that is required by the sort of dialogue that Ed Wood wrote. The DVD release from Something Weird also includes a second girl JD movie, Girl Gang, which I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. The Violent Years looks pretty good for a 50-year-old low-budget movie. It may not be the best JD movie I’ve seen, but it is the most bizarre and the most interesting, and it really is a must-see.

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