Monday, 21 September 2009

Teenage Devil Dolls (1955)

Teenage Devil Dolls (AKA One Way Ticket to Hell) is a 1955 juvenile delinquent flick that exposes the shocking truth about teenage dope fiends in the 50s.

Cassandra has the odds stacked against her from the start. Her mother (played by Lucille Price as a particularly monstrous movie mother) has gone through a string of husbands and this selfishness and the resultant lack of a stable home life has made Cassandra immature and vulnerable. She’s a good student but she falls in with the wrong crowd, a gang of motorcycle-rising delinquents. She is desperate to gain acceptance so she is easily drawn into their bad habits and is soon smoking reefers. From there it’s all downhill.

She marries her high school sweetheart, but she is unable to deal with the responsibilities of married life. Her doctor prescribes pills, lots of them. She becomes addicted to Seconal, and walks out on he husband. Pretty soon she’s dealing dope on street corners, involved in a car-stealing racket and she’s graduated to heroin. She’s also attracted the attention of the police, including the movie’s hero, Narcotics Squad cop Lieutenant David Jason. Jason is determined to smash the drugs racket, and tries to get Cassandra to turn informant. Cassandra is torn between her desire to kick the habit and her relationship with her drug-dealer boyfriend. The movie’s climax sees Cassandra and her boyfriend on the run for the Mexican border pursued by hordes of sheriff’s deputies.

This is a fairly typical example of the shocking exposé type of 50s exploitation movie, with a strong moral message but capitalising on the shock value of teen delinquency. There are fairly graphic scenes of drug use, which exploitation movies could get way with as they weren’t subject to Hollywood’s Production Code. The most surprising thing is probably the lack of sexual titillation. This is a movie that tries hard to convince us that it takes itself seriously. The reefer-smoking scenes will undoubtedly amuse many viewers, and some of the later scenes of narcotics withdrawal are extremely melodramatic. But that’s the appeal of classic exploitation cinema.

The omnipresent voice-over narration gives it an interesting semi-documentary feel although it’s really just a way of covering up the fact that the movie was shot was shot without any synchronised sound so there’s no actual dialogue. The movie has a very cheap feel, even by the standards of such movies. The acting is typically overwrought and inept although Barbara Marks as Cassandra has a certain presence.

One surprise is that the movie doesn’t place all the responsibility for her problems on Cassandra and her mother - the medical profession is made to take much of the blame for over-prescribing tranquilisers and sleeping pills. We even get to see the Narcotics Squad cops busting crooked doctors!

Teenage Devil Dolls has a certain amount of entertainment value and like all such movies it holds up a fascinating mirror to its time period, showing us a corrupt and seamy side to life in Eisenhower Era America. It’s not as much fun as true classics of the genre such as Girl Gang and the Ed Wood-scripted The Violent Years but it’s still enjoyable for devotees of juvenile delinquent movies.

It’s in the public domain and can be found online.The online print I saw wasn’t too bad as far as picture quality was concerned. I believe it’s also been released in several compilations of public domain juvenile delinquent films.

No comments: