Friday, 16 October 2009

Hot Rod Girl (1956)

There is just no way I could pass up a juvenile delinquent movie with a title like Hot Rod Girl. This 1956 movie is certainly fun, although disappointingly it’s not actually about a hot rod girl.

There is a hot rod girl in the movie, Lisa, and we do see her participating in (and winning) a drag race early in the movie. But the central character is her boyfriend Jeff. Jeff and Lisa hang around with the other hot rod fanatics in some unnamed town. They’re not really juvenile delinquents - they’re basically Swell Kids, but the squares just won’t give them a chance.

The exception to this is Detective Ben Merrill (Chuck Connors). Ben is a bit of a square, but he likes the kids and he’s come up with a plan. By providing the kids with a proper drag strip they’ll be able to satisfy their urge for speed without resorting to street racing. Jeff and Lisa are his main allies among the hot rodders. Jeff is so virtuous and so responsible it’ a wonder the other hot rodders can stand to be around him. Of course Ben’s plan doesn’t work, and Jeff’s hot-headed kid brother is enticed into a street race, with fatal consequences. Jeff wasn’t driving, but the police take his driver’s licence away anyway. This was the 50s, and the police seem to make up the law as they go along.

Jeff decides to give up drag racing completely, and he also starts to neglect Lisa. Trouble starts go brew when a stranger rolls into town into his hotted-up car. The stranger is Bronc Talbott, and he’s a Bad Boy. He decides he wants Lisa, and he wants to put the local hot rodders in their place. He taunts one of the kids into a potentially deadly game of chicken. Bronc’s next step is to try to force Jeff into a duel on the highway. Is Jeff going to stand by while this outsider steals his girl? Will Ben be able to convince the Gruff But Kindly Police Captain that the hot rodders are really decent kids and to let him continue to operate the drag strip?

The plot sounds impossibly contrived and that’s how it plays out. No opportunity for a moral message is allowed to slip by. The dialogue is cringe-inducing. The acting is mostly awful. In other words it’s a fairly typical 50s juvenile delinquent movie, and these are the very features that make such movies so much fun.

Chuck Connors as Ben is an impossibly square-jawed figure, but his performance should provide endless amusement. Lori Nelson makes Lisa reasonably sympathetic and at least makes an attempt at acting, and she looks good behind the wheel of her incredibly sexy sports car. The movie has plenty of action scenes involving cars, at least one brawl, and plenty of romance as well as Lisa battles to save her man and restore his faith in the world, and in hot rodding.

There are naturally a couple of comic relief characters, but they’re not excessively annoying. There’s some of the sexism you expect in 1950s movies, but not too much, and we do get to see Lisa as the champion drag racer showing the boys how it’s done.

If you’re a fan of juvenile delinquent movies you know you want to see this film, and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

It’s included in the Classic Teenage Rebels boxed set from St Clair Vision - eleven public domain JD movies on three DVDs for a ridiculously cheap price. The prints aren’t sensational but they’re watchable, the movies are fun, and it’s really pretty good value.

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