Friday, 21 May 2010

Delinquent Daughters (1944)

Delinquent Daughters is a bit of an oddity. Released in 1944, it looks and sounds like a typical 1930s/1940s exploitation movie but it isn’t really.

True exploitation movies were made by tiny independent production companies that were not members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America or MPPDA (the ancestor of the MPAA) and were therefore not bound by the Hollywood Production Code. But Delinquent Daughters was a studio release. It was made by the cheapest of all the Poverty Row studios, PRC, but even the Poverty Row studios were members of the MPPDA.

The classic exploitation movie if this period always included a square-up - either an introductory message or a speech by one of the characters justifying the movie’s treatment of controversial subject matter by presenting it as a kind of public service, a timely warning of a dire social evil. But being a studio release Delinquent Daughters features an incredibly lengthy and moralistic square-up to justify its treatment of a grave threat to the moral fibre of the nation, juvenile delinquency.

In fact it tries so hard to be moral that it ends up being less fun than the average exploitation film.

The plot centres around a night-spot called the Merry-Go-Round. This club is aimed at teenagers, but exploits a loop-hole in the law by providing “chaperones” so that teenagers can legally go there. The club is run by Nick Gordon, and he’s the villain of the piece. He tempts teenagers into lives of crime, encouraging them to commit robberies on his behalf.

This den of iniquity has already been responsible for driving one teenager to suicide, but the kids from the local high school just can’t stay away. Even good girls like June Thompson hang out there. And bad girls like Sally Higgins encourage good kids into all sorts of wickedness. Basically decent kids like Rocky end up carrying guns and becoming involved in armed robberies. And nice girls like June stay out all night, even on school nights.

The most interesting thing bout such movies is that they reveal that paranoia about juvenile delinquency was not purely a phenomenon of the 1950s. This movie as made in 1944 and the hysteria is already in full bloom. Crazy jazz rhythms are already leading American youth astray.

This movie is the quintessential example of the “blame the parents” style of juvenile delinquent movie. The heroes are a crusading journalist and a hardbitten but idealistic cop (in fact he’s a classic gruff cop with a heart of gold) and they have no doubt that the parents are responsible. And the parents really are presented in an incredibly unsympathetic light. It’s made plain that June’s father is a firm believer and enthusiastic practitioner of corporal punishment and that the constant beatings have led June to hang around with bad girls like Sally. And Rocky’s father fails to show his son any affection, apparently an even worse crime.

The acting is mostly horrifically bad, although Teala Loring is quite good as Sally, a hardened bad girl and aspiring femme fatale.

The script contains far too many pompous speeches and is excessively contrived even by the standards of this type of movie.

This movie is included in the Delinquent Dames: Girls Gone Bad DVD boxed set. They’re all public domain movies but mostly the picture quality is at least passable and the selection of movies offered is superb. And it’s absurdly cheap and extremely good value and I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately this particular movie suffers from a very poor DVD transfer. The night scenes are so dark that nothing whatsoever can be seen.

It’s difficult to make a juvenile delinquent movie that isn’t campy fun, and Delinquent Daughters is reasonable fun in its own cringe-inducing way. But if you’re going to sample the delights of the classical exploitation movie (and you should) you’re better off seeking out a real example of the genre.

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