Sunday, 7 August 2011

High School Caesar (1960)

I love juvenile delinquent movies, and High School Caesar ticks all the relevant boxes. It has drag racing, it has the good girl pitted against the bad girl, it has half-baked psychoanalysis to explain the characters’ motivations, it has high school dramas treated as the stuff of epic tragedy.

Most of all it has that peculiarly American concept, high school as a metaphor for life.

Matt Stevens is the Al Capone of his high school. He runs a protection racket, plus a very lucrative racket in stolen exam papers and a crooked dance racket. To ensure the growth of his criminal empire he needs to be elected as student body president and it goes without saying that the election is accompanied by widespread corruption and intimidation.

Matt has a rival. His rival’s name is Kelly. Kelly is just as good-looking and popular as Matt, and he has his own band of devoted followers and supporters. The difference is that Kelly is a responsible and decent young man. He organises drag races, but he is careful to make sure they take place on deserted stretches of road so that no-one will get hurt.

Matt’s loyal lieutenant is a kid known as Cricket. Cricket is in awe of Matt, because Matt controls everything that matters. Matt’s corrupt organisation produces a healthy financial profit in which Crocket shares, plus Matt controls access to the girls. When Cricket says he wants to date the new girl at school, the beautiful blonde Wanda, Matt assures him that he’ll organise it.

This is where Matt’s smooth organisation encounters its first problems. He instructs his girlfriend Lita to inform Wanda that she will now be dating Cricket, but Wanda prefers hunky blonde nice boy Bob to creepy and geeky Cricket. And Lita starts to show signs of rebelling since she suspects that Matt has eyes for Wanda.

Of course a showdown between the two rival leaders is inevitable, and being a juvenile delinquent movie the showdown must take the form of a drag race. And now Matt’s supremacy is really endangered, since his dad’s Cadillac convertible proves to be no match for Kelly’s car. Matt is humiliated, and vows he will have his revenge. Meanwhile Cricket has been humiliated as well. Wanda just refuses to understand that she’s supposed to date the boys Matt tells her to date. And when Matt can’t deliver on his promise to provide his second-in-command with the girl he promised to him Matt’s prestige really starts to totter. The tragedy is moving to its inevitable conclusion.

No movie of this sort would be complete without a psychiatric explanation of the failings of the juvenile delinquent. We learn that Matt is fabulously rich, but he’s all alone. His parents send him monthly cheques, very substantial cheques, but they’re too busy jet-setting around Europe to bother with their son. He has lots of money, and he has servants, but it doesn’t compensate for the lack of parental love. He’s a poor little rich boy.

He has a lucky gold coin that his father gave him, a coin that will play a vital part in the plot, but it’s also a symbol. It’s all his father has given him, but Matt didn’t want a gold coin, he wanted a real father.

John Ashley plays the role of Matt and surprisingly enough he can in fact act. I’m not saying he’s a great actor or even a very good one, but he’s competent. The other actors are up to basic B-movie standards, but they’re all quite entertaining.

Daria Massey makes a rather effective bad girl. We know she’s the bad girl because she has black hair, as distinct from the good girl Wanda who has blonde hair because she’s, you know, the good girl.

High School Caesar is in the public domain and can be obtained from the usual sources for such movies. My copy came in the St Clair Vision boxed set Classic Teenage Rebels - all PD juvenile delinquent movies, the transfers are what you expect but it’s cheap and the movies are terrific.

High School Caesar is everything you could ask for in a juvenile delinquent movie and if you enjoy the genre then it’s highly recommended.

1 comment:

bitter69uk said...

I watched the whole film on Youtube a few years ago! Enertainingly trashy juvenile delinquent B-movie, like you say. I love the bursts of rockabilly music you hear when they hang out in their cafe, and you're right about Daria Massey as the bad girl: she looks like Brigitte Bardot in a Bettie Page wig.