Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Girl in Lovers’ Lane (1959)

The Girl in Lovers’ Lane has a bit of a problem. The poster and the title both suggest a sleazy exploitation juvenile delinquent movie but really it tries to take itself quite seriously as a Social Problem movie.

The problem is that it didn’t have the budget or the production values to get itself taken seriously by the sorts of people who loved Social Problem movies back in 1959. It was always going to end up on the drive-in circuit where audiences were going to expect to see a sleazy exploitation juvenile delinquent movie.

Danny Winslow (Lowell Brown) is a pleasant if slightly naïve teenager who gets all broken up when his parents decide to divorce. So he run away from home. He tries hopping a freight train but his innocence gets him into trouble straight away. He gets beaten up. And then he wakes up in the freight train to find that a young drifter has stolen his wallet.

The drifter is Bix Dugan (Brett Halsey), but he’s actually not a bad sort. He gives the wallet back. And the money. If the kid had been just a common thief and the money had been stolen money (as he’d assumed) he’d have kept the wallet. But he’s not the type to steal from poor dumb innocent kids like Danny. Pretty soon he finds that Danny intends to follow him around like a lost puppy. Bix is tough and streetwise but he’s tolerant and hanging around with a lost puppy who has a big bankroll doesn’t seem like it would be too much of an ordeal. He won’t steal from Danny but if Danny wants to pay for them both to get some decent food and pay for a room so that Bix doesn’t have to sleep in freight cars for a while he’s not going to complain.

They end up in a small town called Sherman. There’s not much in Sherman but there’s a diner with a pretty waitress. Her name is Carrie (Joyce Meadows) and within about thirty seconds she’s developed a huge crush on Bix. Bix is a good-looking guy and Carrie is the sort of girl who’s always been afraid of boys but she thinks Bix is actually sensitive underneath his cynical exterior. Which he is.

It’s not all pleasantries though. The local juvenile delinquents decide Danny is an easy mark. And now Danny gets his first lesson in Being a Man. Bix explains that sometimes you have to fight rather than run away, so Bix and Danny do fight back and they manage to persuade the juvenile delinquents that they should look for easier marks elsewhere. In today’s era of Political Correctness it’s an unfashionable message but it has to be admitted that Bix has a point.

There are bigger problems to face. There’s the creepy town sleaze Jesse (Jack Elam) who is stalking Carrie. Bix figures that Jesse, while undeniably creepy, is no real threat. That turns out to be a Big Mistake that will have very fateful consequences indeed when the movie suddenly turns very dark indeed.

The most fatal and the most common error made by low-budget film-makers is slow pacing. The Girl in Lovers’ Lane certainly suffers from that fault.

It’s the sort of movie that modern audiences are going to mock (and the MST3K crowd apparently mocked it unmercifully). Director Charles R. Rondeau doesn’t have the skill or the budget to make this movie live up to its own ambitions and while it does have some exploitation elements it doesn’t have enough to make it as an exploitation flick.

The acting is actually rather good. Jack Elam is convincingly sinister and Brett Halsey is very good. Lowell Brown and Joyce Meadows are adequate. This probably counts against the movie as far as cult fans are concerned. We actually care what happens to the characters and Bix in particular is a character with a certain amount of depth. That tends to make it more difficult to enjoy the movie as just a goofy juvenile delinquent flick.

In this modern age most attention is going to be focused on the homoerotic subtext. That says more about this modern age than it does about the movie. A failure to comprehend a different era and an obsession with homoerotic subtexts mean that any older movie that deals with male friendship is going to be interpreted in this way. In fact there is no homoerotic subtext.

The Girl in Lovers’ Lane is a very unlucky movie that fails by virtue of the fact that it’s not good enough to be taken as seriously as it takes itself and it’s not bad enough to be a camp classic.

1 comment:

Girl on Gore said...

Aw! I hate when Im expecting sleaze and I get slow instead. Thanks for sharing.