Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Cool and the Crazy (1958)

The Cool and the Crazy is a 1958 juvenile delinquent classic which provides everything than fans of this genre expect and love. But despite all this it remains just a trifle disappointing.

Bennie (Scott Marlowe) is the new kid at school. At first he’s an outsider but his craziness soon makes him not only popular, but the leader of the gang. Bennie’s defiance of authority is calculated to make him a hero, and this pose really is calculated. Bennie is not what he seems to be. He’s a drug dealer and he’s been infiltrated into the local high school to get the kids hooked on drugs.

The proves to be extremely easy. The other kids want to do everything that Bennie does. If  Bennie smokes dope they want to smoke dope. And if Bennie takes harder drugs they’ll want to follow him in that as well.

The previous gang leader, Stu (Dick Jones), is soon pushed aside and he’s the first to get hooked. He’s vulnerable because he’s lost his leadership position.

The one kid who doesn’t quite go along with Bennie is Jackie (Richard Bakalyan). He’s fallen for a girl and he’s more interested in her than in drugs. But Jackie will run into other problems. When his friend Cookie gets into real trouble and needs money for drugs Jackie is tempted into stealing to help him out. Ironically he doesn’t realise it’s already too late for Cookie.

Bennie has his own problems. He’s rather too fond of sampling the merchandise he peddles, and his drug supplier Eddie (Marvyn J. Rosen) doesn’t like that. Eddie knows that a doper is not a reliable employee and he soon casts Bennie adrift. What is Bennie to do now? He needs the drugs, he needs the money, and he’s come to enjoy the adulation of the other kids and now that’s threatened. Bennie becomes increasingly desperate and out of control.

Of course this is an easy movie to mock with its somewhat dated attitudes towards drugs, although when you consider what the drug culture was about to do to America then maybe it’s not so funny after all. Pretty soon there would be a lot of Cookies and Bennies.

Scott Marlowe is superb as Bennie. It’s not difficult to believe that he would easily convince kids that he was super-cool and he has plenty of charisma. This role was a gift from the gods for a young actor and Marlowe makes the most of it, overacting outrageously but very effectively. It’s unfortunate that his subsequent career wasn’t more distinguished.

Richard Bakalyan is good as Jackie although I personally found him to be a bit disturbing, which is a slight problem since he’s the only really sympathetic character in the movie. Gigi Perreau as Amy, Jackie’s girlfriend, gets very little to do. She’s a touch on the insipid side but that possibly makes her a fairly realistic teenager. Marvyn J. Rosen makes a great heavy. Sadly this was his only movie.

Director William Witney made several notable juvenile delinquent movies and other assorted B features before concentrating mostly on television work. There’s nothing startling about the job he does here but he’s efficient and he keeps things moving along.

There are some classic juvenile delinquent movie moments in The Cool and the Crazy, especially the scenes involving Bennie’s desire to drive his car between two motorcycle cops. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out why this is such a classic moment.

The British DVD release from Direct Video is barebones but of good quality.

This movie is mostly going to be enjoyed for its camp value, but that’s why juvenile delinquent movies are so much fun. The Cool and the Crazy is not quite in the front rank of JD movies - it doesn’t have the awe-inspiring weirdness of a movie like the Ed Wood-scripted The Violent Years . But it’s still a must-see for fans of the genre, if only for Scott Marlowe’s performance.

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