Sunday, 27 October 2013

Reform School Girl (1957)

The title of AIP’s Reform School Girl (1957) gives you a pretty good indication of  what to expect although fans of the juvenile delinquent film genre may find this one a bit on the tame side. In fact they may find it very much on the tame side.

Seventeen-year-old Donna Price (Gloria Castillo) lives with her aunt and uncle and it’s not a happy life. The uncle keeps making passes at her. Then a double date goes badly wrong for her. Her date, Vince (Edd Byrnes), beats up her uncle and the teenage foursome then head off in a car Vince has stolen. Vince is a big man, in his own mind at least. He thinks he’s a tough guy and tough guys don’t worry about speed limits. Predictably he runs across a local cop who does bother about speed limits, there is a chase and a man is killed. Vince’s tough guy act might not convince most people but it’s enough to intimidate a seventeen-year-old girl. Donna refuses to squeal on Vince (who took off before the police arrived) and as a result she is sent to reform school.

The Hastings School for Girls is full of what 1950s audiences would consider to be tough cookies. Donna does her best to put on a tough act herself but basically she’s just confused and suspicious.

Then along comes idealistic young teacher David Lindsay (Ross Ford). Idealistic young teachers are bad enough but Lindsay is also a psychologist. Being a psychologist it goes without saying that his understanding of human behaviour is basically zero. Lindsay is not merely hopelessly naïve, he is also a bleeding heart, in a big way. He is convinced that the girls need to be treated with kindness and respect. Not surprisingly the girls despise him immediately.

Working in the school’s vegetable garden Donna makes the acquaintance of a local boy, Jackie Dodd (Ralph Reed). This boy arranges a double date for Donna and one of the other girls, Ruth (Jan Englund). How do you arrange a date with girls confined in a reform school? That’s easy. Jackie knows a way to get over the fence.

Mr Lindsay spots Donna heading off to meet Jackie at ten o’clock that night and it gives him an idea. Maybe having dates would be good for the girls? Why not organise a dance for the girls and some of the local girls? The school’s headmistress Mrs Trimble is understandably sceptical but Mr Lindsay convinces her that it would work if it was properly supervised and if the boys were the right sorts of boys. And that should be no problem because naturally the respectable parents of nice boys will be absolutely thrilled by the idea of their sons socialising with reform school trash. The 50s was the beginning of the Age of the Bleeding Heart and Mr Lindsay gets his way.

Things seems to be looking up for Donna but Vince is about to throw a spanner in the works. He’s getting increasingly jumpy, fearing that the police may be about to nab him for the hit-and-run killing. He figures that since the only witness was Donna it might be a good idea to do something about shutting her up for good. His first plan is to make use of one of the girls in the reform school, a girl who was sweet on him for a while, to make Donna appear to be a stool pigeon. That way the other girls will take care of his problem for him.

That plan sets up the sorts of cat-fights that the audience for this type of film would have relished and it does liven up the action for a while at least. When Vince decides to adopt a more direct approach to his problem the stage is set for the exciting climax, which sadly proves to be conspicuously lacking in actual excitement.

Writer-director Edward Bernds had an extremely prolific career in B-movies. He does a competent job here but the story really needed a bit more spice. If you’re going to do a juvenile delinquent movie you might as well make it as sleazy and as outrageously trashy as you can and this one is a bit lacking in both sleaze and trash value.

Gloria Castillo does a decent job as Donna. Edd Byrnes manages to make Vince very creepy and to emphasise the basic cowardice under his tough guy exterior. Ross Ford can’t do anything with the character of Mr Lindsay - he’s just too dull, too earnest, too dedicated, too caring and just generally too irritatingly perfect.

The Region 1 DVD release is barebones but perfectly acceptable.

Reform School Girl is mildly entertaining but it certainly isn’t one of the better 50s juvenile delinquent movies. Worth a rental if you’re a JD movie completist.

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