Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955)

“This is a shower room. It’s to clean you up on the outside even if it doesn’t get to the dirt on the inside.”

Yes, juvenile delinquents are back at it, and this time the film is set in the crime-ridden Antelope Valley. It’s traditional family values vs juvenile delinquency in Teen-Age Crime Wave, a definite addition to the Trash Cinema section, and of course, family values win the day in this corn-fest of a film.

A teenage siren named Terry Marsh (Molly McCart) hangs out in a bar until she catches the attention of a middle-aged chubby patron. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot as he steers the obviously underage girl out of the door, but it’s a set up. A few feet from the door, he’s mugged by Terry’s two male accomplices who are waiting in a car outside. The robbery goes wrong, and while Mike Denton (Tommy Cook) and Al (Jimmy Ogg) escape, Terry and another girl, Jane Koberly (Sue England) are arrested. While Terry has a previous record, Jane maintains her innocence, claiming that she knew nothing of the planned robbery and that she was simply out on a blind date.

In the slammer, tensions between Terry and Jane lead to a minor girl fight which is broken up by the warden. Then comes the court case and the sentencing. Nice, middle-class Mr and Mrs Koberly (Guy Kingsford and Helen Brown) are the kind of people who worry about what the neighbours think, and they reel from the shock that they’ve raised a juvenile delinquent. There are a few introspective ‘where did we go wrong’ moments, but Jane is sent to a juvenile facility along with the very-hardened Terry.

On the way to the lock-up (the girls are transported in a police car with a female matron for company), Mike conducts a bold crime by running the police car off the road. He shoots the policeman and grabs the two girls. Jane’s pleas to be allowed to stay with the matron fall on deaf ears, and so the trio of teens-gone-bad are on the run….

Taking refuge in a remote house in the Antelope Valley, Mike and Terry seize an elderly couple hostage at gunpoint and get their cooperation by threatening to blow out the old lady’s brains. With Jane boo-hooing and asking to go home, it’s not too long before it’s Mike and Terry vs the elderly Mr and Mrs Grant and Jane.

To top off the situation, it’s the night before Thanksgiving, and the Grants’ son “college boy” and bona-fide war hero, Ben Grant (Frank Griffen) is heading home for the holidays. This adds another person to the hostage pot, but it also adds another dynamic to the drama. Terry fancies Ben and tries to pull a little femme fatale number, and then Mike, who’s becoming more and more psycho every minute, becomes violently jealous….

There are a few poignant undercurrents here: Mike and Terry eye Ben and Jane–a couple on the other side of the divide, and there are shreds of ‘if only’ here–especially on the part of Terry. A crack opens into Terry’s past and this reveals a few moments of regret. But she reverts to her old, hardened personality–a self she’s much more comfortable with and she decides she wants to seduce Ben, but as Jane points out that she doesn’t stand a chance with Ben as Terry is  “dirt.” Terry’s response:

“I’ll show you how dirt operates on a respectable guy.” 

But the only tactics Terry has up her sleeve are those rather well-worn and transparent tricks she played in the bar with the chump earlier, and Ben, of course, is repulsed by Terry. Her rejection adds to that large chip on her shoulder. Terry’s attempts to seduce Ben show her desire to reveal the ugly side of people that lurks inside the seemingly-respectable shell. Seducing Ben would ‘prove’ a number of things: that she’s desirable to the sort of man she can no longer have, and also it would prove her pet theory that everyone is rotten–a college boy who’s a war hero would prove both points.

A lot of the film’s fun comes from the performances of the two desperate delinquents. Mike crows when he sees the headlines, and he goes berserk at the round-the-clock monotone bible reading from Mr Grant. Mr. Grant must think that Mike will get religion by osmosis. Mike even tries to spice things up with a little sex fest and then accuses Mr Grant of being a peeper. Unfortunately the film is hemmed in by its time and by its predictably heavy moral message, but it is a diversion all the same.

From director Fred F Sears.

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