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Problem Girls (1953)

“One step before the state asylum.”

Problem Girls (1953) from director Ewald Andre Dupont is a B film. Make no mistake about that. Why bother watching it you ask? Easy: its HCF (High Camp Factor) joined with its theme of Delinquent Dames. How could I resist?

Problem Girls begins with a voiceover narration from John Page (Ross Elliot), and in this sequence, he explains that the jungles of Burma and a Japanese concentration camp are NOTHING compared to the dangers he faced at The Manning School for Girls.

Yes, it’s post WWII and Page is all set to be a certified psychiatrist. All he has to do is sit for the board exams, but in the meantime, he needs a job and so he takes a place at the exclusive Manning School for Girls. Here he can’t practice medicine, but he’s supposed to act as a therapist. Well he’s landed at the right spot because everyone at the school is either DERANGED, DISTURBED or DELINQUENT.

Although Dr. Manning (Roy Reigner) is the nominal head of the school, he’s too drunk to function. Page is employed by the shapely closet dominatrix-type Miss Dixon (Helen Walker), a woman who has the hots for the biceps belonging to instructor Max Thorpe (James Seay). Thorpe is married to a young girl who’s kept drugged and locked up in a room upstairs. What the hell is going on?

What I enjoyed so much about the film (and this added substantially to its camp factor), is that all these crazy things are going on and everyone acts as though it’s normal. The faculty is laced with psychos, murderers, and various antisocial types, but Page (who never cracks a smile or looks in the least uncomfortable ) sits through dinner as though everything is perfectly normal. He doesn’t question why these people are employed to collectively teach the delinquent debutante pupils, and neither does he stop to speculate where he fits into Dixon’s little schemes. Soon Page is up to his neck in intrigue and in cahoots with murderous professor Richards (Anthony Joachim), Page is sneaking around the school shooting up students with sodium pentothal.

As for the pupils, well they consist of spoiled rich girls who’ve “embarrassed” their families in one way or another. The girls are a motley assortment of psychos, nymphos, pyromaniacs You get the picture.

The film’s plot is fairly sedate given the raw material, and the girls are never fully unleashed. Put this film in the hands of John Waters and no doubt we’d see some results. As it is, Problem Girls could have been a lot more interesting, wilder film. There’s a couple of girl fights, a tepid riot but the best scene occurs when the girls are forced to listen to a piano concert. The film more or less plays it straight and ends very abruptly. I suspect that the film isn’t wild enough to be picked up by Something Weird video, but Problem Girls was good for a few cheap laughs and in spite of its many flaws, nonetheless I enjoyed it for its campiness.

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Written on the Wind (1956)

 “I’m filthy. Period.”

writtenTawdry, tacky, and packed with high soap melodrama, Written on the Wind is one of director Douglas Sirk’s greatest films. The story concerns the stinking rich and utterly rotten Texas Hadley oil family, and the rot is manifested in the two Hadley offspring, alcoholic playboy, Kyle (Robert Stack) and his insatiable, nubile blonde sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone). Their father Jasper (Robert Keith) is a decent hardworking–but frazzled man who can’t quite grasp how bad his children really are, and he still manages to nurse the hope that one day, they’ll reform.

Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is Kyle’s boyhood friend. He works for Hadley Oil, and his relationship with the Hadleys is troubled. From childhood, Mitch has extricated Kyle from scrapes, and this is a habit that continues in adulthood. Similarly, Mitch often has to babysit Marylee–she has a habit of picking up the local males and running off to seedy motels for the afternoon. Mitch’s task is complicated by the fact that Marylee insists she’s in love with Mitch–a feeling that is not reciprocated.

Complications for Mitch and the Hadleys occur when Kyle romances and marries Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall)–an elegant secretary employed by Hadley Oil. In spite of the fact that Mitch saw her first, Kyle–always the dominant male in their relationship since childhood–sweeps Lucy off her feet with a lavish, ostentatious courtship. Lucy marries Kyle, and Mitch meekly steps aside–even though he knows that Lucy’s marriage to Kyle isn’t going to be easy.

Written on the Wind is described as a film in “lurid” Technicolour, and while that’s an unusual way to describe it, the term fits and also matches the film’s content. There’s nothing subtle or implied here, and the bold plot cashes in on the twists and turns of completely overdone drama at every turn of events. Over time, Written on the Wind has developed a delicious camp factor, and some of the best scenes occur when Marylee throws herself at Mitch (literally), and he coyly and prudishly denies her the thing she wants the most. At one point, he even asks if she really thinks he would be ‘enough’ for her insatiable appetites. Dorothy Malone steals the film while burning fast and brightly as Marylee–the girl who just can’t help herself when she’s around men. Written on the Wind is splendid fun, and those who love “lurid” drama from the 50s should enjoy this film immensely. The Criterion DVD looks gorgeous–extras include: Douglas Sirk Trailers, and the Melodrama Archives.

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