Friday, March 12, 2010

The Delinquents (1957)

The Delinquents

Written & Directed by Robert Altman

Scotty White...Tom Laughlin
Janice Wilson...Rosemary Howard
Bill 'Cholly' Charters...Peter Miller
Eddy...Richard Bakalyan

"The story you are about to see is about violence and immorality--teenage violence and immorality!  Children trapped in the half-world between adolescence and maturity, they struggle to understand their need to be understood.  Perhaps in its rapid progression into the material world, man has forgotten the spiritual values which are the moral fiber of a great nation: decency, respect, fair play.  Perhaps he has forgotten to teach these values to his own; he has forgotten to teach his children their responsibility before God and society.  The answer may lie in the story of The Delinquents, in their violent attempt to find a place in society.  This film is a cry to a busy world, a protest, a reminder to those who must set the example."

Scotty White is a good kid, but his girlfriend Janice's parents think they're too young to be so seriously involved. When he goes to pick her up for a date one night, he's told by her father that they are forbidden to see each other. He's brokenhearted and destitute, but he's already got the car for the night, so he heads on to the drive-in alone.

He parks next to a car full of the titular Juvenile Delinquents, fresh from having busted up a jazz and gin joint that refused to sell their underage asses any alcohol. When Scotty finds himself in the middle of a fight, he's grateful that the kids in the next car over come to his rescue--never realizing that they instigated the fight in the first place.

Scotty and Cholly, the unofficial leader of the pack, quickly bond (in fact it seems almost as if Cholly has a little crush on our boy Scotty), and Scotty tells him about his romantic woes. Together, they devise a solution: Cholly will pick Janice up for a fake date the next night, use his gift of gab to woo the parents, and then deposit her into Scotty's loving arms. Little do Scotty and Janice know what kind of ragtag loose cannons they have gotten themselves involved in.

A party the J.D.'s throw in an empty house is raided by the police, and everyone but Scotty and Janice are busted--leading the miscreants to believe that their new associates tipped off the fuzz. And they're none too happy about it.

Vengeance, sayeth the hooligan, shall be mine.

There are at least seven J.D.'s in this film, but really only two J.D. characters: Cholly, the handsome and charismatic leader, who is cool, calm and collected no matter what comes his way; and Eddy, the crazed, violent knife-wielding weasel. All the rest are essentially stock characters and set dressing, just there to look cool and pretty and dangerous--which is a shame. A cast of better-realized quirky kids could have brought this movie to life.

I love the old Juvenile Delinquent films because of their peripheral connection to the Beat Generation. Adults of the time were so frightened of this youthful culture that they envisioned them all as a bunch of bloodthirsty criminals--which was patently untrue. Well, maybe not patently, but for the most part they were just a bunch of kooky kids. These fears manifested themselves in J.D. and Beatsploitation films, the line between the two often so blurred as to be nonexistent.

No, this wasn't the best film in this peculiar subgenre. It was pretty by-the-numbers, with nothing that you couldn't see coming and only a few brief moments of violence. For my tastes, the kids weren't quite 'wild' enough. And you know what really disappointed me? They spoke like real people, rather than spouting off dated slang in stream-of-consciousness raps that would make Ghostface scratch his head. Every film of this type should have at least one spacecase that hasn't a single moment of clarity throughout the entire running time.

Shame on you, Mr. Altman. Shame!

Altman would go on to bigger and better Hollywood productions, of course, and Tom Laughlin (Scotty) would find fame for his portrayal of Billy Jack.

Not Rated
72 minutes
Black and White
United States

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