Though it may be hard to fathom by today's entertainment standards, there is still something wildly engaging about a juvenile delinquency film. Maybe it's the fact that the moviemakers of the past were demonizing the very demographic they hoped would flock to the passion pits where their product usually played. It could be the heaping helping of overdone middle class melodrama inherent in the often overblown storytelling. The musical scoring is almost always an attention-grabber, a typically brash combination of fire and finesse meant to mark the era as dangerous and dark. And, of course, there is the casting, a strange combination of stunt and stunted. Thirty year olds put on peg pants, do up the D.A. and, thanks to that salient cinematic skill involving the complete suspension of one's dense disbelief, we are supposed to accept these creepy codgers as the voice of a young generation gone goofy.
Yet it might just be the subject matter that makes these films a jaundiced joy to behold. Usually draped in one of the several deadly sins of adolescence – drugs, alcohol, sex, V.D., joy riding, violence or gang membership – these movies make their points with celluloid sledgehammers, focusing on the stereotype while avoiding any measured, balanced conceit. A dope head is bad news no matter what their intent or purposes are. A loose gal is a walking case of clap just looking for a penis – or penises - to pollute. Get a group of guys together, dress them in similar stock leather jackets, add a couple of cases of Brylcreem and you've got a viable band of bad-ass marauders in your midst. Such sketchbook attempts at addressing real world issues always come off as campy instead of considered – and no place is this more clearly illustrated than in the teen drug drama. Take the wild eyed freaks of movies like Reefer Madness, pair them with the Jack Webb style justice common to most 50s film, and you've got a pretty good idea of what these movies are like.
A perfect pair to prove the point is Something Weird Video's April release of Hooked/The Flaming Teen-Age. This cracked combo represents a delightfully deranged double feature of high schoolers hopped up on goofballs, and the absentee parents who wonder aloud why their poorly raised offspring would turn out so rancid. In Hooked, a local pusher named Jimmy is a suspect in the murder of an undercover cop. He is also accused of giving a hot shot to a dithering druggie named Ray Bowman. But since the law has nothing on him, they have to invent some evidence. So they place a couple of 21 Jump Street style officers in the midst of the local high school heroin scene and, before you know it, they're knee deep in dope fiends. As part of the second film, The Flaming Teen-Age, we are introduced to two other stupid substance abusers. After a night getting plastered with his pals, Tim Kruger learns a lesson in life he'll never forget from his psychologically scarring father. In the meantime, a complete jerk named Fred Garland gives up his candy store for sweet lady liquor. When booze stops delivering the depressive thrills, he jumps several levels of lameness and straight into a long ride with the horrid white horse. Naturally, it takes someone magical – like Jesus – to save him.
With an average cast age of 34, and a strange narrative style that's one part Dragnet, two parts Bill Haley and the Comets, Hooked does for drugs what a movie like Damaged Goods does for socially unacceptable STDs. At the center of the story is one Ray Bowman, a former scholastic spaz whose now become a full blown joy popper. When he takes a poison-loaded shot in the sirloin, the cops suddenly care about the moral corruption in their tiny, tainted burg. They recruit one of their desk jockey gal Fridays and place her in the field as a carhop. Then they employ another undercover brother as a no-goodnik new kid in class, hoping that someone discovers who offed the lame brained Ray. All leads seem to point to Jimmy, a supposedly 21 year old big wig who carries a snazzy car full of H wherever he goes. But in order to get to the suave snake, they have to get cozy with his on again, off again moll with the incriminating name of Julie Barnes. And if that's not reason enough to rid the town of this horrible heroin scourge, another unknowing knob named Dick is directly in sight of the drug's opiate onus. If they don't act fast, and bring Jimmy down, they'll end up with the entire class of 1958 Hooked on this pusher's own brand of vein activated reality escape.
Beginning with a shooting that results in a rather reluctant corpse (our actor opens the door, looks bewildered, positions his hand to drop the important "props", and then finally falls over like he just saw a nude Jayne Mansfield walk by) and ending with a direct lift of Jack Webb's personal prose, Hooked has the distinction of being procedurally correct while straying all over the psychological map. When the mother of the soon to be ex-Ray Bowman is questioned over his apparent problem with narcotics, mom dismisses it as a "phase" he's going through. Whenever anyone mentions the name "Julie Barnes" they say it as if speaking such a collection of consonants and vowels out loud will call up the very bowels of Hell. And then there is Jimmy, a well-polished pusher with the fatal flaw of fickleness. When Ray wants a fix, Jim originally says 'no'. But when he realizes he can rid himself of the demanding mainliner, he forgets his line about a lack of credit and hands over the smack, toot sweet. In a similar situation, a stool pigeon attempts to set Jimmy up with the cops. At first, our tailored Tony Montana refuses. But after the desperate dope head states he'll vouch for the bogus buyer, Jimmy grabs his stash and starts wheeling – and more importantly – dealing.
Loaded with causation coincidences and illogical human hunches, Hooked is an interesting elegy to actor Paul Kelly. A famous silent child star, Kelly grew up to be a Hollywood constant for nearly 40 years. Only 57 when the movie was made, the actor died of a massive heart attack before its release. When you realize this important piece of information, you soon understand why an obviously ailing Kelly was filmed almost exclusively in the sedentary position. Whether it's interrogating a prisoner or plotting a stakeout, Kelly's Lt. Lacey does very little to get the old ticker tocking. It's especially noticeable during the finale's foot chase. As a much younger, but far doughier detective gives chase to a necessary witness, a skinny stunt man, badly disguised as Kelly, jumps and leaps over fences and stairwells in equally hot pursuit. Since we've only ever seen the lieutenant maintaining a supine state, suddenly seeing him act like Jesse Owens is a real shock to the system. Yet it's also part of the guilty pleasure paradigm this JD joint provides. With a storyline swamped in overdramatic dross, and a cast capable of nothing but over the top tricks, Hooked is the happiest form of hokum histrionics.
The Flaming Teen-Age, on the other hand, is like a lesson in living from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Broken up into two diametrically opposed displays of dealing with addiction, we first meet liquor lightweight Tim Kruger. Barely able to hold his beer and cordials, Tim's parents think he's a highball away from a habit. So Dad gets one of his Beefeater brainstorms, and decides to drag Tim to every dive bar in town, the better to see how alcohol actually affects the social dynamic. A drunken house wife picking up a lubed-up longshoreman is all the tottling teen needs. He swears off the sauce – at least until college. A few admonishments from our omnipresent narrator and it's off to the tale of Fred Garland and his one man rum and coke wrecking machine. Unhappy with just about everything in his rotten stinking life, including overprotective parents, the pure virginal love of a gal named Mary, and his own storefront sweet shop, Fred trades it all for an endless date with that bawdy old babe booze. Before you know it, our alcoholic anti-hero is jumping from town to town and skipping out on any and all responsibilities placed upon him. After a tincture of Iodine suicide attempt, Fred falls even deeper down into the rabbit hole, right smack into heroin. But he doesn't just feed his head (like the dormouse said). Dope makes him do foolish, felonious things, and he gets pinched pilfering ties from a department store – the better to foster his last minute, jailhouse conversion.
Like a version of Paul Harvey's famous "The Rest of the Story" as told by a bunch of know-it-all God lovers, The Flaming Teen-Age represents a very odd entry in the SWV canon. Directed by Charles Edwards (who?) and the sci-fi filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth (of The Blob, 4D Man and the equally eccentric Way Out drug drama fame), we get something like the cinematic equivalent of a motivational speech. Supposedly based on a true story, we see the ruins and redemption of one man, with rye the ruiner and religion the redeemer. In the lead role of Fred Garland, Noel Reyburn looks like a pre-pickled Ron "Tater Salad" White, with a face that seems ready for a collection of addiction-related accessories. Sure enough, it's not long before Garland is sporting bags, dark circles, and perhaps the most revealing of all, gobs of black eye shadow. Yet it's really hard to understand why Fred falls into the easy escape of alcohol and drugs. He's perhaps the only person outside of a major Hollywood studio who consistently fails upwards. He drops out of high school, but manages to buy a candy store business. He sells the shop, and ends up in a Broadway road show. He's canned from the act, and ends up going into a talent agency partnership with a pal. It's only after he pops that first fix of Chinese rock that he appears to loose his helpful happenstance.
Even better is the surreal opening sequence, where a young man is taught the horrors of hooch by barhopping with his well-informed old man. Before the opening credits, we see the totally tanked Tim stumbling down the street like Foster Brooks during a walkathon. As he eventually stumbles and hits the pavement, we wonder – is he dead? Drunk? Both? Eventually we discover that he's a potable pantywaist, and it's up to his concerned parents to provide that guardian guidance they are biologically mandated to offer. The decision to scare him straight is novel, and needed, especially when we see what a lousy wino Tim really is. During a flashback, he and his pals sop up the sauce and, in a matter of moments, everyone is pawing at each other like chimps looking for nits to pick. Since it really has nothing to do with Garland's trip from juju beans to Jesus, it's easy to tell who helmed each element. Yeaworth loved God and wanted to make an inspirational narrative of a real life preacher saved from sin by faith. Edwards was caught up in the whole kids gone feral facets of the JD drama. Together they make a combination of evangelism and educational film. We are supposed to learn by example like Tim. And if that fails, we always have God – the go to guy when personal responsibility and common sense just won't work. Like the sacrosanct salve that He is, The Flaming Teen-Age wants everyone to believe in a higher power. For Fred, it's the Son of Man. For Tim, it's seeing some sauced up spouse get beat by her husband. Talk about your power to convert (and pervert).
On the technical side of things, Something Weird finds some almost acceptable prints of these relatively unknown rarities. Presented in mighty monochrome and featuring a 1.33:1 full screen image, The Flaming Teen-Age has lots of damage and other visual defects. All dirt and scratches aside, the film is very washed out, and the contrasts are off by a mile. This means we see scenes where darkness overwhelms everything, and then there are other sequences where light makes its fading facets good and known. Hooked looks better, nearly pristine in its black and white wonder of a transfer. From a purely sonic point of view, the Dolby Digital Mono is acceptable, especially when that ersatz rock and roll comes honking out of the pictured portable record players.
Since, by its very nature, the JD flick is a far more subtle classroom scare short, SWV offers us three choice examples of these pre-teen homeroom mindbenders. In Drug Addiction, we learn how smoking reefer can lead to drinking from broken bottles, and a direct trip into mainlining heroin. Next, we discover that Alcohol is Dynamite, and not in the way hep cat hipsters like Jimmy "JJ" Walker would imagine. As much a criticism of playing in dance bands as a slam at underage drinking, our trio of high schoolers discover the joys of juice, and the vehicular homicide that can result when rot gut and revved engines finally mix. Our last entry arrives full of potent potable propaganda from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and makes it clear that, when getting good and liquored up, the repercussions as well as The Choice is Yours. Two neighbor kids go over to visit the lonely, unmarried adult male teacher from the high school. But instead of rampant molestation, they are forced to sit through a fact heavy multimedia production on the dangers of drink. One of the highlights? The kids explaining all the "funny acting" and "dirty" people they see while walking past skid row. It's a concept that raises more questions than answers – or awareness.
As the last flailing attempt to keep the post-War baby boom from completely undermining the conservative oasis of Eisenhower era America, the juvenile delinquency film failed in its mission. Certainly it brought attention to many explosive social problems, but the beatniks and bobbysoxers berated for their chemically-enhanced lifestyle choices just mutated their hip-ness into 'hippies', and suddenly, it was the 1960s. Indeed, the Summer of Love is probably better labeled the Summer of 'Ludes. Adults never learn the forbidden fruit aspects of such an anti-activity approach. Heck, their lust for porn should have taught them that lesson outright. Still, sitting through the potboiler pleasures of Hooked/ The Flaming Teen-Age proves that part of growing up is watching one's elders overreact to situations that eventually straighten themselves out via experience and mistakes. There is really no way to prevent curious kids from shooting up or taking the occasional peer pressured snort. As a preventive measure, the JD film was, and remains laughable. But as a boss bit of ancient entertainment, these mannered movies are a real gasser.