Thursday, September 3, 2009

Delinquent Daughters (American Productions/PRC, 1944)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran one of the movies we’d recently downloaded from Delinquent Daughters, a 1944 non-epic from PRC (actually from an outfit called “American Productions, Inc.,” headed by Al Herman — who also directed — and Donald C. McKean, released through PRC, which on this occasion was living up to the name its initials stood for: “Producers’ Releasing Corporation”) about five high-school girls (all of whom looked at least a decade too old for their parts — when they wondered audibly on screen what their parents would be thinking of them, I couldn’t help but think they all looked like they could be parents themselves!) who are drifting into trouble thanks to overly strict parents (at least twice in the film fathers threaten to beat up their daughters, and it’s not until the end of the movie that anybody in the film hints that that might not be the best idea in the world to try to keep your daughters on the straight and narrow) and no-goodnik boyfriends, as well as the malign influences of the operators of a youth hang-out called the “Merry-Go-Round,” which sells soft drinks and has a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy about any of the kids bringing in flasks.

The place is owned by gangster Nick Gordon (Jon Dawson) and his girlfriend Mimi (Fifi D’Orsay, whose presence puts everyone else in this movie one degree of separation from Bing Crosby, James Cagney and Stephen Sondheim!). Nick is attempting to recruit the boyfriends of Our Anti-Heroines into serious crimes — at which they’re totally inept; they rob one store and steal $2, their next robbery nets $6, and their third one (at a gas station) makes $13 and one begins to wonder if there are any store owners in this community that actually have any money. Mimi plays a similar role to Thelma White’s character in Reefer Madness (though D’Orsay, a marvelous musical performer, isn’t as good an actress as White and doesn’t hit the notes of real pathos that White did in an otherwise sorry movie like Reefer Madness), the conscience-stricken consort of the bad guy. The film is actually stolen by Teala Loring as Sally Higgins, the hardest “case” among the delinquent daughters, playing her part as an accomplished bad-ass and showing her readiness for femme fatale roles in noir movies — which, alas, she didn’t get.

The rest of the actors range from mediocre to positively annoying (the most annoying being Mary Bovard as Betty Smith — a blonde with a breathless way of speaking; she sounds like the discarded first prototype for the product line later perfected and called “Marilyn Monroe”); the “original” script (quotes definitely in order!) by Arthur St. Claire is one of those pitiable products that seems designed to keep people away from the dark side of life by making it seem way too boring to bother with; and the ending is ridiculous — all the bad-ass girls and all but one of the bad-ass boys (who seems to disappear from the story altogether) are reformed absurdly easily by being brought together by an ancient judge (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) who looks like Max Schreck prowling the German streets in Nosferatu — eventually he and the police take over the Merry-Go-Round and turn it into a legitimate youth hangout (though it doesn’t look or seem any different except they’re playing the swing music at a louder volume), though given McGlynn’s cadaverous appearance one wonders if PRC was setting up a sequel in which he’d turn out to be a vampire preying on the formerly delinquent daughters and raising them to new heights of blood-lust in both the literal and figurative senses.

Aside from one chilling scene in which Sally appears to be offering herself sexually to a much older man — only to pull out a gun and thereby victimize him in a Production Code-approved manner — Delinquent Daughters is a decent but formulaic movie, and it didn’t help that our download was flawed; just about every scene taking place at night outdoors (which was a lot of the movie!) turned into a gloppy, black-on-black mess and only the soundtrack clued us in to what was supposed to be going on — not that this film is interesting enough that I’m going to spend time tracking down a better source for it!