Monday, January 4, 2010

Boys Beware (Sid Davis Productions, 1961)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Afterwards we watched another movie I’d burned to the same disc after downloading it from Boys Beware, one of a series of “instructional” films by Sid Davis Productions, made in 1961 and dealing with sleazy Gay pedophiles who hang out at schoolyards and public parks seeking to pick up teenage boys — it seems especially teenage boys with an interest in sports (which made it interesting viewing after reading Rounding Third, a recent Queer book about a budding Gay romance between two boys on a high-school baseball team), since one of the victims, Jimmy Barnes, is a high-school baseball player and another makes contact with his future molester while shooting hoops at a local playground featuring a basketball standard. The interest in these films today is not only in their reflection of community norms current at the time they were made — the narrator, Lt. Williams of the Inglewood Police Department (which endorsed and participated in the film), comes flat out and says that all homosexuals are “mentally ill” — but also in their function as a kind of moral index to people watching them now.

When I looked it up on the commentary that came up was by a New Zealander who signed under the screen name “mars_investigations” and posted a paper he (or she?) wrote on the film for a sexuality class, using heavy-duty phrases like “heteronormativity.” Through all the thickets of post-modern prose, this author did make a valid point in that the film totally equated homosexuality with pedophilia (as have a number of supposedly Queer-accepting cultures through history — including the ancient Greeks, who seem to have regarded male-on-male sex as acceptable only in the context of an older man mentoring a younger one) and therefore would have left any genuinely Gay boys in the audience squirming with horror over what the film was saying about them. At the same time, there was a comment on the film on the site that showed how much the attitudes expressed in it are still current: “I find is VERY amusing and ironic that this film has caused a lot of Queer men to come out of the woodwork and comment on it. The fact that Queer men would come onto this page and make fun of and mock Child Molestation and Rape speaks volumes about what kind of people are after your kids. Why would a 50-year-old movie about molesting kids attract so many Gays? Think about it.”

The idea behind the film — that Gays are mentally diseased sexual predators and that people turn Gay because older Gays molest them and thereby introduce them to the cult — was re-presented seriously by Anita Bryant in her “Save the Children” campaigns of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when she so famously said, “Homosexuals cannot reproduce. Therefore, they must recruit.” What one commentator on Bryant back then called “the vampire theory of homosexuality” is very much alive and well in the so-called “ex-Gay ministries” — though in some respects this film is an anomaly because the conventional psychological wisdom of 1961 was that Gay men were young people who were too close to their mothers, didn’t properly bond with their fathers and rejected “butch” pursuits like sports in favor of … well, drag, dressing up, reading a lot, listening to Broadway show tunes or opera, or whatever the lame stereotypes were — yet the predatory Gay men in this film (one of whom is played by the seediest-looking actor Sid Davis could dredge up and the other, the guy who hangs out at the park restroom, was played by Sid Davis himself) target the boys playing sports, which was supposed to be the sort of suitably butch, manly pursuit that insulated you from recruitment and initiation into the Gay vampire cult.

The film also begs the question, where were the parents? Jimmy Barnes, the closest this movie has to a hero, gets picked up while hitchhiking by sleazeball Ralph and develops a friendship with him that ultimately includes just-the-two-of-them weekend fishing trips and there’s no mention of Mr. and Mrs. Barnes’ reaction to all this (I can’t help thinking that a real pedophile would have gone out of his way to ingratiate himself with Jimmy’s parents and win their trust so they’d see him as a responsible adult with whom they could safely entrust their son) until Ralph finally lures Jimmy to a motel room, does heaven knows what with him (certainly Sid Davis wasn’t about to give anybody any ideas about how two men could have sex!), and then Mr. and Mrs. Barnes finally materialize: they’re shown accompanying Jimmy out of juvenile hall, where he’s been given probation in exchange for turning in Ralph (reinforcing, as a lot of more recent real-life cases have done, what a lousy instrument the criminal justice system is for dealing with problems like this — it’s long been my theory that in its understandable zeal to punish people who abuse children sexually, the criminal justice system wreaks more trauma on the poor kids who were victimized and the better choice might sometimes be not to punish the perpetrator if that conflicts with letting the child heal), leaving us to wonder just how and why they took so little interest in their child’s welfare that they let them get that close to a predatory pedophile and didn’t even warn him: “Say, just what interest does this guy have in you, anyway?”

The New Zealander who wrote the comment on did make the point that it would be possible to make a film warning teenagers about the danger of being seduced or raped by pedophiles (Gay or straight) without embracing the homophobic assumptions of this one — though even today the Gay = pedophile equation is made by all sorts of people, including the current Pope, whose response to the scandals about sexually abusive priests was to order the seminaries closed to Gays. Boys Beware may seem insufferably quaint, but the moral attitudes behind it are all too alive and well! Interestingly, apropos of nothing, it may just be coincidence but I couldn’t help but notice that the good guys (including Lt. Williams) all drive Chevrolets and the bad guys all drive Fords.