Friday, 26 June 2015

TEEN-AGE CRIME WAVE












d. Fred F. Sears (1955)


According to the prologue of this film, teenage delinquency is ‘a plague’. I don’t disagree with that but I always think of delinquency as being no worse than some petty crime and vandalism, maybe some minor violence, somewhere between high spirits and childish frustration at the adult world. I'm clearly very naïve as here the teens start off with armed robbery before very quickly moving on to several murders, including the shooting of a police man.

The protagonists are Mike Denton and Terry Marsh, a teenage Bonnie and Clyde with a penchant for guns and heavy petting in public. Mike is about five foot four, has a scar on his face and a chip on his shoulder. He’s the sort of person for whom it’s not enough to have a gun, he has to keep pushing it in people’s faces. You can’t want for the tough guy act to slip and for him to start snivelling and bawling.
His girlfriend Terry wears a satin blouse and talks out of the side of her mouth in a clipped hardboiled tone, like Mae West and Jimmy Cagney's lovechild. She has no intention of being taken alive, which is just as well, as she won't be. A victim of sorts, she’s had a tough upbringing (think Cinderella but without any of the magic stuff, especially not a handsome prince) and cries and moans in her sleep.
Most of the film is taken up with a siege at a mid-west farmhouse. It all gets pretty intense, so it’s a relief when the duo and their hostages break out and take to the road. The climax takes place at the Griffith Observatory, more famously used at the end of Rebel Without A Cause*. There’s a real humdinger of a fist fight in one of the rotating telescope domes, and Terry gets her wish, evading capture by being shot in the back and killed. The beaten and bloodied Mike, under arrest, breaks down and cries like a big old baby, or rather like the little kid he actually is - and well he might, as his next stop will be the gas chamber.
* The James Dean film came out barely a month before Teenage Crime Wave, so it may have even been a coincidence. But I doubt it.

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