The Violent Years (1956)
Women (well, girls, really) in 1950s b-movies seem to fall into two overly general categories. The first are your typical limp-wristed housewives and faithful non-threatening sidekicks, neither of which gives an actress much of a chance to develop a character further than screaming when a moon-monster approaches or chaining herself to an oven for her square-jawed bacon-bringer-homer. The other category is the "girl gone bad", an unsupervised chick out on the mean streets chewing twigs and spitting at cars and stuff. The wild girl is much more interesting than the boring housewife, both for the actress, who gets to punch policemen and wear men's pants, and for the viewer, who gets to imagine that all juvenile delinquent girls are hot and get into lesbian pillow fights when they're not knocking over liqueur stores and shanking stoolies. I might have made that last part up.
The Violent Years, infused with the hammer-to-head writing spirit of the legendary Ed Wood, is a pretty typical, if bland, example of the mid-'50s bad girl genre. This one is actually hard to describe, to call it "exploitation" is to suggest that you might see some skin or blood, to call it "shocking" hints that you'll see something you've not seen before on any given episode of Judge Judy, to call it "instructive" is to miss the whole point of the movie, which seems to be that if you shoot a cop you'll get pregnant (or something like that). Pam, did you ever go through the delinquent ruffian phase? Ever wake up in a Nogales jail cell with chunks of uppity cheerleader in your teeth?
Alas, no, Nate. Don't despise me for being boring, but I never ate a cheerleader in my life. What's more, I never knew anyone who was truly wild. When I was a teenager, "wildness" was more on the lines of underage drinking, sometimes a little pot, not robbery and murder. I would never, ever qualify to be the central character in an Ed Wood movie, and I hope you won't lose all respect for me now that you know.
My head is hanging in shame, but I'll try to forge on for the sake of MMT's readers. The movie opens with a blackboard, on which is written "Good citizenship -- Self-Restraint -- Politeness -- Loyalty." Up walks a girl, subtitled as "Paula," who ostentatiously sneers at them. She's followed by Phyllis, Geraldine, and Georgia, all of whom unsubtly display their contempt for these values. When was the last time you met a woman under 50 with any one of those names? Sorry, I'm wandering, I keep thinking of what it would be like to wake up in a Nogales jail with an unfamiliar taste in my mouth. Oh, the opportunities I wasted... Ahem. The girls are all supposed to be teenagers still in high school, but the actresses who play them appear to be all well into their twenties, although since none of them was important enough to rate a biography on IMDb, I can't tell for sure. However, Jean Moorhead, who plays Paula, is noted as having been the Playboy Playmate of the month for October 1955. She's pretty even with her tightly-curled immovable 1950s hairstyle, which, comparing its blondness with the darkness of her eyebrows, I deduce was bleached.
Paula (second from right) and her gang.
Jean Moorhead's Playboy centerfold spread was what you might call "pretty tame".
We wonder what's so important about these girls, but we're going to have to wait a little while to find out. The movie cuts to a courtroom in which a judge is addressing a well-dressed couple (the woman is wearing a mink coat, THE must-have garment in the 1950s). He's denouncing them as being unfit parents, and we see a flashback to confirm this. Mother is shown rushing off to some charitable activity, giving her daughter (Paula, of course) money instead of her attention. Paula has some plans of her own for this evening which don't involve any charities. As soon as her mother walks out the door, she picks up an antique device (Is it maybe a telephone receiver? Somebody help me here!) and tells a friend she'll be there soon.
The judge is mad.
Could it possibly be that she and her friends are going out for ice cream, to be followed by an evening of study? You know as well as I do that it's not. In the next scene, a car pulls up in front of a gas station, and three men jump out and rob the place, while the driver holds a gun on the attendant. I say "men," but a closer look shows they're the four girls we saw at the beginning of the movie, wearing men's clothes and with bandannas over their noses and mouths. One of them slugs the attendant with her pistol, and the next thing we see is a doctor telling some plainclothes police officers that the guy's in bad shape but will pull through. The police chit-chat among themselves, and we learn that this is not the first time the gang has committed robbery. They discuss plans to capture the gang, and since they don't say anything about the gang being made up of girls, they probably don't know that it is.
That's a felony.
To give us a little more background, we go to the office of the editor of a local newspaper. This editor turns out to be Paula's father, and in a discussion between him and one of his reporters, we learn two facts: he never spends any time with Paula, and the attendant is able to talk to the police about the robbery but somehow couldn't tell the robbers were girls. This seems impossible, unless it was a local fad for men to pluck their eyebrows and use eyebrow pencil and eye makeup. I mean, I was able to spot them as girls right away, and the attendant was closer to them than the camera was, but since this is probably a ploy to inject a little suspense into a very predictable movie, I'll suspend my disbelief for now.
"Let's go get some donuts, over there."
Um, did I say "predictable?" Although it seems he wasn't credited when this movie first came out, as Nate mentioned, the script was written by Ed Wood. Yes, that Ed Wood, he of the women's underwear and the aliens who feel the way to conquer Earth is to create a lot of zombies. Ed Wood's career shows that "predictable" wasn't something he could do, and although he must have been reined in to some extent by the filmmaker, his weirdness could not be completely suppressed. In this next scene it comes out with a vengeance. Because I feel that Nate can describe it with much more eloquence than I, and because it really needs a man's viewpoint, I'm going to ask Nate to take it from here.
Girl in her slip, as risque as you get here.
Well, yes, the spectral ghost-writing of Wood is in full view here as the four young ladies move from simple armed robbery to unlawful kidnapping and sexual assault. As in, they rape a boy. A lot. First off, it boggles my mind that the young man, who survived the assault, would actually report it to the police, knowing that it would be splashed across the papers the next day. This is 1956, after all, and as attitudes towards such things were completely different, I'd say most men wouldn't want to compound their shame in such a public way. Of course, and it's lucky I don't have the readership of the NY Post or anything because I'd so totally get hate mail for this, but, as a man, being ganged by four hot young girls, even at gunpoint, would be...you know, not so bad. But that's just me. I'm not even sure how a girl would go about raping a boy anyway, and I'm sure a google image search would leave me sobbing uncontrollably in the bathtub, scrubbing ineffectually at my polluted eyeballs with sandpaper and bleach. Let's just hope the girls brought along some marital aids.
I'm worried about the "Lovers' Lane Assault Pictorial", can only imagine what those photos are of.
The next day, after a shower and (hopefully) some soul-searching about her sexual deviancy, Paula goes to her father's work. He's the editor of the paper remember, and she innocently squeezes him for information on the crime spree (she's sneaky if sweet). Dad says the cops still don't have any leads or suspects, and they think the girls are from out of town. He also unwittingly gives up the info that the cops are thinking about putting plainclothes officers at gas stations, which is vital info for her.
The cute one's are always the most devilish.
Wait. What? They are only now staking out gas stations? Ok, I should note here that I have an incredible amount of professional, hands-on experience with the extremely detailed work that goes into proper criminal investigations. By which I mean, of course, that I've recently Netflix'd all nine seasons of CSI: Miami. After listening to numerous hours of Horatio Caine describe the ins and outs of crime scene investigation in his sexy, sexy voice, I feel completely confident in critiquing the shoddy police work in our movie. In all those dozens of robberies, no one got a license plate number? No credible witnesses at all in the middle of a big city? Did you even try asking around? They left no physical evidence at all, no fingerprints, nothing? And how many robberies at late-night gas stations in town did it take for you all to see a pattern? That guy who was raped, did he have nothing of value to say about his attackers? And lastly, do you think Horatio Caine will marry me, in a purely platonic way, of course?
It's the voice...
Paula, who is the gang's ringleader, goes immediately to her crime-sisters and tells them they have to stop hitting gas stations because the fuzz is on to them. The girls then go to a tacky apartment in the skeevy part of town to meet their fence (they have to exchange all those watches and wallets for cash somehow). The fence is an older, rough-edged woman with a deeply lined face and soulless, dead eyes. She tries to lowball the girls, but Paula has figured out that the fence's threats of turning them in are hollow as they have enough dirt on her as well. Paula proves herself here to be just as cunning and conniving as any self-tattooed, switchblade-packing career criminal, which doesn't really jive with her being a spoiled teenager from a privileged family.
She's is so contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The fence tells Paula that she wants her to go to a high school and wreck a few schoolrooms. She's vague on the reasons, and it sounds like an insurance scam at first, but then she suggests that it's a "well-organized foreign plan". Does this mean Rooskies? Would the godless Commies really try and interfere with the secondary education of our fair nation's youth? Oh, they will rue the day! I'm also still trying to figure out why these four girls have turned so bad, especially Paula, who seems to have a pretty cushy upper-class suburban life. I know the movie wants to us think it's all due to her parents' ignoring her, but that's way too simplistic an answer. Lots of kids don't get day-to-day attention from their parents, if they have parents around at all, and only a tiny percentage of them turn into gun-totting, man-raping hooligans. Perhaps they have been brainwashed by Communist fifth-columnists? I strongly believe that Commies are behind much of the trouble in the world, and no one can convince me otherwise.
It all makes sense now...
The next night happens to be Paula's 18th birthday and she puts together a no-parents-allowed pajama party (I still can't believe she's just turning 18 because she looks 29 with a coat of Loriel and a can of hairspray). The pajama party, of course, is full of boys, booze, and smokes and nothing good can come from that combination. A guy comes from Paula's father's office to deliver a present, and he's not there five minutes before he gets in a fist fight with Paula's scumbag boyfriend of the week and knocks him out. The guy's look of disgust as he sees all this underage kissing and puffing is surely supposed to remind us that proper young ladies should be reading scripture or watching Lawrence Welk at their birthday parties.
Are they dancing!?! What the hell?
Time passes. While the cops are busy stumbling around blindly, the girls sneak into their school (is it their own school?). They trash a classroom or two (the desks look really small, like this is an elementary school) when suddenly they hear police sirens outside. Will they run? Will they stand their ground? I'll let Pam tell you.
They stop just short of desecrating the American flag, rotten commies.
Unfortunately, they decide to stand their ground. Me, I'd at least try to sneak out a side door, but Paula and the girls immediately draw iron and start shooting. This proves to be a bad decision right away, because after exchanging some shots with the police (who look as though they're shooting into the air instead of aiming at the girls), they realize they have very little ammunition with them. At this time they decide to do what they should have done first, and that's make a break for their car. However, they can't bring themselves to quietly slip away from the windows, they have to do some more shooting, and in the return fire from the police, Phyllis bites the dust.
Another life wasted in the mindless pursuit of pleasure and money.
The other girls appear to forget about her instantly and fire a few more shots at the police, and Paula manages to hit the policeman who shot Phyllis. Finally deciding they've had enough, they dash for the car, but just as they reach it, a shot rings out and Geraldine buys the farm. Paula and Georgia leave her lying there, jump into the car, and drive off more slowly than I would if I'd just killed a policeman. They also drive between two police cars, but somehow aren't hit by the policemen as they drive by (slowly) only a few feet away. Maybe the car was rented and they had to be careful with it?
Maybe you guys should consider chasing after them? Just sayin'.
Paula decides to go to the fence who put them up to trashing the school, and demands that she provide them with money and clothing so they can escape. Not surprisingly the fence refuses to cooperate and tries to call the police, although she really should have known better. Paula shoots her, and she and Georgia go on the lam. Not for long, though, for soon a police car pulls up to their convertible, the top of which they for some reason thought was a good idea to put down. Paula immediately speeds off, and almost as immediately hits a storefront and goes through a plate-glass window.
"Owww! My spleen!"
We find out a few minutes later that Georgia didn't make it, but Paula pulled through and is now in a prison hospital room. We quickly cut to a courtroom, where Paula, now fully recovered, is informed she's been found guilty of first-degree murder. Poor Jean Moorhead tries her best to display emotion here but fails miserably. Although she did get a few more parts after this movie, not surprisingly her acting career seems to have been over for good in 1960. As a matter of fact, she had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part in The Atomic Submarine, where she played the wife of the drunken lieutenant.
"I should go back to porn, it pays better..."
Feel free to skip the next scene, because we're back in the courtroom where the judge delivers an excruciatingly long lecture to Paula about how badly she's behaved, as though she needed to be told that killing people is wrong. The lecture is made even more excruciating by the fact that judge is speaking very slowly and seems to be having trouble remembering his lines. Just how badly did her parents neglect her, anyway? Is it possible that she's just now learning that you shouldn't murder people? Judging from the expression or lack thereof on Paula's face, this may be the case, or it may just be poor acting.
The thicker the glasses, the thicker the morality.
As though being 18 and sentenced to life in prison isn't bad enough, fate has more trouble for Paula in store: she's pregnant! She complained of cramps earlier during the getaway, which Georgia (and I) thought was due to food poisoning, but it seems we were both wrong. Considering Paula's circumstances, it might be for the best if the cramps signaled a miscarriage, but this isn't the case. She gives birth to a girl in the prison hospital but dies herself. By the way, the movie never says who the father is, and for some reason her parents never ask her. It could be one of her many boyfriends, but it could also be the man she raped, and I had to look twice to believe I actually wrote that. Looks as though she polished her marksmanship but didn't bother to learn the facts of life, eh? Would it have been so hard to put a condom on him before forcing yourself on him? I can't believe I wrote that, either.
It's 1956, so you're not about to see a pregnant belly on screen.
Back to the courtroom, where the judge is again, or maybe still, lecturing Paula's parents. It's just as hard to listen to as it was before, so I'll summarize: They were lousy parents. He's not going to let them adopt Paula's baby. The end.
You know, this entire courtroom set is so bare, I'm thinking it's just a redressed elementary school classroom.
Ooogh. Not sure what to think of this movie. The acting is poor but not terrible, the sets are basic but not laughable. The plot is similar to many low-budget teenagers-gone-wild movies from the period, but with that special little twist that seems the hallmark of Ed Wood. Who else would think of lack of attention (not abuse, not abandonment) from one's parents being the cause of robbery and murder? Who else could write the ham-handed dialogue that always manages to seem just unnatural enough to grate but not unnatural enough to be funny? Who else on this Earth would imagine having his female juvenile delinquents rape a man? Is this even possible? I suspect Ed Wood's women issues were showing up again. Anyway, ridiculous as this movie is, I have to hand it to Ed Wood, he managed to write a script that kept this movie being watched when its somewhat-more-realistic counterparts have long since been forgotten. You can't say he was a complete failure.
Written in June 2011 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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