September 14, 2014

Everything I Know I Learned From B Movies: Rockin' Reform School Confidential Edition

I’m very ambivalent about the prospects for kids coming of age today, the millennials, ‘tweeners and all the other groups that pop sociologists love to label. On the one hand, young people seem to be rightly skeptical of all the hoary old B.S. that people of my generation hold near and dear. They are spiritual, but they are turned off by organized religion’s many and egregious hypocrisies. They want to live and let live. And they are far less predisposed to scapegoat society’s poorest and least powerful members for our collective faults.

Poster - High School Caesar (1960)
On the other hand, while they are smart, clever and the best educated generation in history, they seem especially ill-equipped to meet life’s mundane challenges. It’s not their fault. They’ve been hovered over and protected, had all the important decisions made for them, and been told over and over how dangerous and treacherous the world is. It’s no wonder they’ve retreated to cell phones, texts and selfies as their preferred means of interacting with the world.

A new poll illustrates just how far we’ve come down this well-intentioned, yet dim-witted path. Sadly, 68 percent of adult respondents to a Reason-Rupe poll think that it should be illegal for parents to let kids 9 and under play outdoors unsupervised. Huge percentages would apply it to 12 year olds as well. Boston College Psychology professor and author Peter Gray was prompted to say, “I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, anytime, that underestimates children's abilities more than we North Americans do today.”

It wasn’t always so. When I was a kid, parents shooed their snotty brats out the door so they could relax, whip up a batch of martinis, smoke a cigarette or two and have a nice adult conversation. We’d get on our bikes and head out to the nearest construction site, where we’d hurl dirt clods and chase each other around with rusty pipes.  Sure, we sometimes got hurt, but Mom would spray some Bactine, slap on a band-aid, and we’d be good to go.

Poster - Reform School Girl (1957)
This was of course before the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, when your TV antenna only got 3 fuzzy channels or so, and those channels actually signed off for the night. Back then, if we’d been subjected night and day to the talking chuckleheads of cable news instead of reassuring old Walter Cronkite, we’d have been scared silly too.

Parents of that era weren’t uncaring monsters. It’s just that they realized that kids needed some space to be themselves, make mistakes, and learn some responsibility. And if the adults got a little me time out of the bargain, all the better. Sure they worried — what generation in recorded history hasn’t fretted over the avoidable mistakes that their progeny insist on making? But they also would have found it demented to call the cops on parents who let little Johnny or Susie have some unsupervised time at the local park.

With any generation there will be problems and challenges, and society’s worries about Johnny and Susie inevitably came out in the popular culture. Movie screens especially were filled with rebels without causes, hot rodders, reform school girls, juvenile delinquents and even a teenage werewolf and Frankenstein monster. But in between stints in juvie detention centers, the kids of 50s B movies also took heroic action and warned clueless adults of invasions by alien saucer men, voracious blobs and giant gila monsters.

What if ‘50s movie parents had been too afraid to let their kids out at night? What if it had been illegal for kids to mess around on their own? They’d have all been Blob food, or herded around like cattle by pitiless alien invaders. Something to think about as you kick back, smoke your cigarette and sip your martini.

Poster - The Blog (1958)
"Just because some kid smacks into your wife on the turnpike doesn't make it a crime to be 17 years old."— Lieutenant Dave (Earl Rowe), The Blob (1958)

"I wouldn't give much for our chances, us running around in the middle of the night, looking for something that if we found it, it might kill us." — Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen), The Blob (1958)

"The only problem children I know are the ones that have problem parents, which leaves us out. Cheers, darling!" — Jack Staples (James Todd), High School Confidential! (1958)

"If there’s anything I like better on a hot day, it’s a cool chick!" — Jackie (Ralph Reed), Reform School Girl (1957)

Tagline: Prehistoric Rebels Against Prehistoric Monsters! — Teenage Cave Man (1958)

"These aren’t kids. These are morons!" — Detective, The Violent Years (1956)

"Would you rather be dead with him or alive with me?" — Georgia Altera (Mamie Van Doren), The Beat Generation (1959)

Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes): "Look, what do you want out of me?"
Ben Wagner (James Whitmore): "You're 18. I'd like to see you live until you're 21."
Frankie Dane: "Why?"
Ben Wagner: "So you can vote."  — Crime in the Streets (1956)

Tagline: She’s Hell-on-Wheels… fired up for any thrill! — Hot Car Girl (1958)

"You’ve gotta *bow* to authority!" — Bill Logan (S. John Launer), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

“Speak! I know you have a civil tongue in your head because I sewed it back myself.”  Prof. Frankenstein (Whit Bissell), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)

"Don’t hit me in the mouth again, you’ll break my dental plate." — Lillibet (Jeanne Carmen), Untamed Youth (1957)

Tagline: She turned a cool-school into a hot-bed of violence! — High School Caesar (1960)

Irma Bean (Mamie Van Doren): "When I want something, I want it now. Take me out there. Come on, Ralph."
Teen Boy: "Still on the prowl, huh?"
Ralph Barton (William Campbell): "Take it easy, boy." —Running Wild (1955)

"I expected to be frightened on my wedding night, but nothing like this!" — Joan (Gloria Castillo), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)

Arnie Haines (Alan Dale): "Well, we have a point to prove Mr. Everett. We'd like to show the rest of the country that Rock and Roll is a safe and sane dance for all young people."
Sunny Everett (Jana Lund): "It hasn't hurt me any, has it?" — Don’t Knock the Rock (1956)

Tagline: Teenage terrorists tearing up the streets! — Hot Rod Girl (1956)

Tagline: The FACTS about the taboo sororities that give them what they want! — High School Hellcats (1958)

Dan Carlyle (Lee Kinsolving): "Listen, I want to ask you..."
Police Captain (Stafford Repp): "You'll ask me *nothing*. It's about time you kids were seen and not heard! 30 seconds, alright, hook up those fire hoses!"  — The Explosive Generation (1961)