12/28/06

601 Girl’s Town

(1959, Teen Drama/Religious/Musical, b&w)

Gigantor!

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A lounge crooner and some nuns reform a rebellious but falsely accused teen.

Summary:

If the camera were pointed a bit further down, you'd see the four stars of this movie.Fred (Mel Tormé, a.k.a. The Velvet Fog) and his female companion park next to a run-down house by a cliff for a little make-out session. They look up when someone screams, but it’s only their friend Chip in the process of attempting a rape. They laugh, shrug, and go back to kissing. Chip pushes a head-scarfed girl down, slips off the cliff, and falls to his death on the rocks below. The unknown girl runs off into the night.

Despite dozens of witnesses who can say she was elsewhere at the time of his death—and are willing to defend her honor in a lengthy musical rumble—suspicion falls squarely on Chip’s girlfriend, Silver Morgan (the well-endowed Mamie Van Doren). Chip’s rabid father threatens her with jail, detectives, hellfire, etc., so she’s sent to a minimum-security prison/convent called Girl’s Town. There she learns about Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, and meets her roommates. These include a judo master, her horse-faced flunky, and an overly solicitous celebrity stalker named Serafina.

Silver meets a cute bakery truck driver by the front gate and promises to go out with him that night. She does, and he takes her to a restaurant where they listen to the object of Serafina’s psychotically obsessive affection, Jimmy (crooner Paul Anka). She just wants to listen to the music, but her date won’t shut up about Chip’s possible murder. When he tries to wheedle a confession out of her for perhaps the 100th time, she realizes the obvious—he’s a private detective hired by Chip’s father.

She goes back to Girl’s Town, where the other inmates have discovered her absence and brutalize her for breaking the rules. They sentence her to scrub the dance hall floor in anticipation of Jimmy’s upcoming Girl’s Town concert. Mother Superior and Serafina come down to help her. During the concert, Serafina sees Jimmy dancing with someone else and throws a fit. She runs back to her room and swallows a bottle of sleeping pills. Silver and Mother Superior try to keep her awake until the doctor can arrive. Silver is called away to answer an urgent call from her little sister, Mary Lee.

Meanwhile, the private detective has taken Mary Lee to a drive-in restaurant to grill her about Chip’s death. She makes an excuse to go use the phone and puts on a headscarf. Fred happens to be a few cars over and realizes that it wasn’t Silver he saw with Chip—it was Mary Lee. When Silver takes too long to come to the phone, Mary Lee jumps into Fred’s car and begs him to take her away. He does so, forcing her to go on a profoundly stupid drag race against a rival gang. He abandons her when someone predictably gets hurt, so that he can post her bail and kidnap her later. He’s going to send her to Tijuana to be a [insert meaningful noise indicating an upcoming euphemism here] hostess so that she can’t finger him in the drag racing incident, but she escapes in his hot rod.

In the meantime, Silver begs Jimmy to go look for Mary Lee and hire a lawyer for her. Jimmy croons her into tears with a rendition of Ave Maria and agrees to help her. While he’s out looking, Mary Lee arrives in Fred’s hot rod to tell her the whole sordid story.

Fred and his gang snatch Mary Lee back from Girl’s Town and take her back to the run-down cliff house from the beginning. The nuns have gone out for a midnight drive or something, so Silver tries to go after them herself, but the disbelieving inmates prevent her. She cries and prays to St. Jude, and the other girls believe her, so Horse-Face and Judo Master go with her. They “borrow” Jimmy’s car (he’s there convincing Serafina that she can pretend she’s his sister instead of his lover) and drive out the cliff house.

They discover Fred and his beefy friend holding Mary Lee hostage, so Horse-Face goes to get the cops while Silver and Judo Master go mano a mano with the boys. It’s pretty much a stalemate until the bat-wielding Jimmy arrives with a car full of angry nuns. Fred and his cohort are quickly subdued, but are let off the hook in exchange for testimony in Mary Lee’s favor. Silver and Mary Lee drive off the next day with Jimmy as free women, and Serafina decides to become a nun.

Introduction:

The woman of the future past.Mike and the ‘Bots are preparing an elaborate black tie reception for Dr. Forrester’s big upcoming announcement. Tom runs down a checklist of party items. Mike helps, appearing in his “Tuxedo Jumper” (a black jumpsuit with a white front and a tie) while Crow shows up with a polka band called The Power Steves. He begs Mike and Tom not to mention a certain song, but Mike agrees a little too loudly, and the band launches right into their lackluster rendition of Lady of Spain.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester delivers a long, rambling speech to an empty auditorium about how he will “metaphorically rub my sweaty gym socks in the pimply faces of those who doubted me.” Eventually he gets around to announcing Umbilicus, a hose-ish tether that will connect the Satellite of Love to Deep 13. Something coils out of the Satellite, falls to earth, and drills down to Deep 13, striking Frank on the head. It’s the other end of Gypsy. Mike and the ‘Bots hold her steady while Dr. Forrester tries to connect her to his laboratory. He can’t—both ends are male connectors. He sends Frank out to the hardware store for an adapter.

Host Segment Two:

Inspired by Mel Tormé, Tom asks Mike and Crow if he can scat. They reply, “Until we’re sick of it.” He scats until they’re sick of it and beyond, so they shove him into a makeshift rocket and prepare to blast him into space. They’re about to light the fuse when movie sign calls them back into the theater.

Host Segment Three:

To better explain the concept of Girl’s Town’s honor system, Mike takes his candy stash out from under lock and key and places it on the desk. He explains the concept of honor to Crow at length while Tom devours all the candy in one sitting.

Host Segment Four:

Mike sketches while Tom and Crow throw out design ideas for the woman of the future. These include wings, power takeoff, and Mexican tile. Mike ignores all their suggestions to sketch Mamie Van Doren.

Host Segment Five:

TV’s Frank returns with an adapter, and Umbilicus (i.e. Gypsy) is officially tethered to Deep 13. Mike and the ‘Bots shove a pie down Gypsy’s throat. It flies out her other end to strike Dr. Forrester in the face. Quoth he, “Frank, I’ll give you three seconds to stop licking my face.” “Count slow,” Frank replies.

Stinger:

Silver and Mary Lee’s ragged aunt leans out of her window to screech, “You tell that boy to go home right now. I’ll call the police!”

Thoughts:

The Velvet Fog lays down the law.Did the kids of the fifties really have such impaired survival instincts that they did such abjectly stupid things as “hands off” drag races, or was this invented for the movie? I know that some teens have an incomplete understanding of mortality, and thus can do some really stupid things for thrills. Regular drag racing, for instance, or speeding through red lights in the middle of the night with their eyes closed, but at least these versions of vehicular Russian Roulette have better than a fifty percent chance of survival. Riding a convertible down a dry irrigation ditch towards bridge pilings at top speed with your hands in the air seems like playing Russian Roulette with five chambers loaded instead of one. Someone had to have been steering those hot rods in the movie, or they’d both have been up the embankment within ten yards of the starting line.

The rest of the film is a standard “teen in trouble” flick with hot lady convicts and religious overtones. Actually, all the girls in the film are hot, except for Horse-Face and the enforcer nun. Even Mother Superior is young and nubile, which is a bit surprising. I had always been under the impression that you needed age and experience to get to a position like that in the Catholic Church. Also, why does Jimmy keep visiting Serafina to give her dances and record players, when he knows that his presence only encourages her to further fits of self-injurious stalkerism. And why does Mother Superior encourage it? Perhaps an older and wiser chief nun would know better.

Umbilicus is an interesting idea. I like that it’s just the other end of Gypsy, and I laughed very hard when Dr. Forrester tried to hook her up to his laboratory and found that he needed an adapter. The rest of the host segments were okay. Tom’s flouting of the honor system was predictable but amusing, and his love of scat makes sense. The “woman of the future” segment is built on the premise that Mamie Van Doren is hot. It’s not really an arguable point.

The film segments drag a little in the beginning, but as soon as we get to the musical rumble, the jokes take off and never stop. When looking at the well-jowled Mel Tormé, Mike declares him “a youthful Jabba the Hut.” Mamie swings her large posterior like a pendulum whenever the camera focuses on it (this happens quite a lot for an ostensibly religious movie) prompting the satellite crew to cry, “Gigantor!” When Serafina gushes about how her wonderful Jimmy is coming to see her, Crow says, “He’s back from fighting Nazis on the moon!” I don’t really like this genre all that much, but it’s better than your average troubled teen film, and Mike and the ‘Bots have a lot of fun with it. I’d watch it again.