12/29/06

610 The Violent Years

(1956, Drama-Teen, b&w), with:

A Young Man’s Fancy
(1952, Educational-Industrial, color)

When he looks at me I get, you know, squishy.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A squishy young woman snares a man with the help of her electric kitchen.
Film: Overindulged rich girl Paula goes on a self-destructive crime spree.

Short Summary:

Electric Bob warns his electric sister to keep her hands off his electric friend.In A Young Man’s Fancy, young Judy shrills with delight when her older brother Bob brings home his handsome college buddy Alex. She calls up her best friend to gush, declaring that Alex makes her feel “squishy.” But, despite her best efforts look beautiful and squeak invitingly, Alex is an obsessed bore who talks of nothing but manufacturing efficiency. Acting on expert advice from her mother, Judy attracts his interest by feigning ignorance of kitchen appliances, and then listens to him blather on about them while she cooks him a delicious meal. In the end, Alex is so impressed that he decides to forgo a lecture on basement mycology so that he can take Judy dancing.

Film Summary:

The Violent Years opens with an extremely tedious judge, going on and on to a couple about something or other. Apparently, they’re horrible, miserable failures, though he won’t tell us what they failed at until the end of the film. He drones us into the flashback…

Enter plucky teenager Paula Perkins, whose awful failure parents were seen in the opening sequence. That they supposedly failed at being parents is heavily implied by the voiceover. Paula’s horrible failure mother is a kindly and concerned woman who trusts her enough to write her blank checks, but stays out every night at charity events, raising money to feed the poor. Her horrible failure father is open and friendly and always willing to talk, but as a newspaper reporter he has to stay out late every night to cover the story of a violent gang that has been robbing gas stations at gunpoint.

That night the gang strikes again. They take all the station’s money and pistol-whip the attendant into insensibility. Their leader removes her mask while they drive away and — Surprise! —she’s Paula, commanding a violent gang of hot young women who live on the edge, robbing gas stations for kicks.

Apparently they got themselves all excited during the robbery, so they drive down to Lover’s Lane looking for thrills. They find a young couple engaged in tentative osculation. They rob the girl for her sweater and then rip her skirt into strips so they can leave her tied up in her underwear. They rob the boy for his wallet while making suggestive comments. The four of them lead him into the underbrush while tugging at their own clothing. The next day the newspaper headlines say he was “criminally assaulted,” leaving us to fill in the blanks for ourselves.

It’s Paula’s birthday, but neither of her parents can be there for her party. Her mother has a heart-to-heart chat with her in the morning, and makes her breakfast. Her father had to leave early, but is willing to talk with her about her schoolwork and his newspaper story when she shows up at his office. She learns that the cops are stationing armed guards at gas stations now to catch them, and so she tells her girlish cohorts-in-crime to cool it for a while. They take their ill-gotten loot to their fence, a top-heavy foreign-ish woman named Sheila. They haggle over prices , and it comes out that the gang needs a new criminal angle. Sheila lets on that certain “foreign interests” (i.e. communists) will pay top dollar to anyone willing to vandalize the local high schools.

That night, after a protracted pajama party scene (in which one of her father’s cub reporter friends delivers her an expensive watch and a new convertible from her absent parents) Paula and her gang head to school where they toss desks and smash windows. A security guard sees them and calls the police. The cops arrive, and the ensuing firefight leaves one cop and two girls dead. Paula and her last girlish flunky escape. They take Sheila hostage in her apartment, and then kill her when she tries to call for help. They steal money and clothes but the cops spot them on the way out of town. This provokes a high-speed chase that ends when Paula drives her new convertible through a department store window. Her last flunky dies at the scene. Paula ends up in a prison hospital, where she discovers that the earlier “criminal assault” has left her pregnant.

Judge Tedious comes back briefly to sentence her to life in prison. This doesn’t turn out to be very long, since she dies in childbirth. Her parents try to adopt their granddaughter, and the resulting hearing finally leads us out of the flashback and back into the adoption proceedings. Judge Tedious reiterates everything he said at the beginning and more, declaring them the most failed of the failed, the lowest of the low, and the most loathed among the loathsome. He denies their adoption request, as they can obviously never be trusted with any kind of child ever again.

Introduction:

And so on, and so forth...Tom Servo has removed his old head and replaced it with one from a ventriloquist dummy, provoking horrified screams from the satellite’s other residents. Quoth Gypsy, “I feel ill.”

Host Segment One:

Mike has caught Tom and starts to pry off the disturbing new head. Down in Deep 13, the Mads treat us to their new theme song. “Ruling the world / with our heads in a swirl / and it’s keen! / We’re living in Deep 13.” They demand that Mike and the ‘Bots sing theme songs too. Tom declares that he’s had a theme song since infancy and proceeds to belt out his own name over and over again to the music of O Fortuna, from Orff’s Carmina Burana. Crow’s theme song is simply “La, la, la, la, la, Crow!” repeated tunelessly. Mike doesn’t have a theme song, so Crow does one for him. It’s “Mike, ma-ma-ma-Mike, ma-ma-ma-Mike!” repeated tunelessly. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester introduces the film while Frank sings Mike’s theme song to himself.

Host Segment Two:

Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have scrapped the whole theme song idea in favor of starting a country music radio station, called “Frank.” They invite Mike and the ‘Bots to “Turn your crank to Frank!” When the SOL crew seems hesitant, the Mads go on at length about the all the popular country singers they plan to play, and the whimsy of naming a radio station Frank.

Host Segment Three:

Magic Voice introduces a bewigged Tom as “Esther Hoffman Howard.” Tom tries to sing, but he can’t stop sobbing. Quoth he, “Are you watching me now?”

Host Segment Four:

Crow has written a one man show about Keanu Reeves, to be performed by Mike. Mike plays along despite his doubts, but a lame potato joke about My Own Private Idaho causes him to stalk off stage in disgust.

Host Segment Five:

Gypsy and Tom watch as Mike and Crow reenact the gas station robbery from the beginning of the film. This involves a masked Crow pointing a gun at Mike for most of the segment. Tom and Gypsy get bored and read a letter. They finish about the time Crow finally pistol-whips Mike. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank are still pitching their radio station. Frank recites the names of performers all the way through the closing credits.

Stinger:

Paula rolls over and says, “so what?”

Thoughts:

A scene that will live in infamy.On the surface, A Young Man’s Fancy seems to be an instructional video, detailing the steps young women must take to get themselves husbands. In a nutshell: if you can cook him a meal and feign interest in his hobbies, he’s yours. This message is the shallow grave from which we unearth the short’s real purpose, which is to make you buy things. Electricity is just so darn convenient, after all. Who wouldn’t want an electric razor, an electric oven, an electric water heater, an electric toaster, an electric range, an electric mixer, an electric refrigerator, and an electric freezer? It seems like I’m exaggerating, but if anything, I’ve missed several of the amazing new electricity-powered gadgets touted by the short. In fact, now that I think about it, I could use an electric laptop, an electric high-definition TV, an electric video processor card, an electric digital camera, an electric cell phone, and any number of new-fangled electric video game consoles. I’m sure you could too. So go out and support the economy. Buy something electric today!

I’ve mentioned previously how much I hate these angst-ridden, moralistic delinquent teen flicks. I’ve covered the basic theme (parental inattention turns kids into murderous criminals) so often that I feel like any further treatment of it would be redundant. There are, however, a couple of things that set this film, not above, but apart from its peers.

First, the parents in no way deserve the verbal abuse heaped on them by Judge Tedious. It’s not like they’re out carousing at all hours of the night and day like the awful failure parents of I Accuse My Parents. They’re out setting a good example, working hard with charities and trying to catch criminals. They are kind, conscientious, and caring. They’re not around enough, and they probably give her too many things, but they clearly love and trust her. At the beginning her mom says she doesn’t have time to talk to her, but then she hangs around for several minutes and talks to her anyway. Her dad may not be home much, but when she visits him at work he’s always available and interested for as long as his daughter needs to talk. At one point Paula’s mother gives her a blank check, implicitly trusting her not to do anything inappropriate with it. And you know what? Paula doesn’t do anything inappropriate with it. She doesn’t give them any warning signs, playing the perfect daughter the whole time. In spite of the love, trust, and good examples of her parents, she deliberately and maliciously deceives them throughout the entire film for no good reason. The whole ugly mess is completely her own fault.

Second, the inimitable Ed Wood wrote the screenplay in a brutally inept style that combines cold war paranoia with a thirteen-year-old boy’s wet dream. His message seems to be that teenagers are implicitly untrustworthy. You must be at your child’s side every second of every day, he seems to say. Otherwise, who knows what they might be doing? Right now your tender young daughter could be out with her hot delinquent friends, forcing herself on helpless young men at the park. You could come home one day and find she’d been killed working the wrong side of a communist plot against our schools. It might happen. I bet you’ll be really sorry when it does.

I liked the host segments. Only the fifth segment relates to the film, accurately portraying the long, awkward robbery scene. Tom’s new head is wonderfully disturbing, and the theme songs are funny. The Mads’ attempt to pitch a new country music station is amusingly pathetic, and “Turn your crank to Frank,” is a phrase that will live in infamy for many MST3K seasons to come. Host segments three and four parody unrelated films. I initially had no idea what Tom was doing in host segment three, but I laughed very hard anyway. Later research reveals he is reenacting the last scene from Barbara Streisand’s remake of A Star Is Born. Host segment four has a Keanu Reeves impression that references his appearance in My Own Private Idaho, a film about a narcoleptic male prostitute that takes its title from a silly B52s song, which, in turn, seems to be about people who behave like potatoes. The sketch made fun of this fact, and though I (amazingly enough) got the joke, I didn’t find it as funny as the previous segment.

The film segments dealing with the short are gut-bustingly funny. Judy’s squishy antics over her brother’s handsome friend provide some irresistible set-ups to the SOL crew’s quips. When Judy preens herself to meet Alex, Crow says, “Thank goodness for my electric dress.” When the overly chummy Bob and Alex admire their own faces after using Dad’s amazing electric razor, Crow says, “You can hardly see where you bit me.” The movie segments, though funny, don’t measure up quite as well. When the girl gang robs a convenience store, Tom calls out, “Society owes me a Kit Kat Bar.” While the soon-to-be-molested couple makes out in lover’s lane, Mike says, “Oh, [the] smoldering averageness.” While the girls flee the police at the end, Crow notes, “This whole thing is just a commercial for Light Days Pantiliners.” Despite the tired subject matter, the movie’s worth at least one viewing, and the short is worth several.