Monday, December 22, 2008

Youth Run Wild: A Double Feature of Exploitation Nonsense

“Over twenty thousand girls every year live this bitter story!” —Tag line from Unwed Mother

Good morning, beloved readers.

Check out this deuce of exploitation flicks about the social scourge of skipping school, getting nekkid, and making babies out of wedlock. Problem is, there's an utter lack of nekkidness in both films. Doesn't matter: The unintentional laughs are abundant. These two pictures deliver more hilarity by accident than many contemporary comedies produce on purpose.

Unwed Mother and Too Soon to Love are as much fun as a bad-movie addict should be allowed to have for $15. So pop a brew, grab a bag of popcorn, and settle down for 159 minutes of light acting, heavy moralizing, and cheapjack production values, all in service of an outrageous hypocrisy: These pictures condemn the very thing they promise to sell their teenage target audience. And that’s sex, baby. Wanton, unprotected, and especially unmarried sex. Let the good times roll. Hubba, hubba.

The plot clots

Cute Betty (Norma Moore) becomes an Unwed Mother after hanging out too often with Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., who was also a Teenage Caveman). Vaughn plays Don Bigelow (!), a sleazy gigolo (sorry, couldn't help it). Betty falls hard for this slick-haired Lothario. She's wooed, stewed, tattooed, and screwed—knocked up and abandoned—in rapid succession. Hiss! Don is a cad. Following an uncomfortable visit to a drunken abortionist, Betty decides to carry her baby and give up the child for adoption. She later has a change of heart that leads to heavy melodrama indeed.

Too Soon To Love is the second half of this insanely funny double feature. Cathy (Jennifer West) loves Jim (Richard Evans), who sells wieners and popcorn at the drive-in concession stand. They arrange a rendezvous during his work break. While watching a movie in the back seat of a friend's car and waiting for Jim to come around, Cathy fends off a sexual attack from Buddy (Hey! It's 23-year-old Jack Nicholson!). Jim leaps to the rescue, and the boys start to rumble. Bad-boy Buddy serves Jim a serious ass-kicking, which precipitates a lot of plot. Cathy feels sorry for Jim getting whupped and generally wants to demonstrate her love in more, um, earthy ways. Jim eagerly avails himself of these nocturnal delights, leading to impregnation, stress, and potential embarrassment for the young lovers. Cathy seeks a terminal solution from a vile abortionist, but runs away and attempts suicide. A distraught Jim resorts to stealing money so Cathy can see a "real" doctor. What's to become of these two juvenile lovebirds?

Production: How it all went down

Unwed Mother was directed by Walter Doniger, who turned 91 earlier this year. He also directed 173 episodes of television's Peyton Place, one of the first prime-time soap operas, so his penchant for ham-fisted melodrama apparently came naturally. Whenever Vaughn came onscreen, I was reminded of his tuff-talking television commercials, shilling for some ambulance-chasing law firm. He sounds so indignant and constipated in those commercials, just like his Teenage Caveman character, and in this silly film as oily Don, who has his way with Miss Betty. She practically swoons at his obvious pick-up lines. Girl, you shoulda known better.

And Lord, this does get better. The supporting feature on the disc, Too Soon to Love, marked the directorial debut of Richard Rush, who toiled in obscurity for decades before finally realizing the one masterpiece he had in him—The Stunt Man (1980). It's a safe bet that Rush is now retired, since it's been a dozen years since he last stepped behind a camera, directing the execrable The Color of Night. That film is remembered today (if at all) for giving the world an unwanted glimpse of Bruce Willis' detumescent pud. This could also be a metaphor for the director's career: He started out small, rose briefly, and then fell not with a bang but with a flaccid flop.

Too Soon to Love is worth a look if only to see a young Jack Nicholson and his wolf grin, chewing scenery. His now-legendary thespian skill is not on display in this B picture from 1960. Nicholson languished in trash like this, including several Roger Corman films, for a decade before catching fire with an Oscar-nominated supporting role in Easy Rider. (I wonder if Jack occasionally dusts off his copies of Too Soon to Love or The Crybaby Killer and gives 'em a nostalgic spin in his home theater up on Mulholland Drive?)

Video and audio are surprisingly crisp for a budget title. Production company VCI even delivers anamorphically enhanced transfers of both films. That's not to say this is a reference-quality presentation. Minimal technical competence went into capturing the original image and sound, so we can't expect too much to pop out the other end on a DVD release. It's a bit like polishing mud, but VCI is to be commended for the effort. These pictures probably look as good as they did on their initial release nearly half a century ago.

As per their custom, the good folks at VCI have also dug up a few choice extras to trick out these subpar pictures. Goodies include original theatrical trailers; a slide show of photos, posters, and other print advertising; cast and crew biographies; and a lively audio commentary during Unwed Mother by assistant director Robert Justman.

Why would you watch these pictures?

The best exploitation films possess a weird, schizophrenic quality that reeks of hypocrisy. Unwed Mother and Too Soon to Love are no exception. These movies pander to prurient curiosity and base instincts in order to fill theaters with ticket buyers, then justify their existence with harsh moralizing against the very social problem being exploited. That way, if the producers were ever challenged in court, they could point to the social significance of the "message." Famous schlock director Edward D. Wood, Jr., was a master of this bait-and-switch tactic. He wrote (but did not direct) The Violent Years, which is a heart-stoppingly funny tale of girl gangs and coed pajama parties with heavy petting. If you enjoy the features on this disc, The Violent Years would be a logical next step. Also, anything starring Arch Hall, Jr. But be forewarned: Unwed Mother and Too Soon to Love might just be gateway drugs on the road to a terminal bad-cinema addiction.

These pictures caused my bad-movie gang to convulse with laughter and spill their beer. In some alternate universe, this probably merits a near-perfect rating for a pair of seriously imperfect trash flicks.

Copyright © 2008 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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