Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Because They’re Young (1960)


Written by James Gunn
Based on the novel by James Farris
Cinematography by Wifred M. Cline
Original score  by John Williams


Title song Because They’re Young
Written by Don Costa,
Lyrics by Aaron Schroder and Wally Gold

 


When I begin nearing the end of writing a review; I’ll start giving some thought as to what the next film is that I want to dig into and rip apart. So having finished up with Sisters Margaret and Scholastica, I decided I would take on The Towering Inferno.  But before I could begin, I bumped into an article stating that this New Year’s Eve was the fortieth anniversary of Dick Clark hosting Rockin’ New Years Eve. Here’s a man who has seen more balls drop than a vet working overtime in a neutering clinic.  So instead of my first review of the the New Year giving in depth coverage to a  San Francisco High Rise roasting Hollywood Stars over an open fire, we’re going back to High School with Dick Clark to help him celebrate forty years of  freezing his ass off in New York City every December 31st.  Well, he used to.  Now I think he stays inside where it’s warm and Ryan Secrest is doing the frozen butt gig.

 

Besides bringing in the New Year, Dick Clark is just as well known for hosting American Bandstand for well over thirty years, and for being a referee in that colossal daily sporting event known as the $10,000 to $100,000 Pyramid, depending on which decade you’re watching. He’s also been a producer of many shows and films, most of them having to do with the music industry or teens in some form or fashion. What he is not known for is his acting, despite the fact that he has done guest shots in at least 18 TV series and films over the years. What many people don’t know or remember is that before most of that happened he had the starring role in one film, Because They’re Young.

Because They’re Young is based on the John Farris novel Harrison High, and originally the film version was supposed to carry that title. I read the book after having seen this film years ago, but don’t give me a quiz on Farris’s potboiler. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. Those memories are lost forever in the dark recesses of my brain unless I want to purchase the book and take another go at it.  I’ll do that on the very same day someone buys me a Kindle which means you’ll be waiting forever for that book review.

The film version is a different story. Even though I hadn’t seen this movie in decades when it finally popped up on Turner Classic Movies four or five years ago, I have always remembered the main thrust of the plot, even if I couldn’t recite every single detail. Because They’re Young is one of those films with multiple storylines that at first seem unrelated, but will always end up being wound together as the tale progresses. Don’t worry though, you won’t need a notebook by your side to keep track of who is whom, who is related to whomever, who is doing what with this person or that person at any point in time. It’s all relatively easy to keep track of as the plots are few, simple,  basic, and to the point. 

Trailer for Because They’re Young


Former college football star, Neil Hendry (Dick Clark) comes to Harrison High with his nephew Eric (Stephen Talbot aka Gilbert on Leave it to Beaver), not to coach basketball but to teach. Neil walks with a bum leg, injured in a car accident in which his brother and his wife were killed. Neil was the driver, blames himself for the accident since Eric’s parents had come to see him play, and so he has taken it upon himself to raise their son Eric. Eric worships the ground Neil walks on, at least as far as his football career goes. And therein lays the problem. Neil blames football for the death of his brother and wants nothing more to do with the sport while his nephew wants to wallow in his uncle’s All-American exploits.



When Neil arrives at Harrison, he is escorted to his classroom by the Principal’s secretary, Joanne Dietrich (Victoria Shaw). She took the job as a personal secretary so that she wouldn’t have to teach. She wants no part of it. Why? Details will be revealed when the plot calls for them to be and not before.  In other words, I will reveal no plot details before their time.   But we do sense that love is blossoming between these two anguished adults like daffodils in springtime even if it is only September.



Principal Donlan (Wendall Holmes) who hired Neil, isn’t so sure it was such a good decision. Since hiring him, Donlan has written the school where Neil practiced his teaching skills, and the letter that came back wasn’t entirely glowing with praise. Neil, it seems, has this bad habit of getting involved with his students lives because he is under the belief that the bad eggs can be straightened out. In other words, he doesn’t believe that teaching is only about getting kids to pass some arbitrary test.  Boy, would he have hated No Child Left Behind.

But that’s heresy to Donlan. Harrison’s accreditation rating is what’s important and he intends to keep it that way, despite the fact that some of the transfer students are “coming from schools that are practically vestibules of the juvenile detention homes.” 



This being  high school, the students have problems of their own. Buddy McCalla (Warren Berlinger) has just moved into town with his mom, Frances (Linda Watkins), to start a new life. He’s an athlete, a good student, delivers newspapers for a living, and is pretty much a momma’s boy. Momma loves to dote on her son, even to the point of making him wear a tie on the first day of school. And when Buddy is off doing the things that high school kids do, Frances still loves to dote, on just about anything in pants that will keep her in booze, cash, and give her a tumble.  You know, um…a drunken slut.  It also clues us in as to why Mr. McCalla may be nowhere in sight.

Still, if given a choice, I’d prefer Frances any day of the week to Anne Gregor’s (Tuesday Weld) Mother.  We never really meet Mrs. Gregor in person, but we do get to hear the chalk on blackboard squeaking and screeching voice squealing like a pig from the bedroom.  One of the things the disembodied voice gripes about is that Anne did a very bad thing with a very bad boy who was sniffing after her honey pot, and that Anne just got back from places unknown for reasons unknown. 

Mrs. Gregor:  (yelling from the bedroom)  “I bet you can’t wait to get out of this house, I’ve been able to keep an eye on you this summer, but now that you’re going back to school..I don’t know.”

Anne:  The doctor says you might feel better if you got up in the morning.

Mrs. Gregor:
  (yelling from the bedroom)  Him?  A lot of good he does me.  GEORGE!  GEORGE!

Anne:
  Dad’s gone mother.  (Dad is sitting at the kitchen table looking sad, discouraged, and fed up.)

Mrs. Gregor:
  (yelling from the bedroom)  You mean he’s left already?  Well, he ought to be ashamed to face me!  If he had the spine to ask for a raise, I’d have a specialist.  And you’d be in a private girl’s school where you belong and you wouldn’t be exposed to………….

Anne:
  (cutting off her mother in mid sentence and yelling)  Please. Mother!  I’m not going to be a scarlet woman.  I made a mistake!   I told you it wouldn’t happen again! 

Mrs. Gregor:
  (yelling from the bedroom)  That boy hasn’t stopped calling since you got back.  He knows where to find the honeycomb!  Not that I haven’t warned you about men ever since I can remember.
And who is “that boy?”  I thought you’d never ask.  That boy is Griff Rimer (Michael Callan), and like Anne, he too is beginning his first day at Harrison.  Griff is one of those escapee’s from what Donlan referred to as the “vestibules of juvenile delinquency.”
 

When he catches up with Anne at the school,  Bad Boy Griff want’s to pick up right where he left off.  But Anne is having none of that shit, and whatever motivation she had to do the nasty with Griff previously, she has since gotten over it.  


Having been spurned by Anne, Griff decides that his best course of action is to play it straight, pretend to fit in, and be accepted. It’s a plan that works rather well…until it doesn’t.

Griff also works in the butcher shop at a supermarket with a middle age cretin that goes by the name of Chris (Rudy Bond).   Chris is a seedy character, and the inference here is that he’s meant to be gay.  But that’s not what makes him seedy.  He’s seedy because he’s a crook who uses teenagers to carry out his own nefarious deeds.  When he discovers that Griff has been lifting cigarette cartons, he uses it as a tool to entice Griff into more dastardly escapades with his other recruit Patcher (Chris Robinson).



There’s one other thing Griff has in common with both Anne and Buddy.  His parental upbringing leaves something to be desired.  How can I put this delicately?  I can’t so I’ll just spit it out.  Mr. Rimer (Philip Coolidge) is an asshole.  He has had little use for his son for most of his life, and although he shows up late in the film to support his son, it’s only because it gives Mr. Rimer  the opportunity to spout off and be a big shot.

Last, and probably also least, are Jim Trent (Doug McClure) and Richelle “Ricky” Summers (Roberta Shore).  He’s a star on the football team, she’s a star on the cheerleading squad.  They both come from good stable homes and caring parents, and they seem to be two well rounded individuals.  In my day we called them snobs. 

So why are they here?  I guess every film has to have balance, and in the sixties I imagine the writers and producers needed to have a couple of shining examples that would put parents at ease, especially after having met the rest of Harrison High’s Class of 1960.  But, there is the slim possibility that Jim and Ricky’s hormones could get the better of them,  and that the two of them could end up doing the nasty  in the back of Jim’s sporty convertible, and thus adding a little drama to their story line.  Don’t hold your breath. 

There was something else that irritated me about Jim and Ricky.  Well, mostly Jim.  Throughout the film they exhibit this “we’re so much better than you are” attitude toward many of the other students.   Then I realized that was how it was.  Many schools are operated on the assumption that educating the “haves” is a lot more productive with time better spent than working with the “have nots.”  And many of those privileged students adopt the same attitude.  High Schools are a breeding ground for snobbish cliques, and I doubt that will ever really change.  It’s the nature of the beast.  But when Jim openly calls these students, “the oddballs” who at first weren’t even going to be invited to the dance until Mr. Hendry stepped in, I still cringe.   
 
The biggest problem you’re going to have watching Because They’re Young, is that it’s feet are planted firmly in the sensibilities of the late fifties/early sixties.  But I refuse to accept that bit of reasoning any longer as an excuse for people to keep from enjoying films that were topical in the era in which they were made, but may not be so these days.  Certainly we should be able to view these films in much the same way as one would view any historical drama.  Just because some of the conflict may seem a bit trite in 2011, does not detract from the fact that for the characters of 1960, these dilemmas were real and problematic.

I was reading one critic’s blog where the overwhelming majority of reviews are recent films.  The reviewer found most of the films from earlier decades, to be a bore and didn’t want to waste much time on them.  Last night I just happened to put in my DVD of The High and the Mighty, where there was a special feature starring Leonard Maltin that delved into the history of that movie.  And there was one thing he said that really resonated with me. 

Today’s audiences might find The High and the Might slow and boring, with not enough action to suit today’s jaded movie goers.  But the problem isn’t with the film.  It’s with the person watching it.  If you can’t meet the film on it’s own terms along with  the circumstances under which it was made, then of course, you’ll never take any delight in our cinematic history.  But once you find a way to achieve that level of understanding, whether it’s with this film or any other, then there’s a whole new world of cinema awaiting out there for you to enjoy.   And if you can’t do that, then as far as criticism goes, your opinion is dead on arrival as far as I’m concerned.

While Because They’re Young doesn’t come close to approaching the dramatic intensity of a film such as The Blackboard Jungle, made five years earlier, it gets by on it’s own merits.  Much of the film is dark and pessimistic, and at times it appeared as if Director Paul Wendkos and Cinematographer Wilfred Cline wanted to head down a darker path but were constrained by the requirement to produce a film that would be palatable for studio distribution and consumable by a mass teen age audience. 

Take for instance the character of Chris, who befriends and tutors both Griff and Hatcher.  The butcher is so  creepy he’ll make your skin crawl.  His recruitment of Patcher and Griff have as much to do with his personal and perverted nature as it does with involving them in criminal acts.  Let me clarify that.  By perverted, I do not mean that as a description of Chris’s sexual orientation, but as an indictment of his obvious use of blackmail and bribery of teen boys as a means of seduction.  And that would hold rather Chris was heterosexual, bi-sexual, or gay, and it’s never made clear exactly what he is.  He’s just a despicable person any way you slice it.


There is also the slight suggestion that besides having been caught in a sexual liaison with Griff, Anne may have gone off to either deliver a baby out of wedlock, or to have an illegal abortion.  Considering the time frame, and the fact that it is never spelled out one way or the other, my guess it would be the latter.  We know that Anne’s parents found out about the two of them, and because of a comment her disembodied mother makes early in the film, we also know that Anne has returned from a place or places unknown.  We’re left to fill in the blanks.

The low budget nature of the film works against it as well and the restraints are never more obvious then the fact that Anne’s mother is represented by a faceless voice instead of a real live actor.   I can’t believe it was an artistic decision.  The relationship between Anne and her parents, or Griff and his father, would have been explored more thoroughly in a better film as it was in Rebel Without a Cause, since much of their own inner turmoil is a result of parents who are impotent when it comes to child rearing.  Here, the relationships are touched upon just long enough that we know they exist, or should I say know that the bond between parent and child are practically non existent although it is possible Anne has a decent relationship with her father.

Buddy on the other hand, gets too much of a good thing.  His mother’s smothering affection, while not as creepy as Chris’s, is strange as well.  For somebody who supposedly loves Buddy as she says she does, you would think it wouldn’t be all that tough to give up being a boozing whore, especially since most of her “boyfriends” seem to be horny married men.  France’s relationship with the men she brings home is left in a foggy haze as well as to whether she does it because she is lonely, or if in fact she does it for the money.  Is she a prostitute or not?  Like Anne’s trip, it is never spelled out.



What Because They’re young does have going for it is a good young cast that is better than what they were sometimes given to work with throughout their career.   That  can often be said of Michael Callan, Tuesday Weld, and Warren Berlinger, all of who bring their A game to this  film that would probably  be below  average at best without their participation.  Sometimes, the films they made  were good, but either their participation wasn’t given the credit deserved or the film was just simply  overlooked.

Case in point is Michael Callan, an actor I’ve always found fascinating to watch regardless as to whether the material was a film such as this one, a special effects extravaganza such as Mysterious Island, or a guest shot appearance in Love, American Style.  In Cat Ballou, I can hardly imagine that film being as good as it was without his starring turn as Clay Boone.  But because Lee Marvin went on to win the Best Actor Oscar (and deservedly), Callan’s contributions have been unfairly relegated to almost being a footnote.  His role as Dr. Alec Considine in the films The Interns and its sequel The New Interns which required both dramatic and comedic skills gave credence to the fact that his range was hardly limited.   His television series, Occasional Wife, in which he met his future wife and ex-wife Patricia Harty, was one of my favorites at the time and highly underrated  despite only lasting one season.


For years Tuesday Weld was relegated to teenage sex kitten roles such as that of Anne Gregor in this film and unwed mother Noreen in Elvis Presley’s Wild in the Country vehicle, even after she had aged well past that nosense.   And luck was not on her side either, having turned down roles in box office successes such as Bonnie & Clyde and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  But she was outstanding opposite Tony Perkins in Pretty Poison, and Gregory Peck in I Walk The Line along with many other films.  

Warren Berlinger gives one of the better performances of his career here as he did in Blue Denim.  His list of credits consist mostly of guest starring in television series, although he did a real nice job starring as the very likable Kilroy, a three part Disney World of Color telefilm that I remember and wouldn’t mind seeing again, although even Disney may have forgotten of it’s existence by now.  We’ll mark that one off as being buried in the vault forever.  He also costarred in a film called Billie with Patty Duke in which he played her love interest.  It’s one of those obscure films that I like to write about so there’s always a chance we’ll get around to it.  I have the DVD laying around here somewhere.  

Although not really given much to do in this film, both Roberta Shore and Doug McClure would go on to star in the television series The Virginian.  Shore was also known for being cast as a teenage villainess to everyone’s heart throb Annette Funicello in a Mickey Mouse Club serial and in the film The Shaggy Dog.  You just don’t mess around with America’s Favorite Beach Blanket Bingo Girl. After doing three seasons co-starring in The Virginian, she headed to Utah where she’s seldom been heard from since.


Doug McClure would become best known for his role as Trampas, which he would play for nine years.  But he also starred in a much underrated series called Search, in which he rotated as the star with Hugh O’Brien and Tony Franciosa.  (Just discovered that the pilot for Search which was called PROBE IS available from Warner Archive collection.  Highly Recommended) Doug would also team up with James Darren in the original Gidget.  McClure would die of cancer at the age of 59, shortly after having received his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dick Clark acquits himself here quite well, although there are those who undoubtedly would suggest that he’s doing nothing more than playing himself in his role as Neil Hendry.  But as host of shows such as American Bandstand, Pyramid, and Where the Action is, was he not in fact playing a role as well?   On Bandstand, Clark had a rapport with his teenage audience that nobody has ever been able to match, and if he draws on that persona for his role as Neil, there’s nothing at all wrong with that because it works very well.

Victoria Shaw is given much to do besides look beautiful and be a love interest for Neil.  On that level, she succeeds.  Ms. Shaw is certainly gorgeous.  Oh, and there is that secret I mentioned earlier as to why she no longer wishes to teach which also gives her at least one dramatic moment.  Shaw would go on to guest star in many TV series, but like McClure she would pass away at the relatively young age of 53 from emphysema.



Musically, both Duane Eddy and James Darren, not having much of anything else to do in their lives, drop in at the Harrison High Shool Dance to jam.  Eddy performs Shazam which he wrote with Lee Hazlewood, and Darren sings the title song. 

Strangely, Duane Eddy would have a hit record recording the theme song as an instrumental (a studio orchestra plays it in the title sequence, not Eddy), and Darren did not, although I do like his version.  At one time I had uploaded the clip in which Darren performs the song, but that account was deleted a long time ago, mainly because the idiot brass at Sony still haven’t learned that a three or four minute clip promotes what is otherwise an obscure film or in this case an obscure song.  But you can hear both versions in the YouTube videos at the end of the review. 

Darren would also hook up with Doug McClure in a film called The Lively Set.  Good luck finding that one but if you do, send me a copy.  Darren also co-starred in the short lived 60’s TV series The Time Tunnel, which can currently be purchased at Amazon or viewed on Hulu.  He also did stints on Melrose Place, T.J. Hooker, and Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine.

Then there’s the Gidget connection.  The director of the three theatrical Gidget films was Paul Wendkos, who also directed Because They’re Young.  Doug McClure would show up with Darren in the original Gidget, and Michael Callan would show up as Moondoggie’s rival in Gidget Goes Hawaiian.

 

If you’ve never seen Because They’re Young, it’s one you should seek out despite some of  it’s shortcomings.  Besides seeing an excellent young cast early in their careers, it is also better than most films of the genre in that era.  It does offer up a fictional taste of what Hollywood had to offer teenagers in the early sixties, and there is just enough drama so that you won’t be bored.  As Maltin said, it’s a film that if you meet it on it’s own terms, you will be entertained.  It is a time capsule of a bygone era.  As for myself, I enjoy this film for all of these reasons and although it may have been long forgotten by most people, I always find it to be worthwhile and for that I have no choice but to render my grade of a B-. 

The film occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies.  It is also available to buy from Amazon DVD on demand for about twenty bucks (see the ad at the top of the page) and I’ll probably invest in a copy.  I used an old VHS transfer to write this review, and the quality leaves something to be desired.

Here’s some of the promised YouTube music.   One of the videos was taking down on you tube for the usual reasons.  So then there were two.


Ironically, although he didn’t perform the song in the film, Eddy scored big with this instrumental version. It was probably his biggest hit.

 
James Darren performs the title song at the Harrison High dance and recorded it. I once had the clip from the movie up on you tube, but some peanut brain executive doesn’t understand that a 2:50 minute song might just promote the record and the movie. That’s why they’re idiot suits. This is the only version currently on YouTube, and don’t hold your breath that it’ll stay.

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