Mad Youth

September 20, 2010 at 2:41 am (6 Heads, Mad Youth) (, , , )

Mad Youth – 1940 – United States

If not the for the multitude of budget video companies making quick bucks on misleadingly-titled DVD sets, many public domain movies would be lost. A favorite of mine is Mill Creek Entertainment whose horror and sci-fi 50 movie packs showcase dusty 30s and 40s forgettables including “race” films, dark house whodunits, and endless gorilla flicks. Mad Youth is in Mill Creek’s Cult Classics set, mostly composed of drug cautionaries ala Reefer Madness. Mad Youth is similarly moralistic, but functions as an actual drama and even has some interesting touches. In other words: surprisingly watchable.

In this “real life drama” “based on facts”, a divorcee recaptures youth by going to bridge nights with male escorts (true escorts, not gigolos). She falls for a particular escort after one date but he has eyes for her daughter, creating a schism between bitter mother and bratty (but well-meaning) child. Eventually, the daughter is abducted into prostitution, and the escort rescues her after berating her mother for negligence in a speech that summarizes the flick’s entire moral outlook. Then the escort gets a “real” job and he and the daughter get married

If you can’t guess, Mad Youth’s plot is scattered, arbitrary, and rife with weak characterizations and motivations, but with remarkable twists. For one, despite the daughter’s fast party girl life of necking, drinking, and strip poker, she’s the heroine. Instead, the mother is villainised, portrayed as vain and resentful of her daughter’s youth. Then there’s the escort, always chivalrous (also a “count” from a foreign land, apparently). The stereotypes are flipped. It’s not James M. Cain, but the script is unusual enough to be engaging.

Equally engaging are bits of Vaudeville-like filler. Dancing, singing, and slapstick interludes are numerous—and shockingly the performers are all great! A jitterbugging couple demonstrates superb footwork and acrobatics, a matador clown fights “bull dogs”, an armless artist paints with his foot, and a tapping baton twirler and Mexican clog dancers are thrown in for good measure. While poorly integrated, these breaks go far to spice up an otherwise styleless flick.

That’s not entirely fair. Despite pedestrian direction, Mad Youth has moments of flair. A simple but effective montage of streamers, glasses, and faces is used as the daughter imbibes at a club. In another sequence, diary pages flip across the screen, detailing the daughter and escort’s dates. As the pages flutter by, we get a fleeting glimpse of each entry, elegantly providing clues to the daughter’s mindset. Right this second; it’s the best use of the written page in a flick that I can think of.

Obviously, I enjoyed Mad Youth. While mostly unremarkable, it’s charmingly simple and never too melodramatic, with quick pacing making it seem more modern than some of its contemporaries. Ultimately, it’s a fun and historically interestingly exploitationer, worth watching for the superlative jitterbuggers alone.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. If you can tolerate a moldy oldie, then dig this.

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