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DELINQUENTS, THE(director/writer: Robert Altman; cinematographers: Harry Birch/Charles Paddock; editor: Helene Turner; cast: Tom Laughlin (Scotty White), Peter Miller (Cholly), Richard Bakalyan (Eddy), Rosemary Howard (Janice Wilson), Helen Hawley (Florence White), Leonard Belove (Charles White), Lotus Corelli (Mrs. Wilson), James Lantz (Mr. Wilson), Christine Altman (Sissy); Runtime: 75; United Artists; 1957)
“The film didn’t even have good music to go with its teen story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Altman’s first film is a forgettable 1950s teenager film about troubled youths in Middle America’s suburbia (filmed in Kansas City, Mo., using real police officers). It was shot semidocumentary style, with a sober voiceover telling of the growing juvenile delinquency problem.

Tom Laughlin plays Scotty, an upper-class nice teenager who needlessly gets into trouble because of over zealous parenting on the part of his girlfriend Janice White’s (Howard) parents and poor decision making on his part. Mr. White, an authoritarian figure, decides that his 16-year-old daughter is too young to be going steady and must stop seeing Scotty until he returns from his Christmas college vacation next year.

The upset Scotty goes to a drive-in alone and gets mistaken for the one who punctured the tires of a car full of teens. He’s pounced on by them, but to his rescue comes the gang that actually did the prank. Scotty is grateful that gang leader Cholly (Miller) acts friendly and is appreciative that they saved him from a beating. But gang member Eddy (Bakalyan) recognizes that Scotty is not like them and mouths off at him.

New trouble starts when Scotty agrees to go along with Cholly’s bright idea that he switch places with him and go out on a date with Janice. He will bring her to Scotty after meeting her parents and after the date bring her home. But the plan goes awry when the gang breaks into an abandoned house and throws a wild liquor party. When Janice insists on leaving early with Scotty, they avoid a police bust where all the gang members are pulled into the police station. Eddy gets the gang to believe the cops came because Scotty snitched on them, as the film deals with how the teens with different values work out their problems.

It’s amazing that a director like Altman, who was to go on and have a great career in films, made such a feeble film. The film might be of mild interest to those who desire to see how suburban white teens socialized, dated, fought, and dealt with their parents back in the 1950s. The film didn’t even have good music to go with its teen story, and that includes Julia Lee singing her rendition of “Dirty Rock Boogie.”

REVIEWED ON 9/15/2001 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”