(director: Mark Robson; screenwriters: story by John Fante and Herbert Kline/Ardel Wray/John Fante; cinematographer: John J. Mescall; editor: John Lockert; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Bonita Granville (Toddy), Kent Smith (Danny Coates), Jean Brooks (Mary Hauser), Glenn Vernon (Frank Hauser), Tessa Brind (Sarah Taylor), Ben Bard (Mr. Taylor), Elizabeth Russell (Mrs. Mabel Taylor), Lawrence Tierney (Larry Duncan), Dickie Moore (Georgie), Johnny Walsh (Herb), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Cora Hauser); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Val Lewton; RKO; 2006)

“Never became the socially important drama Lewton craved.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bad and indifferent parenting is blamed for the rise of juvenile delinquency during WWII, as the parents of these working-class kids work hard in defense factories and the idle kids get into trouble with no one around to supervise them. It was inspired by a Look magazine article by John Fante and Herbert Kline. Val Lewton, who produced classic horror tales from a shoestring budget, misses badly with this dreary sermonizing family drama. It was a film he wanted his name removed from because of studio interference, but that was denied. This clunker has little to recommend it: the acting was atrocious, the storyline risible and the social commentary hardly hit the mark and never became the socially important drama Lewton craved. Director Mark Robson (“The Seventh Victim”/ “Bedlam”/ “Valley of the Dolls”) can do nothing with the superficial material.

The drama centers around two working-class households and how both sets of parents fumble the ball in raising their teenagers. Mary Hauser Coates (Jean Brooks) returns home after three years to await her decorated wounded husband Danny’s (Kent Smith) return from service. She lives with her hard-working and seemingly nice parents, who are clueless in dealing with Mary’s younger 15-year-old brother Frankie’s (Glenn Vernon) recent truancy problems. Their long hours at the factory mean that Mary spends nearly as much time parenting her own toddler as she does being a surrogate to Frankie. The other household has the hard-working Taylors (Ben Bard & Elizabeth Russell) as negligent, abusive and mean-spirited parents. They are the next door neighbors to the Hausers, who recently moved in but are resented by the Hausers for being beneath them and bringing down the standards of the neighborhood. But Frankie has taken a shine to the 16-year-old Sarah Taylor (Tessa Brind), but her loutish parents treat her like dirt and keep her busy looking after her two younger sisters and doing endless household chores. They are so inconsiderate, they don’t give her any free time to see Frankie.

The young lovers are befriended by the sleazy thirtysomething tire bootlegger Larry Duncan (Lawrence Tierney) and his good-time girl companion Toddy (Bonita Granville). After a botched tire robbery incident that Frankie gets talked into doing by Larry’s underlings, he’s placed on parole by the judge to Danny. Meanwhile Frankie’s mom Cora (Mary Servoss), without listening to her son, blindly decides to forbid him to see Sarah. The mamma’s boy reluctantly agrees. Then nosy body Toddy makes it so Sarah gets booted out of her house for staying out all-night, with her parents foolishly not even listening to her innocent explanation. Toddy talks the much younger Sarah into moving in with her and gets her job in the bad environment of Rocky’s bar.

The melodrama breaks down into a semi-exploitation film that uses a string of clichés to make the juvenile delinquency problem seem simplistic.

Ruth Clifton, an Illinois teenager who instituted a youth center movement in her hometown in response to the wartime problem with juveniles, was mistakenly called in by the studio suits to be a technical adviser and they doctored up the film into things she suggested and further cut it from Lewton’s original intentions when the jittery suits came under fire from the U.S. State Department who said the subject matter was not good for the nation’s morale. It was again reworked after it previewed unfavorably before an audience. I don’t blame Lewton for wanting his name removed from this banal piece of trash, as it hardly turned out the way he wanted it to.