Monday, August 13, 2012

Mad Youth

Sex, drugs and rock n' roll in movies didn't start in the sixties -- even in the thirties and forties, hookers, weed and lewd behaviour could be found in sleazy movie houses all over the country. Neither did the idea of the old movie star making a living in low-grade exploitation flicks begin with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Nope, as far back as the late thirties, Betty Compson was paying the bills with bottom-of-the-bill quickies. Compson had gotten her start in silents, working with everyone from Fatty Arbuckle to Lon Chaney to Josef Von Sternberg, even earning a best actress Oscar nomination. But after twenty years in the biz, the roles slowed down and her alcoholic husband hung her with taxes & debts and she wound up doing flicks like Escort Girl, Laughing at Danger and Mad Youth..
In Mad Youth, peroxided mom Betty and her peroxided daughter (played by frequent Three Stooges co-star Mary Ainslee -- she's supposed to be a teenager, but looks to be slightly on the north side of thirty) live on alimony and allowance in a posh apartment. Sitting at her art deco dressing table, Mom calls up her local escort agency -- where they know her, natch -- to send over "a nice young man for a bridge party." She hits up her daughter for cash to pay her "gigolo," Daughter says yes if she can have "the gang" over for an unsupervised house party. The ladies' bridge shindig is like a less witty but more raunchy and certainly less fashionable version of a gossipfest from The Women, the teen party is kind of like a Reefer Madness party but with jitterbugging instead of roaches -- for no reason, some chick shows up in the middle of it in full majorette drag and proceeds to do some kind of full twirling routine while tap dancing, which is a rather David Lynch moment. The adults get hammered, the kids play strip poker.
Mother hassles Daughter about not getting married and, more importantly, out of her way so that she can have hustlers, gigolos and assorted swingers over without compunction -- hey, we know kids always be crampin' your style. Daughter responds with a profound truth I wish I'd had as a stock response years ago: "I've never found a man I'd want to marry. The ones that'd make good family men are so dumb I can't stand them and the ones I like are so worthless I'd starve." Sums it up, really...
Anyway, Mom keeps calling the escort service for the Count, the Count decides he'd rather go out with Daughter. More jitterbugging ensues. Then we stop for a flamenco performance. And some bullfighting. Then more jitterbugging. There's a lot of this in old exploitation movies: Stopping dead for an unrelated musical number. Fills time, i guess and if an investor has a piece who's a baton twirler, well...
So, anyway, Daughter continues to run around with "the Count" (cue endless montage of diary entries and random nightclub stock footage and a long vist to a freakshow). In the meantime, Daughter's friend runs away from home rather than be sent to her uncle's farm ("... and the hicks, worst of all, the hicks."), choosing the far more rational option of becoming a mail-order bride.  Mom finds diary, realizes Daughter has been going to art deco nightclubs, "slumming in Chinatown" and visiting Coney Island magic shows with the Count and lays down some truthiness of her own: "I don't want to grow old. I want some of the good things in life I was cheated out of by a loveless marriage... I've always resented you. I never wanted you in the first place." Ooooooh....
Daughter takes off to visit friend who, of course, is now working in a whorehouse, where the usual old-movie white-slavery shakedown ensues. (No joke:  A white-slavery flick, Traffic in Souls was the first full-length American feature film, with innovative use of crosscutting and location shooting, as well as being the first crime movie.) The Count rescues the Daughter after a very awkward fistfight and a small speech celebrating bourgeois values -- "I got my American citizenship papers yesterday and I got a job. We'll get married and we can live like self-respecting, self-supporting Americans should." But, at the end, Mom is picking up the phone and calling the escort service for another "nice young college boy" and  Mad Youth is right back where we started.

No comments:

Post a Comment