Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Untamed Youth (1957)
Penny Lowe (van Doren) and her sister Jane (Lori Nelson) are aspiring singer/dancers on their way to LA when they get busted by a small-town sheriff for skinny-dipping and hitch-hiking. Judge Cecilia Steele (Lurene Tuttle) gives them the choice of thirty days in the county lock-up or thirty days as agricultural workers. Naturally they chose the agricultural worker option.
What they don’t know is that they’ve been caught up in a racket run by the judge, the sheriff and crooked cotton farmer Russ Tropp (John Russell). Young people get arrested by the sheriff on bogus or ridiculously trivial charges and end up picking cotton for Tropp for 75 cents a day. There’s a shortage of cotton pickers so this is a huge advantage for Tropp - the other cotton farmers in the country can’t get labourers while he’s getting virtual slave labour for peanuts. The other farmers will eventually have to sell out to him and he’ll end up filthy rich. The sheriff gets paid off and the middle-aged judge thinks she’ll end up marrying the young handsome Tropp.
Tropp has made one miscalculation. He’s employed Judge Steele’s son Bob at the ranch. Bob is a straight arrow and he falls for Jane Lowe, and he starts digging around looking for evidence of Tropp’s shady dealings.
So that’s the melodrama angle. There’s also the exploitation angle (juvenile delinquents, Mamie van Doren in tight dresses). And within the first few minutes we get a cat-fight when Jane Lowe gets into a dispute with one of the other girls at the farm.
The big surprise, and it’s a very pleasant one, is that the songs are great. It helps that one of the young cotton-pickers is played by Eddie Cochran, about a year before he became a major rock’n’roll idol. Eddie Cochran gets one very good song but Mamie van Doren gets four songs and she’s terrific. Oo-Ba-La Baby (co-written by Eddie Cochran) is a show-stopper.
Lori Nelson is very good although she’s overshadowed by Mamie van Doren. But everyone in this movie is overshadowed by Mamie van Doren. Lurene Tuttle is reasonably good. John Russell as Tropp is memorably slimy. The other cast members are quite adequate. It’s not as if any of the characters are complex or well-developed. They’re not meant to be. This is a lightweight B-movie.
Untamed Youth is not a movie to be taken at all seriously. It’s not a good movie in a conventional sense but it is a very good cult movie. It has juvenile delinquents, rock’n’roll and Mamie van Doren. And it’s fun. That’s enough to keep me happy. Highly recommended.
I’ve reviewed several other Mamie van Doren movies in the past year or so - The Girl in Black Stockings, Vice Raid and the wonderful Guns, Girls and Gangsters.