B&W, 1956, 56 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by William Morgan
Starring Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Art Millan, Theresa Hancock, Joanne Cangi, Gloria Farr, Glen Corbett
American Genre Film Archive / Something Weird (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Something Weird (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Equal parts sleazy juvenile delinquent and finger-wagging morality play, this bonkers look at ‘50s girl run amuck is best remembered now for coming from the twisted pen of none other than Edward D. Wood Jr., fresh from writing and directing the astonishing Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster. Though the film features plenty of lingering looks at the actresses’ sweaters, Ed didn’t direct this one; instead that honor went to William Morgan, his final directorial effort after a batch of B-movie western programmers (and a more notable career as a film editor with credits like Song of the South and Portrait of Jennie).
In the framing device, a buttoned-up, all-American couple is being raked over the coals in a courtroom by a stern judge due to the shoddy parenting of their daughter, Paula (Moorhead). In flashbacks, Paula’s mom, Jane (Weeks), reflects on how her absenteeism allowed Paula to fall in with a bad crowd – namely a girl gang consisting of Phyllis (Farr), Georgia (Hancock), and Geraldine (Cangi), whose gas station crime spree is leaving some unlucky folks in the hospital. (That prompts the investigating police officer to utter the film’s greatest Woodian line, “These aren’t kids. These are morons!”) Soon they’re escalating to robbing a necking couple in their car in the woods, a shockingly kinky moment complete with the girl tied up bondage-style with her own shredded skirt and dragging the boy off to apparently be gang raped. From there it’s a slippery slope to school vandalism, a debauched pajama party, and a police shootout before we get back to that courtroom again.
After a gig on VHS from Rhino hosted by Mamie Van Doren, The Violent Years first broke loose on DVD from Something Weird in 2001 as a “Teenage Terror Drive-In Double Feature” with Girl Gang, plus the usual avalanche of extra material including two bonus instructional shorts (“Goofballs and Tea” and “What About Juvenile Delinquency?”), drive-in snipes, a huge image gallery for the main feature, and bonus trailers including Jacktown, Slightly Damaged (which also gets some radio spots), Strange Compulsion, and The Coppers.
The 2017 edition from the joint venture between the American Genre Film Archive and Something Weird is a nice surprise, sporting a new transfer from the original negative in pristine condition. It also reveals that the prior DVD was from a darker, dupier reissue print with completely different main titles and opening logo, and there's really no comparison at all here with the new scan trampling the older one into the ground.
The DTS-HD MA English mono audio also sounds much clearer and more robust than before, and on top of that, you get a very entertaining new audio commentary with SW expert and exploitation filmmaking legend Frank Henenlotter and Rudolph Grey, author of the great Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy, that comes loaded with anecdotes about the entire Wood stable including recollections from Grey's extensive interviews with those who knew and worked with him. They also touch on the juvenile delinquency wave of the '50s both in real life and on the screen (as well as comics), with adults wringing their hands and pointing their fingers at a wide number of possible causes. The theatrical trailer is also included along with a 15-minute reel of "Gutter-Noir Trailers from the Something Weird vaults" including No Morals (starring "Jean" Moreau!), Diary of a Bad Girl, The Vice Dolls, Naked and the Wicked, The Shameless Sex, and the truly lunatic trailer for The Sinister Urge. The only 10-minute chunk of footage Wood shot for a planned juvenile delinquent film called Hellborn is also included here in all its VHS-preserved glory, which will look familiar to those who saw the hour-long 1993 VHS documentary with Conrad Brooks about the aborted project (which was eventually peppered into Night of the Ghouls and The Sinister Urge). In tried and true Something Weird fashion, you also get a bonus feature, in this case a fresh, sparkly new scan of the PD perennial, Anatomy of a Psycho (73m48s). Previously released on DVD in an open matte transfer paired up with The Lonely Sex, the juvenile delinquent favorite is nicely framed here at 1.78:1 and looks quite solid with this new scan of a healthy theatrical print. Some damage is evident here and there including some scratches and staining near the end of the first reel, but the rich textures on display here are a real joy to watch and make this perennial drive-in favorite even more fun than ever before here.
ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO
THE VIOLENT YEARS (DVD)
Reviewed on November 23, 2017.