Untamed Youth (1957, USA)

Untamed Youth - with Mamie Van Doren up front as Penny Lowe

Untamed youth? These youth are so tame that after working as virtual slaves in the hot sun all day and then being fed dog food, their collective response is to spend all night dancing to a rock ‘n’ roll jukebox.  In a very untamed fashion, of course.

The youth have all been sentenced to pick cotton – in what at first seems to be an attractive alternative to going to the county jail. Amongst them are sisters Penny and Jane Lowe (Mamie Van Doren and Lori Nelson), caught skinny-dipping and duly sentenced to 30 days for hitch-hiking and vagrancy. It transpires that the female judge, the sheriff and the ranch owner, Russ Tropp, have a nice cosy arrangement – lots of fun-loving young people are sentenced to time at the ranch (supposedly with a view to regaining their self-respect), where they provide cheap labour and make Tropp very rich.

Tropp (an imposing John Russell) is your classic villain. He exploits his workers mercilessly, preys upon the young women, and to make sure he looks suitably villainous has two fierce Dobermans at his disposal – at one point even walking through his own house with them straining at the leash.

The wickedness of his scheme is exposed only when the Judge’s son returns from the Navy, starts work at the ranch (which used to belong to his family but was sold off when his father died), warns Tropp about the medical condition of a 19-year-old girl who subsequently dies… and falls in love with Jane. Oh, and finds out that his mother has secretly married Mr Tropp, which seems to point to a minor conflict of interest (for which she is never held accountable).

The whole thing is awfully, awfully silly. The strangely pneumatic Ms Van Doren wants to be an entertainer and regularly bursts into song, but dances like she has only heard rock ‘n’ roll dancing described and has never seen it. So joyfully imbued with the rock ‘n’ roll spirit are these kids that – despite being desperately exploited – they manage at one point to spontaneously break into a big number in the cotton fields.

It’s replete with quaint 1950s-isms, such as one woman in a catfight threatening to give the other an ‘Italian haircut’ (I still don’t know what that means) and regularly exclaiming ‘Chihuahua!’ (quite possibly to confirm her identity as a Latina)… and Eddie Cochrane.

It can’t really be said to be a prison movie. Though a private prison precursor, perhaps.

Untamed Youth #2 - Lucita as Margaritia and Lori Nelson as Jane Lowe Untamed Youth #3 - John Russell as Russ Tropp

Posted on November 20th, 2010 at 10:25 pm. Updated on November 20th, 2010 at 10:25 pm.

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