The Delinquents (1957)
“See for yourself – the ravaged lives in the adolescent jungle of America today!”
The Delinquents (1957)
Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Tom Laughlin, Peter Miller, Richard Bakalyan
Synopsis: A frustrated young man, separated from his younger girlfriend, gets involved in a juvenile gang.
Book-ended by the type of pious speeches that belong solely to school education films for those from troubled backgrounds (and with learning difficulties), The Delinquents is a surprisingly good film from a Robert Altman at the beginning of his career. As you’d expect from a young novice filmmaker, the pacing is uneven to say the least, and the editing leaves something to be desired, but the story does create a certain amount of tension in its final act.
Tom Laughlin plays Scottie, a decent young man who is prevented from seeing his 16-year-old girlfriend Janice (Rosemary Howard) by her worried father. You’d think her parents would be pleased she was going steady with a clean-cut young man instead of seeing lots of other boys (which her mother helpfully suggests she might do when they prevent her from seeing Scottie) but there’s no talking them around. A heartbroken Scottie takes himself off to the local drive-in where he falls in with the local delinquents led by the charmingly psychopathic Cholly (Peter Miller – Rebel Without a Cause). Cholly offers to collect Janice from her home and deliver her to Scottie under the pretext of being her new date, but it isn’t long before their friendship goes awry when jealous gang member Eddie (Richard Bakalyan – The Patsy, Chinatown) falsely accuses Scottie of squealing to the police about an illicit party the gang have staged.
Most juvenile movies from the 1950s are pretty dire. They were designed to appeal to the very people they pretended to condemn, so production values were usually low and the quality of writing poor. Altman wrote as well as directing and producing, so the dialogue is a step above the ordinary, and for the most part the acting is very good. Laughlin, in particular, gives an impressively natural performance. Sadly, his performance isn’t matched by his on-screen girlfriend Howard, who gives a truly excruciating one. It’s no surprise this role is the only one on her resume, and it’s a shame Altman couldn’t find a better actress for the part. Richard Bakalyan, a regular on US TV, is also good as the weaselly Eddie, who takes an instant dislike to Scottie. As was usual with these movies, the entire juvenile cast is made up of actors who were all around 30 years old, and some of them look even older.
(Reviewed 22nd March 2012)