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Because They're Young
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A compassionate new high school teacher (Dick Clark) doesn't quite realize what he's getting himself into when he becomes involved in the lives of some of his students. A showcase for Columbia's young tatent, the film also features Doug McClure, Warren Berlinger, Roberta Shore and Victoria Shaw.
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When Neil arrives at Harrison, he is escorted to his classroom by the Principal's secretary, Joanne Dietrich (Victoria Shaw). She took the job as a personal secretary so that she wouldn't have to teach. She wants no part of it. Why? Details will be revealed when the plot calls for them to be and not before. In other words, I will reveal no plot details before their time. But we do sense that love is blossoming between these two anguished adults like daffodils in springtime even if it is only September.
Principal Donlan (Wendall Holmes) who hired Neil, isn't so sure it was such a good decision. Since hiring him, Donlan has written the school where Neil practiced his teaching skills, and the letter that came back wasn't entirely glowing with praise. Neil, it seems, has this bad habit of getting involved with his students lives because he is under the belief that the bad eggs can be straightened out. In other words, he doesn't believe that teaching is only about getting kids to pass some arbitrary test.
But that's heresy to Donlan. Harrison's accreditation rating is what's important and he intends to keep it that way, despite the fact that some of the transfer students are "coming from schools that are practically vestibules of the juvenile detention homes."
This being high school, the students have problems of their own. Buddy McCalla (Warren Berlinger) has just moved into town with his mom, Frances (Linda Watkins), to start a new life. He's an athlete, a good student, delivers newspapers for a living, and is pretty much a momma's boy. Momma loves to dote on her son, even to the point of making him wear a tie on the first day of school. And when Buddy is off doing the things that high school kids do, Frances still loves to dote, on just about anything in pants that will keep her in booze, cash, and give her a tumble.
Still, if given a choice, I'd prefer Frances any day of the week to Anne Gregor's (Tuesday Weld) Mother. We never really meet Mrs. Gregor in person, but we do get to hear the chalk on blackboard squeaking and screeching voice squealing from the bedroom. One of the things the disembodied voice gripes about is that Anne did a very bad thing with a very bad boy who was sniffing after her honey pot, and that Anne just got back from places unknown for reasons unknown.
And who is "that boy?" That boy is Griff Rimer (Michael Callan), and like Anne, he too is beginning his first day at Harrison. Griff is one of those escapees from what Donlan referred to as the "vestibules of juvenile delinquency."
When he catches up with Anne at the school, Bad Boy Griff want's to pick up right where he left off. But Anne is having none of that, and whatever motivation she had to do the nasty with Griff previously, she has since gotten over it.
Having been spurned by Anne, Griff decides that his best course of action is to play it straight, pretend to fit in, and be accepted. It's a plan that works rather well...until it doesn't.
Griff also works in the butcher shop at a supermarket with a middle age cretin that goes by the name of Chris (Rudy Bond). Chris is a seedy character, and the inference here is that he's meant to be gay. But that's not what makes him seedy. He's seedy because he's a crook who uses teenagers to carry out his own nefarious deeds. When he discovers that Griff has been lifting cigarette cartons, he uses it as a tool to entice Griff into more dastardly escapades with his other recruit Patcher (Chris Robinson).
There's one other thing Griff has in common with both Anne and Buddy. His parental upbringing leaves something to be desired. How can I put this delicately? I can't so I'll just spit it out. Mr. Rimer (Philip Coolidge) is a jerk. He has had little use for his son for most of his life.
Last, and probably also least, are Jim Trent (Doug McClure) and Richelle "Ricky" Summers (Roberta Shore). He's a star on the football team, she's a star on the cheerleading squad. They both come from good stable homes and caring parents, and they seem to be two well rounded individuals.
So why are they here? I guess every film has to have balance, and in the sixties I imagine the writers and producers needed to have a couple of shining examples that would put parents at ease, especially after having met the rest of Harrison High's Class of 1960. But, there is the slim possibility that Jim and Ricky's hormones could get the better of them, and that the two of them could end up doing the nasty in the back of Jim's sporty convertible, thus adding a little drama to their story line.
The biggest problem you're going to have watching Because They're Young, is that it's feet are planted firmly in the sensibilities of the late fifties/early sixties. But I refuse to accept the reasoning that it is no longer watchable because of that. It is a poor excuse for people to keep from enjoying films that were topical in the era in which they were made, but may not be as relevent 52 years later. Certainly we should be able to view these films in much the same way as one would view any historical drama. Just because some of the conflict may seem a bit dated in 2011, does not detract from the fact that for the characters of 1960, these dilemmas were real and problematic.
While Because They're Young doesn't come close to approaching the dramatic intensity of a film such as The Blackboard Jungle, made five years earlier, it gets by on it's own merits. Much of the film is dark and pessimistic, and at times it appeared as if Director Paul Wendkos and Cinematographer Wilfred Cline wanted to head down a darker path but were constrained by the requirement to produce a film that would be palatable for studio distribution and consumable by a mass teen age audience.
Take for instance the character of Chris, who befriends and tutors both Griff and Hatcher. The butcher is so creepy he'll make your skin crawl. His recruitment of Patcher and Griff have as much to do with his personal and perverted nature as it does with involving them in criminal acts. Let me clarify that. By perverted, I do not mean that as a description of Chris's sexual orientation, but as an indictment of his obvious use of blackmail and bribery of teen boys as a means of seduction. And that would hold rather Chris was heterosexual, bi-sexual, or gay, and it's never made clear exactly what he is. He's just a nasty person.
There is also the slight suggestion that besides having been caught in a sexual liaison with Griff, Anne may have gone off to either deliver a baby out of wedlock, or to have an illegal abortion. Considering the time frame, and the fact that it is never spelled out one way or the other, my guess is it would be the latter. We know that Anne's parents found out about the two of them, and because of a comment her disembodied mother makes early in the film, we also know that Anne has returned from a place or places unknown. We're left to fill in the blanks and it does hurt the film.
Michael Callan, an actor I've always found fascinating to watch regardless as to whether the material was a film such as this one, a special effects extravaganza such as Mysterious Island , or a guest shot appearance in Love American Style . In Cat Ballou , I can hardly imagine that film being as good as it was without his starring turn as Clay Boone. But because Lee Marvin went on to win the Best Actor Oscar (and deservedly so), Callan's contributions have been unfairly relegated to almost being a footnote. His role as Dr. Alec Considine in the films The Interns and its sequel The New Interns which required both dramatic and comedic skills gave credence to the fact that his range was hardly limited.
For years Tuesday Weld was relegated to teenage sex kitten roles such as that of Anne Gregor in this film and unwed mother Noreen in Elvis Presley's Wild in the Country vehicle, even after she had aged well past that nosense. And luck was not on her side either, having turned down roles in box office successes such as and. But she was outstanding opposite Tony Perkins in Pretty Poison, and Gregory Peck in I Walk the Line along with many other films.
Warren Berlinger gives one of the better performances of his career here as he did in Blue Denim. His list of credits consist mostly of guest starring in television series, although he did a real nice job starring as the very likable Kilroy, a three part Disney World of Color telefilm that I remember and wouldn't mind seeing again, although even Disney may have forgotten of it's existence by now. We'll mark that one off as being buried in the vault forever.
Although not really given much to do in this film, both Roberta Shore and Doug McClure would go on to star in the television series The Virginian. Shore was also known for being cast as a teenage villainess to everyone's heart throb Annette Funicello in the Mickey Mouse Club serial Annette and in the film The Shaggy Dog. You just don't mess around with America's Favorite Beach Blanket Bingo Girl. After doing three seasons co-starring in The Virginian, she headed to Utah where she's seldom been heard from since.
Doug McClure would become best known for his role as Trampas, which he would play for nine years. But he also starred in a much underrated series called Search, in which he rotated as the star with Hugh O'Brien and Tony Franciosa. The Pilot called Probe is now available from Amazon. Doug would also team up with James Darren in the original Gidget. McClure would die of cancer at the age of 59, shortly after having received his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dick Clark acquitted himself quite well here, although there are those who undoubtedly would suggest that he did nothing more than play himself in his role as Neil Hendry. But as host of shows such as American Bandstand, Pyramid, and Where the Action is, was he not in fact playing a role as well? On Bandstand, Clark had a rapport with his teenage audience that nobody has ever been able to match, and if he draws on that persona for his role as Neil, there's nothing at all wrong with that because it works very well.
Victoria Shaw is given much to do besides look beautiful and be a love interest for Neil. On that level, she succeeds. Ms. Shaw is certainly gorgeous. Oh, and there is that secret I mentioned earlier as to why she no longer wishes to teach which also gives her at least one dramatic moment. Shaw would go on to guest star in many TV series, but like McClure she would pass away at the relatively young age of 53 from emphysema.
Musically, both Duane Eddy and James Darren, not having much of anything else to do in their lives, drop in at the Harrison High Shool Dance to jam. Eddy performs Shazam which he wrote with Lee Hazlewood, and Darren sings the title song.
Strangely, Duane Eddy would have a hit record recording the theme song as an instrumental (a studio orchestra plays it in the title sequence, not Eddy), and Darren did not, although I do like his version.
Then there's the Gidget connection. The director of the three theatrical Gidget films was Paul Wendkos, who also directed Because They're Young. Doug McClure would show up with Darren in the original Gidget, and Michael Callan would show up as Moondoggie's rival in Gidget Goes Hawaiian.
If you've never seen Because They're Young, it's one you should seek out despite some of it's shortcomings. Besides seeing an excellent young cast early in their careers, it is also better than most films of the genre in that era. It does offer up a fictional taste of what Hollywood had to offer teenagers in the early sixties, and there is just enough drama so that you won't be bored. As Maltin said, it's a film that if you meet it on it's own terms, you will be entertained. It is a time capsule of a bygone era. As for myself, I enjoy this film for all of these reasons and although it may have been long forgotten by most people, I always find it to be worthwhile and for that I have no choice but to render my grade of a B.
The Sony MOD DVD is a pristine transfer in an anamorphic wide screen (1.85) ratio.