Lockdown Movie Musts: 1950s Hot Rods, Hellcats and He-Males

Welcome to Week Two of Lockdown Movie Musts! Featuring weird subgenres of yore that'll take your mind off, well, (*gestures wildly*) all this.

This week, daddy-o, we're gonna beat feet with the cool cats down to the sock hop for some jivin' and back seat bingo. That's right! It's 1950s teen rebellion movies! And they really do sound like this!

Here, for example, is the very first conversation anyone has in 1958's Hot Rod Gang:

Jake: I'm still convinced the half-drive centrifugal blower will get better power drive.
Girl 1: There he goes with that hot rod Esperanto again. Dissect that mechanical genius and I expect you'll find spark plugs and multiple parts.
Girl 2: And a super-charger instead of a heart. Maybe he'd give me a tumble if I was a drag wagon!
Johnny: He just doesn't realize your potential horsepower outlet, baby, that's all.
Girl 2: All it takes is the right fuel mixture and my RPM reacts like crazy!

We'll get back to these fantastically dressed idiots later.

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Let's start instead, with High School Hellcats—a high school movie in which no one looks like they're in high school. This tale concerns Joyce Martin (...pretty sure "Joyce" was 1958's "Karen"...) who starts at a new school only to get corrupted by a gang of (*checks notes*) hellcats.

What we're supposed to be worried about in this movie is the fact that the gang likes to drink alcohol, hang out in abandoned buildings, impersonate teachers and wear "slacks." (You wouldn't believe how much people talk about slacks in this thing!) Which is all rather confusing when there's such a long list of things to be genuinely concerned about in High School Hellcats.

Respectful of your time, I compiled a short list.

  1. Joyce's dad is a sociopath. He talks angrily and often about her "tight sweaters" and lipstick, and when she enters the living room in a perfectly prim petticoat, he literally hits her in the face. Total sociopath.
  2. Joyce's love interest is a sociopath. He announces that Joyce is his "girl" approximately five minutes after meeting her, yells at her for having plans with other people, and—best of all!—when one of Joyce's friends dies suddenly, he says she was "asking for it." Total sociopath.
  3. Everyone at Joyce's school is a sociopath. In addition to playing party games in which screaming women get groped in the dark, they all abandon the dead body of one of their friends, stay silent about it while she lies undiscovered for a full week, and lie through their teeth to the police about it! Total sociopaths.
  4. Joyce has a raging eating disorder. She skips breakfast because she's "watching her figure," lies to her mother about eating dinner and consumes nothing but coffee with no sugar. (In all fairness, it's no wonder, given all the sociopaths she's dealing with...) Won't somebody notice poor, starving Joyce's cries for help?

It's almost impossible to care about any of the sociopaths in High School Hellcats, so the rebellious woman at the center of 1959's Girls Town is a breath of fresh air by comparison.

Silver Morgan (played by Mamie Van Doren) smokes a lot and says things like, "Don't flip your wig, I've got your signal!" and "Go flap your plates!" and, at one particularly baffling point, "Go bingle your bunk!" She refers to the phone as "the Alexander Graham," and men as "studs," "daddy-os" and "he-males." At one point, she puts a potato in one of her stockings and uses it as a weapon.

Silver is ridiculous and awesome in equal measure.

Less awesome is Silver's 15-year-old sister, Mary Lee, who fails to report it when the adult man who tries to rape her (in a horrifying opening scene I was not prepared for) falls off a cliff and dies. Silver—despite being busy at the time seductively kissing a boy at a very surreal make-out party by the river—ends up getting the blame and being sent to a Catholic dormitory for girls.

The details of what follows in the rest of the movie really don't matter much, but just know that there's a drag race, a private eye, a couple of totally unnecessary musical interludes and, at one point, one girl describing holy water as "plain ordinary water with the hell boiled out of it." Oh, and the ending is fantastically feminist, which didn't make me sad.

Word of warning though. Paul Anka appears in Girls Town as a dreamboat all the girls swoon and scream over. (One even tries to kill herself because he's not her boyfriend.) There is no kind way of saying this, but, dude. Even in 1959, Paul Anka was decidedly not a dreamboat. Watching everyone fawning over him on screen was super confusing until I looked up who he was in real life.

Similarly confusing to contemporary audiences will be Hot Rod Gang's obsession with Gene Vincent, who appears in the 1958 movie as himself, Gene Vincent. Even the kids in this movie who are supposed to be friends with Gene Vincent refer to him exclusively as "Gene Vincent" in full, lest anyone forget Gene Vincent is in this movie. Gene Vincent, Gene Vincent, Gene Vincent.

The movie is otherwise framed around Johnny, a car racin' rock 'n' roller from a fancy family. One day, Johnny hits a puddle and splashes a fancy man from a different fancy family. That fancy man wants Johnny arrested, but instead accidentally introduces his fancy daughter to Johnny, which prompts the two fancy kids to fall in love. (If you've ever wanted to watch a movie about rebels in which no one is an underdog, Hot Rod Gang is for you!)

Then, in an apparent bid to make the movie longer, Johnny dons a fake beard and beret and starts a music career with some help from Gene Vincent. (Did I mention Gene Vincent was in this?) There's also some swing dancing, two fist fights and a stolen hubcap subplot that's flimsy at best. We'll leave you with a scene that combines this movie's three greatest strengths: gratuitous dancing, self-conscious dialog and, yes, Gene Vincent.

YouTube has a wealth of these '50s teen flicks available for free. (I just did a random grab bag.) Knock yourselves out, hepcats.

Until next week, stay safe and keep sheltering.

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