Wednesday, May 11, 2016

GIRLS TOWN 1959

Warning: Spoiler Alert. This is a critical essay, not a review, so key plot points are revealed for the purpose of discussion.

“There’s no such thing as a bad girl.” – Mother Veronica, head nun and CEO of Girls Town

Well, happily for me and producers of low-budget “girls reform school” exploitation flicks, that’s not altogether true. 

When I was growing up, late-night and weekend afternoon TV overflowed with 1950s juvenile delinquency movies (“black-&-white-shoe pictures” as they were known in our house, in reference to the two-tone saddle oxfords favored by bobbysoxers of the time). With their jazz/bop musical scores, sound-alike titles, and interchangeable casts of superannuated teenagers; these films were near-identical in their faux, anti-social emphasis—faux because no matter how extreme the civic insubordination, by fade-out you could be sure yet another blow had been struck for conformity and middle-class conservativism— and preoccupation with drag racing, leather jackets, tight sweaters, rock & roll, switchblade skirmishes, and beat generation slang.

Mainstream movies only occasionally touched on the phenomenon of 1950s youth culture. A time when population (the sheer number of teenagers), rock & roll music (anarchy with a beat), physical autonomy (car culture), and economic independence (postwar prosperity) all converged into a marketable and exploitable social force. In those rare instances when mainstream films paid attention to teen culture at all (1956s The Girl Can’t Help It, for example) young people and their distractions were either satirized or held in derision. Only independent B-movies and exploitation films actually celebrated the teenage revolution. 
Ain't No Party Like A Girls Town Party
But even these films made middle-of-the-road concessions to propriety. Almost as a public service, these films took it upon themselves to prove that the national surge in juvenile delinquency was merely due to a few bad apples, and that outside of the need to occasionally blow off a little steam (growing up in the shadow of the Bomb and the Cold War was stressful, man), American teenagers were basically good, decent kids.

Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) and Blackboard Jungle (1955) launched a spate of male-centric juvenile delinquent knockoffs. But given the fact that movies about gangs of lawless teenage boys have been around since at least 1938 (the year Spencer Tracy sought to prove to Mickey Rooney “There’s no such thing as a bad boy” in Boys Town), I always found the B-movies about girl gangs and female reprobates (Women in Prison films) to be a lot more fun. In fact, given the narrow image of womanhood promoted in the ‘50s (girlfriends, mothers, or housewives), the emergence of the tough-talking, no-nonsense gang girl: choosing to live life on their own terms – flouting both authority and social mores – seemed to me to be the only social archetype to genuinely embody the characteristics of the rebel.
I saw many of these women in prison / reform school girls flicks growing up (I was raised in a household with one TV and four sisters, all of whom delighted in the feminist subtext of these movies), but perhaps my favorite in a genre overflowing with low-rent gems, is Girls Town.
Mamie Van Doren as Silver Morgan
Paul Anka as Jimmy Parlow
Margaret Hayes as Mother Veronica
Gigi Perreau as Serafina Garcia
Mel Torme as Fred Alger
Elinor Donahue as Mary Lee Morgan
After being falsely accused of the accidental death of a former boyfriend (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Harold Lloyd Jr.), overdeveloped and underachieving high school senior Silver Morgan (the name a gender-switch tip of the hat to Mickey Rooney’s Whitey March), a peroxide punk-ette with attitude to spare, is sent to Girls Town, a youth correctional facility run by stern but tender-hearted nuns.
Silver, precariously balancing a mountain of platinum hair and prodigious curves on a pair of high-heeled, open-toes mules, is a gum-popping, slang-spewing hellcat who doesn’t take well to authority figures or being told what to do. But even though she resists rehabilitation and frequently butts heads with the nuns and the other, surprisingly compliant, Girls Town detainees, we all know that Silver is more a hard-luck case and victim of circumstance than a genuinely "bad" girl. 
Hulking, Big Ethel-ish Peggy Moffitt and B-movie queen Gloria Talbott play Flo and Vida,
the inseparable pair who maintain Girls Town order

Personally, I’d have been perfectly content were the film to consist solely of scenes devoted to Silver cooling her well-shaped heels at Girls Town, mouthing off to any and all, showering suggestively, getting into cat-fights, and instigating confrontations with the nuns (a la Hayley Mills in The Trouble With Angels); but the makers of Girls Town all-too-frequently shift the spotlight from Mamie van Doren (never a good idea) to follow through on a couple of subplots. 
Subplot #1 has Silver’s restless 15-year-old sister Mary Lee (Father Knows Best’s Elinor Donahue, decked out in a blond wig, tight sweater, and behaving in a very un-“Princess”-like fashion) blackmailed and potentially shipped off to Tijuana for her part in and knowledge of the real circumstances surrounding the death of Silver’s ex. Preposterously, these threats come from “The Velvet Fog” himself, diminutive, elder hot rod gang member Mel Tormé (whose character, despite looking well into his 30s, lives in fear of his father taking his car away).
Carrying on in the Family Tradition (click on photo to enlarge)
Although difficult to make out, that's Harold Lloyd Jr on the left clinging to a mountain cliffside in a pose recalling the iconic skyscraper sequence from his father's 1923 silent film Safety Last!

The other subplot—superfluous, but by far the most campily entertaining of the two— features another crooner, Paul Anka, as pop star Jimmy Parlow, upon whom Serafina, a lonely Girls Town orphan, is delusionally fixated. Teen sensation Paul Anka makes his film debut in Girls Town, singing almost as many songs as Olivia Newton-John did during the finale of Xanadu, and serving in practically the same magical capacity in this film’s plot. Indeed, Anka’s character swoops in to save the day so often, one wonders where he finds time to cut one of his many, sound-alike, loneliness-themed records.
Popular singing group The Platters make an appearance in a sequence set in a smart supper club (to which Silver wears the most laughably inappropriate outfit imaginable). The Platters was my father's favorite singing group so I practically grew up on their smooth sound. The group was known for its frequent changes of personnel, so perhaps that's why the face of the lead singer is never shown

Meanwhile, as Silver manages to sneak in a date with a 36-year-old delivery boy (bandleader Ray Anthony, Van Doren’s husband at the time), Girls Town shoehorns nepotistic “guest star” appearances by: Harold Lloyd Jr, Charlie Chaplin Jr, Jim Mitchum (eldest son of Robert), Cathy Crosby (Bing’s niece), and pseudo-star cameos by the likes of Dick “Daddy-O” Contino, Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, and martial arts pioneer, Bruce Tegner.
In addition to all this, time is set aside for an attempted rape, a suicide attempt, potential human trafficking, social commentary, and the standard juvenile delinquent movie staples consisting of:
Make-Out Sessions
Cat Fights
Drag Races
Remarkably, all of these labyrinthine plot entanglements wind up being neatly resolved and expeditiously dispensed with by fade-out. Silver, while still maintaining her ostentatiously lewd clothing sense, learns respect for authority and finds religious redemption (of sorts) after Jimmy subjects her to a grueling rendition of “Ave Maria.” Mary Lee is saved from an involuntary run for the border, and lonely Serafina gives up stalking Canadian pop singers with hero complexes and becomes a Fangirl for Jesus. By all appearances, Girls Town ends with the scourge of teenage delinquency well and soundly vanquished.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
When I was a kid, afterschool TV consisted of reruns of programs like The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Leave it to Beaver. Although I enjoyed them all, each suffered from what felt like an unrelenting, almost propagandistic endorsement of a kind of bland suburban conformity so artificial it seemed beamed in from another planet. The one welcome deviation from this plastic norm was Leave it to Beaver’s Eddie Haskell, a delightfully candid, wise-guy anarchist whose appearance on the show was almost subversive in its ability to make the program's promoted standards of middle-class “good citizenship” look absurd. 
All Revved Up
Fred corrals Mary Lee into taking part in a drag race. Jim Mitchum stands looking into the camera center frame in the dark clothing and glasses, Charles Chaplin Jr stands with his arms folded, and that's accordion maestro Dick Contino dressed like Tom Slick. 

It's that quality of defiance of the norm that I most love in ‘50s juvenile delinquency movies, and Girls Town is one of the most enjoyable of the lot. Lighter in approach than the social commentary JD movies like The Cool and the Crazy or High School Hellcats, Girls Town’s inconsequentiality (it exists primarily to showcase Van Doren’s assets and Anka’s music) makes it easy to be enjoyed purely as a camp timepiece.
I have no idea what teenagers thought of the film at the time, but it’s a laugh-riot from start to finish (even without the uproarious running commentary provided by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 team in the edited, but most-available version of the film).
Vida & Flo share a secret glance (how did this get past the censors?) as Jimmy Parlow 
croons a love song to the wayward girls of Girls Town
William Claxton 1964
In a movie full of actors on the cusp of transition (Paul Anka soon underwent a nose job and Mamie Van Doren split from husband Ray Anthony the following year) none is as startling as that of 18-year-old Peggy Moffitt. Cast as Flo, a girl sent to Girls Town because she was so unattractive she stole money to pay for cosmetics and fancy hairdos, Moffitt would go on - as muse to futuristic fashion designer Rudi Gernreich - to become one of the most famous and iconic models of the 60s.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Silver?
Mother Veronica (Margaret Hayes, the teacher in Blackboard Jungle) and Sister Grace (gossip columnist and F. Scott Fitzgerald mistress Sheilah Graham) discuss the pros and cons of giving Silver Morgan a "poke in the kisser."

PERFORMANCES
As one of the platinum blonde 3-Ms of the ‘50s (Monroe, Mansfield, and Mamie) Mamie Van Doren carved out a niche for herself as the bad girl of B-movies. I haven’t seen enough of her films to access her talent as an actress (she seems a good light comedienne), but I can tell you that in Girl’s Town she has a vivacity and presence that makes you not want to watch anyone else when she’s onscreen. The performance Van Doren gives may not be considered "good" by any objective standard, but she's ideal for both the subject matter and genre (although neither she nor any of the other major players are believable as teenagers), and the film slows down and drops several degrees Fahrenheit whenever the story veers away from her.
Infinitely more convincing as a tough-cookie troublemaker than Ann-Margret was in Kitten With a Whip, Van Doren possesses a tongue-in-cheek sexiness and sass that suggests Mae West more to than Monroe. 
Silver (certainly one of the screen's most energetic listeners) steps out with
delivery boy / Private Investigator Dick Culdane (Ray Anthony)

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
At least 75% of the screenplay of Girls Town must be composed of slang. Until I got to see this film again recently in its uncut, non-MST3K version (all over the TV when I was young, it seemed to disappear before those guys rediscovered it) I'd thought Kitten with a Whip held the crown for strenuous slang overuse. I was wrong.
All quotes attributable to Silver Morgan:

"You’ve gotta let me out of here! There’s nobody to take care of her but Aunt Scrooge...and she’s cracked!"

"Aw, Don’t flip your wig… I got your signal"

“Big deal. King Groovy comes to Dungeonsville to make with a song for po’ little ol’ us. What do you want me to do, kiss your foot?”

"Hey, who are them apples, the Junior WACs?"

"Go flap your plates!"

“I got tired of you cats with the fast cars and slow heads. You give me a pain in the ears”

“Ok if I use the Alexander Graham?”

"Stop draggin’ your axel!"

"What’s my crime, dad? For not having as much moola as this jerk? Or my old lady wasn’t in the social register?"

“You’re in queersville, man. You’ve flipped.”

"Go bingle your bongle!"

Lovely Cathy Crosby (whose character isn't even given a name and who is completely edited out of the MST3K version) pops up out of nowhere to serenade The Dragons - rival hot rod gang to The Jaguars - at a "crazy weenie roast" with a Paul Anka composition titled "I Love You" (but you'll never be able shake all those "Ya ya ya"s out of your head) only to disappear, never to be seen again

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
If the male juvenile delinquent movies of the ‘50s owed more than a passing nod to the Warner Bros. gangster films of the ’30s, then the exploitation movie bad girls of the era were simply a gum-popping, teenage iteration of the ‘40s film noir femme fatale. What gives this particular incarnation its ginger and snap is the percussive beat of rock and roll, and the restless hum of Youth Culture.
Girls Town, free of any (serious) overlay of social commentary is a hooty collaboration of good intentions and bad dialog. A shining specimen of time capsule camp. Mamie Van Doren rocks!


BONUS MATERIAL 
In a movie whose 90-min. running time is excessively padded out with musical numbers which somehow manage to be both brief and interminable, not affording the well-padded Mamie van Doren a solo feels like a particularly egregious omission. We do get to hear Miss Van Doren sing (in that flat, rocker-chick style later adopted by Debbie Harry of Blondie) a verse of the film's theme song during the opening credits, but as everyone knows, as a vocalist, Van Doren is strictly a visual act.

Apparently '50s censors thought so too, for it seems Anka penned a swingin' rock and roll ditty for Van Doren that was shot and later cut from the film for being too suggestive. Not the lyrics, the setting: Silver Morgan sings the song "Hey Mama" while wriggling around in the shower as she prepares for her date with the 36-year-old delivery boy.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, here's that heretofore unseen Mamie Van Doren number in all its glory. "Hey Mama" has the same melody as the film's terrific theme song and is as catchy as hell. And as you might expect from Miss Van Doren, her performance of the song is nothing short of crazy, cool, and fantabulous!

Not a success during its initial release, when Girls Town was re-released in 1964, its dated, Drive-In-friendly title was changed to the bland and nondescript The Innocent and the Damned 

Copyright © Ken Anderson

19 comments:

  1. Hi Ken,

    I couldn’t let this pass by without horning in. Really, if there’s one Mamie movie to talk about it’s this one. Much more watchable than the better known High School Confidential and my favorite jd movie next to High School Hellcats—and if you haven’t seen that one I urge you to at least watch the opening credits on YouTube. It’ll knock you off your couch.

    But what really sold me on Girls Town when I was young were the nuns. Going to a Catholic school I was hooked on anything nun-related, especially here when they were up against MVD. I also love some of Mamie’s close-ups in this, and a few of her other films. Like Joey Heatherton in her black and white movies of the 60s, she literally glowed. I mean like she was near radioactive.

    Oh, and my partner’s favorite line from Girls Town isn’t even slang. Whenever he’s concerned about something, he’ll avoid the real issue by covering his face with both hands, and sob “I’m scared. Fred’s trying to send me to Tijuana.”

    Thanks!

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    1. Hello Man
      Oh my gosh, I laughed so much when i got to the part about your partner's favorite line from the movie, and under what circumstances it's quoted! Always an absurd line, it has now instantly become one of my favorites because nothing pleases me more about the interactive interchange of movie-watching than when bits of screen dialog find their way into our day-to-day lives.

      My sister absolutely LOVED this movie and she made all of us watch it countless time during our youth. We too all went to Catholic schools and the whole nun thing resonated with us, as well.
      I too think this is THE Mamie van Doren movie to talk about. It's certainly the most fun.
      I haven't seen High School Hellcats in years, but that too was a childhood fave; the goody two-shoes lead actress having played a friend of Betty Anderson on "Father Knows Best" and all of us getting a kick out of seeing her fall in with the "wrong crowd."

      I think one of the reasons I have always hated the movie "Grease" is because in my mind's eye, it always should have looked and played like one of these 1950s high school rock and roll musicals.

      I'm not exactly sure why Mamie Van Doren comes off more effectively for me in this film than any of her others, but I suspect that (as a gay man) she always came across kind of campy when she's genuinely trying to be seductive or play the bombshell.
      But in merely playing a "tough chick" she comes across like Divine in "Female Trouble"...she seems to be poking fun at her character while simultaneously playing it straight.
      Much like when I see Ann-Margret in "Kitten With a Whip"- part of the effectiveness of the performance is not being 100% sure the actress is in on the camp joke.
      But Van Doren's looks are no joke...she does look movie star terrific is some shots.
      Thanks for commenting, Max, and for giving me a new favorite line to laugh about in "Girls Town"!

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    2. I'm only familiar with this movie through MST3K, but now will have to try to watch it without the bots' commentary. And I didn't realize that Sheilah Graham was one of the nuns! One of my most cringeworthy school memories was when we were assigned to read THE GREAT GATSBY in 9th grade and my only exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald up to that point was through Graham's BELOVED INFIDEL and its movie adaptation. "Hey," I said, thinking to impress my teacher, "this is the guy Sheilah Graham was in love with!" Needless to say, the teacher looked at me as if I'd proposed we watch, well, GIRLS TOWN!

      Here's a clip of Mamie's rather sanitized and toned down act as Peggy DeFore (the girl who invented rock and roll) in the Doris Day/Clark Gable movie TEACHER'S PET:

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wegPFhPWVxE

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    3. Hi Deb
      Yes, the MST3K version is the most fun, but it cuts out about 15 minutes or so (the loss of Cathy Crosby's number and a sequence where Silver is shown reluctantly attending sewing and typing classes come to mind).
      That's a very funny story about your 9th grade knowledge of things that fall beyond the scope of what is taught in your average English Lit class! I didn't know anything about Fitzgerald and Graham until long after I'd left high school.
      Thanks for the Mamie clip, too! I love that number, although I've never been able to make it all the way through "Teacher's Pet"!

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  2. A five minute and 11 second documentary film on Peggy Moffitt. How she got from GIRLS TOWN to international fame as a fashion model is unimaginable to me. But she did it. It's a story probably worth more than five minutes and 11 seconds. Enjoy.

    https://www.nowness.com/story/peggy-moffitt-the-total-look

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    1. Thanks so much for that link! Many years back I saw Moffitt grocery shopping in a West Hollywood supermarket. So amazing to see that jet-black, geometric hair and kabuki make-up up close. And of course she was decked out in a fab Gernreich minidress.

      Moffitt's video would make a curious companion-piece this Mamie Van Doren music video from 2013.
      https://vimeo.com/50019397
      If nothing else but as a kind of rumination on how time has topped for both women in two such startlingly different ways. Maybe they should collaborate on a reunion video /art piece called “The women of Girls Town.” Silver could reflect on men with fast cars and slow heads, and Flo could talk about the life-altering benefits of beauty products and fancy hairdos.

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    2. I am sitting here absolutely gobsmacked, as I had absolutely NO idea that butch ol' thing Flo turned into the incredible 60's icon who had such an influence on me! She and Edie Sedgwick--who also modeled for Gernreich--were two of my primary style icons circa age 18. (I've always loved wearing loads of eye makeup, though my influences today tend more toward RuPaul's Drag Race contestants.)

      Though the fact that Ms. Moffitt's aesthetic has remained the same gives me pause for thought. After I reached my thirties, my mom objected to my long hair as not being 'age-appropriate' (yes, I called bullshit on that then & still do now), yet she was the one who adamantly clung to her 60's-helmet-head look for my entire life. In one respect, I'm thinking, Pegs, you go girl! You're certainly at the age when you can tell everyone to fuck off! But the other part of me thinks that if Edie had lived, she wouldn't still be doing her look from fifty years ago--I think she might be like the gorgeous women with long grey or silver hair that I have on my Pinterest boards as style icons--owning their age and KILLING it. (Yes, I adore the blog Advanced Style. Incredible role models, every one of 'em.)

      I have that same reaction to Mamie's video. First my angry feminist side comes roaring out, screeching about how women aren't allowed to age in our culture, but then I started thinking about how beautiful she still is, and how wonderfully empowered her sexuality is, especially given how few examples there are in the media of older women's bodies and their sexuality. (I also loooved those black platforms she was wearing, and noted with amusement that she and I seem to be aging the same way--all the weight is going to our middles, but we're always going to have great legs, at least!)

      I only know the MST3K version of Girls Town, but I'm only mildly embarrassed to confess that one time I actually got teary-eyed at the point when Silver Gits Herself Some Religion--and I'm not even religious! You never know when the strangest films are going to touch you in some way (but not in a "bad touch" kind of way. Then you sue the director for harassment, at the very least).

      “I’m scared. Fred’s trying to send me to Tijuana.” LMAO!!

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    3. (Dang. I didn't realize what a lengthy and only-ephemerally-related comment that was. Sorry!)

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    4. Are you kidding? I loved reading your very on-point comments about an aspect of "Girls Town" that is far more intriguing than its dated plot. There really is an article lurking somewhere within the jaw-dropping style evolution of Silver Morgan and macho-Flo.
      It says something interesting about us culturally (and totally off-topic to the movie itself, but who cares) that these two women in different era, embodied iconic feminine ideals. Both women are still with us, and it’s interesting that in each case, they have more or less frozen their apprearance at a time that was no doubt as pivotal for them as it was for us. (Is Ron Howard - with his ever-present little boys’ baseball cap on his wrinkled, old man’s head, the male equivalent?)

      Even on the MST3K episode they have that little segment in which one of the bots asks why women don't look like Mamie Van Doren anymore, and then they riff on possible future trends in feminine beauty.
      All that you wrote about (the forward-fashion 60s style of Moffitt & Sedgewick; evolving standards of beauty; finding one look and sticking to it) plays out like a weird kind of subtext beneath "Girl's Town"...and you make fascinating points.

      Silver's platinum blonde bombshell look has been co-opted by the porn industry, goth has adopted aspects of Moffitt's 60s look, and I guess people like Jane Fonda and Julie Christie are what we consider "growing old gracefully) is...but as you say, Mamie Van Doren DOES have something going for her in owning her sexuality on terms that seem to make HER happy, not folks who say her age and mode of dress don't jibe.

      All this is INFINITELY more interesting than anything you could mention about the film itself. Other than the fact that I really love that Silver’s conversion had enough emotional heft to touch you! Positively irrefutable proof to me that movies are magic…they can strike us when and where we least expect it.
      Thank you!

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  3. Ken--I know this is totally off-topic (all apologies), but I saw this article on Rona Barrett today and you were the first person (other than me!) that I thought of. Rona Barrett's Hollywood being de rigeur reading for us in the 1970s: https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/all-the-dirt-on-rona-barrett-the-forgotten-gossip-girl?utm_term=.sx2z987PP#.fj17rqGpp

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    1. Hi Deb
      Well, you came to the right place. Thanks for thinking of me! While other boys collected comic books, I had a huge collection of "Rona Barrett's Hollywood" in my room. It's a great little article, isn't it?
      I follow Barrett on Twitter (all her tweets are about elder rights advocacy), so she posted a link to it the other day. She really did seem to just disappear off the face of the earth, so it was nice to read an article which credits her with being one of the last of the old-school celebrity columnists before 'round the clock/non-stop entertainment reportage became the norm.

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  4. Hi Ken,

    This movie!! Or should I say this particular line of Mamie Van Doren cinema! I’ve seen a few of her films from very early in her career before she became a queen of drive-in fodder and more or less right from the beginning she was the stacked dish who served as a fly in the plot’s ointment. It seems that the studio never really tried her in big budget films, with the exception of the Doris Day/Clark Gable Teacher’s Pet where she’s amusing, though still clad in skin tight outfits. But she didn’t even last long in the B’s like Yankee Pasha and Star in the Dust before sliding right into C budgeted stuff like this and Born Reckless on the road to Z grade junk along the lines of 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt and Las Vegas Hillbillies.

    By chance, and mostly thanks to TCM, I’ve recently been treated to a little MVD festival seeing High School Confidential, The Girl in Black Stockings (with a very young Anne Bancroft), Untamed Youth (probably the only white slaver musical around!), The Private Lives of Adam & Eve and Sex Kittens Go to College (both with a baby Tuesday Weld who was the reason I watched those two) within the last month.

    She certainly had a magnetism that drew the camera and audience eye to her but I wouldn’t say she’s a great undiscovered talent. I can see why her time in the middle range of fame was brief, she wasn’t canny enough nor quite frankly possessed the ability to rework her image as Sheree North did from sexpot to respected character actress so when her type of film went out of fashion so do she. I’ve seen a few interviews with her throughout the years and she seems fun, though unfortunately unwilling to age with anything approaching grace-the last time I saw her she looked like a battered Kewpie Doll in a distressingly too tight outfit, gobs of makeup and breasts that seemed ready to bust! Aside from that though she seemed aware of her niche and clear-eyed about her career. She does have a few films I’m longing to see-The Beat Generation, College Confidential, Running Wild and one or two others-but I’m not expecting to find any lost gems.

    Girls Town isn’t one I’ve seen lately but I can hear the title number in my head, if I remember correctly as a car speeds down a curving road. I can see why the censors would have snipped that sound alike number with Mamie in the shower out! The heads of the Bridge Club ladies of the time would have exploded at the very thought of such perceived indecency!!

    I saw a few mentions of High School Hellcats which is another one that TCM just ran and was new to me. While it was goofy and fit right into this genre it had surprising dark underpinnings that the rest of these usually didn’t.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Wow! I hadn’t known TCM offered such an opportunity catch-up on the whole Mamie Van Doren oeuvre! Van Doren really did seem to take the fast toboggan from Universal’s answer to Marilyn Monroe to queen of the Drive-In set. But as you say, she has always come off somewhat clear-headed about her career, even when her current mode of dress (and denied but obvious surgical enhancements) might have indicated a character less in touch with reality. (She even appeared one of those MST3K Turdey Day specials, introducing “Girls Town” while producing a switchblade with which to carve the turkey).

      It sounds as though you’ve seen more of her films than I can claim, and by and large agree with your assessment of her appeal. She had a charisma and photogenic quality most of her B-movie co-stars lacked, but I’m not sure there was a lot of range beyond what was already mined in these movies.

      That excised shower number is indeed a sound-alike for Girls Town’s theme song (and you remembered correctly that played over shots of a car careening on curvy roads). Too bad Mamie’s number was too hot for 1959 audiences. The otherwise peppy film really suffers from too many lugubrious ballads and could have benefited from at least one genuine rock & roll ditty.
      "Girls Town" is one of the least-preachy and self-serious of the juvenile delinquent B-movies, making it one of the most fun and easier to enjoy on a purely camp level.

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  5. Dear Ken: Hi! Another fantabulous and too-cool post! :)

    I've thought about Mamie over the years that she actually is prettier and potentially more attractive than Marilyn, Jayne and the other 1950s blonde sexpots. However, I guess a toned-down and more sensibly dressed Mamie Van Doren would no longer be Mamie Van Doren, so what would be the point? :)

    I'd like to comment a bit on Gloria Talbott, too. I have a fondness for her, due to her supporting roles in the occasional big-budget movie ("We're No Angels" and of course her memorable turn as Jane Wyman's psychology-spouting daughter in "All That Heaven Allows") but also in "I Married a Monster from Outer Space," which sounds like hilarious exploitation junk but which also can be viewed as having some intriguing serious subtext. I checked out Talbott's credits on IMDB and saw she was a frequent TV guest performer for decades. One credit of hers they missed, which is my personal favorite, is an episode of Ann Sothern's "Private Secretary"/"Susie," in which Talbott did a quite funny take-off of a Debbie Reynolds-like "America's Sweetheart." There is something wholesome and hard-working about Talbott that for me extends her appeal beyond the typical camp (which kind of appeal she does also have, of course).

    P.S. Love the Platters, too. Your dad had good taste!

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    1. Hello David!
      Your first comment got me to wondering if I'd EVER seen Mamie Van Doren in anything even remotely deemed sensible...and I honestly can't say I have. Even in her 80s her clothes serve the same function they did in her heyday.
      It's nice to hear you have a fondness for Gloria Talbott. I haven't seen her in too many things, but she had a quality that reminded me of Beverly Garland and some of the best of those B-movie "scream queens": she exuded a solid, grounded quality that made even the most preposterous plots seem plausible. Also, both were obviously more talented than the titles of their films would suggest. I've never seen Talbott in anything that veered very far from the kind of role she was cast in in this film and "Monster from Outer Space", so that episode of "Private Secretary" sounds like a fun departure.
      I suspect (hope) that in sci-fi fandom circles, Talbott is considered a major star and has fans as devoted as those who still follow Mamie Van Doren.
      Thanks, David! Nice, too, to hear you appreciate The Platters!

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  6. Hello Ken. You find the coolest films to review. I had never heard of this one but I'm going to look for it now. I haven't seen many Mamie Van Doren films but she seems like a happening chick! I love that clip of her singning in the shower! Even I think she's hot! I think she released a record like ten years ago or so.

    When you wrote that Peggy Moffit was in the film I thought you had spelled the actress's name wrong or something. I thought what would the cool 60's model be doing in a JD Movie from the 50's?!? I had no idea she had been in movies before her modeling career! And she looks so different too! So plain and older than her later look. I'm amazed. Yet another reason to see this film!

    I love the slang you quote. Queersville, haha!!
    Thanks Ken for the great review. -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      I think Silver Morgan would be thrilled you called her movie cool ("That cat's the most!”) – Me, I'm just happy you find my, shall I say, varied, taste in movies amusing.
      I’m not sure how similar in age Van Doren was to Monroe & Mansfield, but she certainly was the only one marketed so heavily to the teen crowd. And probably the most accepting of her sexpot image. She never appeared to mind it the way the others did, a factor that perhaps played a part in her being one of the few surviving bombshells of the era.

      I have that CD of her songs, which is rather fun. She still sings I think. I know she released an album on iTunes a couple of years back, and she has an odd music video up on her website (the song is fine and she actually sounds good, but the woman won’t keep her clothes on).

      And I know what you mean about Moffitt. As many times as I saw this movie growing up, it was only after rediscovering it through MST3K that I found out that Flo (“She couldn’t be beautiful if she spent a million bucks at a beauty parlor!”) was the 60s modeling icon. What a jaw-dropping transformation!
      On YouTube recently I caught her in a 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Beast in View”), she is wonderful in her brief scenes and looks nothing like her “Girls Town” self.
      Glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you give me a follow-up report if you happen to ever catch this film someday. Thanks so much, Wille!

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  7. So now I know whatever happened to Gigi Perreau! She is one of my favorite child actors in films like the whodunit "Shadow on the Wall" (1950) - (Nancy Reagan plays a psychologist in that one. She recommends hydrotherapy for poor Gigi who almost ends up drowned; you have to see it to believe it) - and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" (1952) a charming Douglas Sirk directed 1920s musical. I'll have to see "Girls Town" to see her!

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    1. Hi Shawn
      Although my Google search reveals Gigi's face to be familiar to me as a child actress, I had no idea how prolific. The Nancy Reagan film sounds like a hoot, and Douglas Sirk musical sounds like a can't miss. Thanks for commenting and giving a few new films to keep an eye out for!

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