The Violent Years sort of has the reputation as the “best” movie that Edward D. Wood Jr. (Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda and so, so many more…) was involved with; but really, one needs to discard traditional definitions of words like “good” or “bad” when dealing with the Wood oeuvre. It is however, arguably, the most competently made movie that he was involved with, probably because he was only in for screenwriting duties.
The film does have my all-time favorite opening credits sequence, as each of the main characters (Paula, Phyllis, Geraldine and Georgia) are introduced scornfully strolling up to a school blackboard, upon which is written:
They literally sneer at propriety! Clearly these are my kind of dames.
The movie proper opens in an improv-theater style juvenile court, where the judge is lecturing unseen parents on how they are (quote) “miserable failures”. What have they done to deserve this low-budget judicial wrath? A flashback reveals that Mom had provided her daughter, Paula, with her every material desire, but neglected giving her the love and affection she craves, neglecting her in favor of her “very important charity bazaar”. Mom writes Paula a blank check and assures her that her father, the publisher of the local newspaper, has not complained about her getting home late.
As soon as Mom is out the door, Paula calls up her gang (they go by the not-terribly-imaginative code names of Paul, Phil, George and Jerry) and they’re off to rob a gas station in total silence, dressed in men’s clothing. What, you don’t expect Ed Wood to not get some cross-dressing in there, do you?
At the hospital the crime reporter, Barney, clucks sympathetically with the police lieutenant over the pump-jockey that got clobbered over the head by “Paul” during the robbery, in some very Ed Wood dialogue:
“These fool kids, when will they learn?”
“These aren’t kids, they’re morons.”
Barney goes back to his boss, who is unsurprisingly Paula’s father, and tells him that the police have decided to have undercover officers stakeout every gas station in the area.
Meanwhile the girl gang (I assume it is the same night?) drives to the local lover’s lane, where they find a couple making out in a convertible. Phyllis takes a liking to the girl’s angora sweater (of course!) and demands she hand it over. Her date squeaks that she should do what they say, and so she is stripped down to her slip and tied up in the back seat of the car; when Paula discovers he only has $11 in his wallet she gets, you know, ideas…
At the breakfast table the next morning, Paula’s father is explaining that he won’t be able to attend his daughter’s birthday, as he personally has to track down the hoodlums that are robbing gas stations (irony!); oh dear, Paula’s mother won’t be there either, since she has yet another charity bazaar.
Later that afternoon the girls cut school and visit their fence, a brassy middle aged broad named Sheila. Paula isn’t happy with the price she’s offering (I’m not sure for what, since they’ve been getting cash from the hold-ups…) Paula explains to the gang:
“It’s not the money, there’s plenty of that at home. It’s the PRINCIPLE of the thing!”
Sheila suggests that she has “a certain connection” that hates schools and will see them handsomely rewarded for acts of vandalism:
“And don’t worry if a few flags get destroyed in the process!”
Next stop is Paula’s birthday make-out party, with maximum fake rock and roll music. Barney stops by with the present from her father- the gang instantly pegs Barney as A Square and sneer at him before resuming sucking face. Paula explains that her parents get her a gold watch and a new convertible every year.
Barney gets upset that the couples dancing to fake rock and roll music aren’t leaving enough space for the Holy Ghost and punches Paula’s date. Party’s over, time for cross dressin’ and vandalizin’
The four girls break into the school and start smashing up a classroom; Phyllis yells “I hate you!” at a portrait of George Washington and throws a globe out of the window, which attracts the attention of the cops.
The girls start shooting with the guns that have suddenly materialized, and are genuinely surprised when the police return fire. Phyllis gets it in the chest and dies a gangster-worthy death:
“It’s… not… supposed… to… be… this… way…”
Geraldine (I think? It’s hard to tell) gets it when they make a run for the car, and Paula and Georgia (or possibly: Geraldine) embark on a low-speed chase through town.
They bust in on Sheila, who is relaxing amongst her stolen goods and Communist ideology in a snappy cigarette pants-and-peplum jacket ensemble. Paula brags about shooting a cop, then shoots Sheila and she and Georgia (or Geraldine) steal two cocktail dresses and announce their intention to flee the country. They head on foot to a used car lot, where they arouse no suspicion by buying a car with a large wad of rumpled bills in the middle of the night. Abruptly, Paula starts having incapacitating girl-cramps, and when they are spotted by the police, she drives the car through a plate-glass window, killing Geraldine (or Georgia).
Now we return to Improv Court. The jury finds Paula guilty of first degree murder and the judge packs her off to juvie until her 21st birthday, when she will be remanded to the women’s penitentiary FOR LIFE. He also takes the opportunity to directly address the camera about the dangers of “thrill seeking”, then consults his script and condemns parents everywhere for not teaching their offspring about “church, love of country and personal responsibility”.
Paula’s parents go home and mope about their failings. Mom has finally seen the error of her ways:
“If only I hadn’t thought so much of my outside interests.”
Dad consoles her, again in a very Ed Wood-fashion:
“We must look forward, using the past only as a pattern of judgment.”
Meanwhile, Paula is delivering the source of her incapacitating girl-cramps, a Jailhouse Baby. A bad apple to the end, she manages an impressive final sneer: “So what?”
The doctor, who is straight out of Central Casting on Skid Row, informs her parents that the baby is a girl. But how is Paula? Oh, yeah: “She died.”
Cut back to Improv-Lecture-Court (didn’t we already end this flashback? I guess not) The same judge is now lecturing Paula’s parents over a montage of every single thing that just happened. He advocates parents being held financially liable for their children’s acts of vandalism and “a return to the good old fashioned woodshed”. So… fewer birthday convertibles, more beatings. He then informs them that since they were such terrible parents they will not be allowed to adopt their grandchild. The End.
I’d probably have a lot less enthusiasm for this movie if it ran longer than 56 minutes.
This movie definitely has the best fake rock and roll music.
I was excited when I saw Glenn Corbett listed in the opening credits, but it turns out to be the other Glenn Corbett, not the one who was in Samuel Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono, William Castle’s Homicidal and replaced George Maharis on “Route 66”.