“So What?”

The Violent Years (1956)
dir. Wm. M. Morgan

In The Violent Years, the suburban inland hills of 1950s Southern California are besieged by a primly-dressed teenage girl gang.

The young ladies rob gas stations, trash the high school, rape a man, and kill cops.

The usual image of the ‘50s “girl gang” evokes the raiment of derriere-tight capri pants, heavy thunderbolt eyeshadow, and a beehive doo in which razorblades are hidden to slash rival chicks.

The nubiles in The Violent Years do not dress with street thuggess flair but like a McCall’s pattern foursome, in sleeveless Judy Bond blouses, high-waisted checker skirts, Sally Gee headscarves and quaint picnic flats. 

The wardrobe is by “Victor Most… of California,” who designed Mardis Gras Poplin Pants, silk shantung tops, and lurex lame knits sold at Collegienne Sportswear in Bullock’s Department Store on Broadway and Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles.

At a running time of just less than an hour, The Violent Years peculiarly credits no scriptwriter, though it is understood among prescient midcentury Z-movie hagiographers that the screenplay was pounded out by Ed Wood, Jr., the famed zilch-budget imagineer.  In addition to Ed Wood’s beleaguered motion picture work, the author penned numerous “adults only” paperbacks.  Wood’s friend and actor Paul Marco often witnessed the writer impassioned by the page-churning life: 

He was always like a Liberace, banging away, bouncing up and down on the sofa, banging on the typewriter… just like Liberace did when he played the piano.


The title sequence is followed by the introduction of each girl gang member standing in front of a sinister classroom blackboard.

A backlot studio voiceover intones the gravitas of public service educational reels:

 “This is a story of violence…

The remarks of the needledick narrator take inflammatory aim at culpable parents trapped in a “smug little world of selfish interests and confused ideas.”

Father Carl Parkins is editor of the local Daily Chronicle, which long and stressful hours “will be the death of him,” and which estrange Father from home life.  Mother Jane has no time for a “heart-to-heart” with Daughter Paula, and is busy scheduling her appearances at charity functions where she looks forward to the “nice flattery” from peers, and “ ‘my my how pretty and young you look, and you with an 18 year-old daughter…’ ”    

Paula is granted permission that evening to use Mother’s Mercury roadster.  She picks up Geraldine, Phyllis and Georgia, who like Paula are facemasked in bandanas and Gatsby caps.  Tonight they will boost a gas station dressed as lads—the gang’s seventeenth heist that month.

The girls take orders from a dacron-dyke crime queen called Sheila, who runs a small-time racket from her Sun Belt deco apartment complex.

 But Paula does not care about the boosted dough, and is rabid to behave bad.  “It’s the principle of the thing… the thrill that gets me…”

The brutette bobbysoxers ambush teen couple Johnny and Shirley canoodling in a parked convertible.  Shirl’ is comely in her pale slip after the gang forces her to unclothe and tie herself up in the backseat.

“You have my money,” pleads pinhead Johnny. “You have my watch, you have my ring!  What more do you want?” 

Paula reacts with viperish amour.  “Maybe he’s worth something more than money…”

The gang escorts Johnny at gunpoint into the woods.  They hold down the squirming geek while Paula advances in the act of stripping…

The next day’s Daily Chronicle reports: “MAN ATTACK IN LOVER’S LANE…”

Paula holds a “pajama party” at the Parkins home while Mother and Father, typically, are out.  The girls suck face with creepy beach bum suitjacket prepsters who may be just as spoiled by terrafamilias as the girls and equally in revolt of “self restraint, politeness and loyalty.”  

As genre historiatrix Imogen Smith notes in In Lonely Places (2011), an examination of the city and suburban sprawl as featured in film noir, after WWII Americans turned to “wholesome, sanitized domesticity—kids, kitchens and lawnmowers.”  In Lonely Places cites relevant dialogue from marriage identity potboiler Tension (1950, John Berry), when worksleeves husband Warren Quimby exalts the L.A. subdivision in which the couple will soon settle down:

“It’d be great out here—fresh air, room to entertain.  And it’s a great spot for kids.”

Wife Claire Quimby retorts: “It’s a miserable spot… thirty minutes from nowhere.”

Produced one year after the tortured innocent recidivism of Rebel Without A Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray), The Violent Years is likewise set among the Cold War Los Angeles middle-class exurbs, and lays blame for amok youth on improper authority figures.  But the premise serves to indulge the roughie fetishes and nihilist phantasms of hot dog and Night Train wine-stained topcoat pocket-poolers.  Rife with bullet bras and soundtracked to the watered-down cocktail jazzhorns of Culver City mood session gobble-pipers, The Violent Years is not dated, and was also known to screen under the apt title Girl Gang Terrorists.  The gang steals money and shoots policemen with similar societal abandon as the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s, who murdered cops and robbed Brink’s trucks.

In 1957, Dissent magazine would publish New York Intellectual essay “The White Negro” by fisticuff wife-knifer Norman Mailer, whose macho exegesis of the expropriation of oppressed black culture by mainstream “hipster” whites is muffed-up by the ironic motivations of four coiffed teenyboppers in 1956 behaving like radical extremists.  The exploitation of mixed-race politics are augured by Ed Wood’s bebop gendertwist negative exemplum

Rhyme schemes may also abound in this year’s vernal release Spring Breakers (2013, Harmony Korine).

In Spring Breakers, the white girl bikini crew from Michigan are not punished for the crimes they commit against white meathead tourists and African-American Fort Lauderdale racket lords.  The girls are daffy for the violent years but return to college safely after the break.  They are not spoiled rich kids but post-Bailout townies who cellphone their parents expressing wholesome intentions for the future, before donning Pinkberry masks and arming themselves with automatic weapons for a midnight assault on the bayside compound of Archie, the local kingpin who furnishes America’s spring breakers with the drugs and sex traffic upon which the season subsists…

Paula Parkins is sick of underboss Sheila, who is simply another figurehead of control.  “Whaddya take me for,” cries Paula, “a stupe?”  Sheila makes vague reference to secure connections with a “well-organized foreign plan,” whose administrators would pay “a whole lotta dough” for “certain damages reported” at the local high school, especially if a “few flags get destroyed in the process…”

The girls take the job.  They thrash desks, rip maps from the wall, and throw a globe out the window, a hefty symbolic gesture of the females’ own psychic predicament on earth.

When the police arrive outside, the gang draws guns and engages in a shootout as if on the list of J. Edgar Hoover’s Ten Most Wanted. 

“Lay into em fast, then we’ll beat it…”

Cops are killed and Phyllis is shotgunned to death.

Paula now inhabits a jacket of stark chic leather…

Paula gutshots Sheila, complains of stomach cramps, and is apprehended by the police.  Doctors at the city hospital discover that the maryjane murderess is pregnant.  She gives birth to a daughter, but faithful to the archetypes of sweatyhand soap opera, dies in childbirth.

Judge Raymond Clara rules that Mother and Father Parkins are responsible for the sadistic behaviors of Daughter Paula, and are not fit to raise the newborn orphan.  

The State cannot risk more dead cops and globes thrown out the school window.  Judge Clara seizes upon a popular phrase employed by today’s youth as the mantra of his argument…  “So what?”

Juvenile delinquency is rooted in “adult delinquency.”  The audience may accept that this is true, if only that The Violent Years opens with the courtroom portrait of George Washington, remembered in history as a rebel leader and founding Father. 

Judge Clara underpins his legal case as if the American Court is the American Church, and defers to the holy precedent of “the Back-to-God Movement,” which should inspire “higher moral values.”

Writer Ed Wood, Jr. cream-stuffs the movie with guilty acts, and must firmly bookend the tale with a moral lesson. The concepts of anti-communism and love of the Deity are treated as the desk chairs and textbooks in the marauded high school classroom.  Humans are born evil and without the right family and political order will endure the violent years.  As the city doctor explains, "These aren't kids, they're morons..."
One pictures Ed Wood in Liberacesque form over a hock-bought typewriter, giggling  at the semantics of Judge Clara, and not only because the actor I. Stanford Jolley is unable to read his lines without looking at the script in front of him as if legal pages.  Ideas peep through the bottle-blonde bangs of the writer’s mind.    

Judge Clara tidies up the social and spiritual implications of “good citizenship” with bloodless Y-chromo supremacism; the Judge also understands the patriotic pressures of money, and warrants that making parents financially liable for the damage caused by their children will spur the scruples of adult delinquents.  

Promised a new future, the baby is signed-off as a ward of the State, a “more responsible agency,” and wails in the shadows of institution bars… doomed.

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