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Monday, March 20, 2017

'The Delinquents' Blu-ray: Robert Altman Spot-On Social Commentary



The March 21, 2017 release of the nicely restored Olive Films Blu-ray version of the 1957 drama "The Delinquents" showcases the social commentary of Olive and of writer/director Robert Altman. This successful virgin effort at feature film-making by Altman leads to other classics that include "M*A*S*H" and "Gosford Park."

The following YouTube clip of the GROSSLY SENSATIONALIZED theatrical trailer for "Delinquents" wonderfully reflects the era of the film as much as the realism and sensitivity of Altman.



The awesomeness of "Delinquents" extends light years beyond depicting the escapades of rotten kids and how a good boy goes bad. Ala "Rock Around the Clock" and "Blackboard Jungle" of the same era, Altman shows an understanding of baby boomers as teens.

These pioneers of the modern middle-class typically have more affluence than their parents enjoyed at their age, definitely have more freedom and outlets to express it, enjoy the early days of permissive parenting, and have more free time than the members of the greatest generation. As the epilogue to "Delinquent" indirectly expresses, whether these adolescents channel their angst and excess energy into sports and student government or petty theft and rumbles depends on several complex factors.

The oft-mentioned subtly in this review demonstrates all of the above in a scene in which the parents of the good kids gone wrong collect them at the real-life Kansas City, Missouri police headquarters. The kids are not cocky but also are not especially contrite. For their part, the parents are plenty steamed but largely keep their cool.

This segment further has a scene that is almost straight out of "Rebel Without A A Cause." Altman, who will soon direct the "The James Dean Story" documentary, has one of the boys snatch a cigar out of the breast pocket of his father as they are walking out of the police station.

The proverbial larger level this time relates to Altman subtly showing how the same need for support and acceptance that turns a good egg into a bad seed also allows cults to recruit honor students. The fictional case study of likable and popular recent high school student Scotty falling for charismatic leader of the pack of middle-class punks Charlie shows how easily this can occur.

Scotty is 18 and a member of a textbook '50scom nuclear family. Dad has an undisclosed office job, Mom is a housewife, and 10 year-old sibling Sissy is Daddy's girl. "Billy Jack" writer/director/star Tom Laughlin superbly plays Scotty as a teen who is as sincere being respectful to his parents as he is in being a gentleman with steady girl Janice and having an occasional beer with his (presumably jock) buddies. This makes our hero more Richie Cunningham than Wally Cleaver.

Altman daughter Christine does a great job playing Sissy as the "Kitten" of this "Father Knows Best" family in which Mom overreacts regarding the delinquency problem and Dad does not take that concern seriously enough.

The audience meets Charlie and his punks before being introduced to Scotty and his clan. Altman expertly establishes in the opening scene that the titular bad seeds are trouble from the 1957 perspective. These under-aged party animals are at a bar where a "colored" band is performing. The aforementioned subtly of the film relates to the assertiveness of the group in this setting being limited to the verbal variety. Evan a failed clumsy attempt to use a fake ID does not result in any bloodshed or property damage.

A prime example of Altman-style social commentary soon follows when boredom motivates Charlie and his group to go to a drive-in theater. This is the setting of their fateful random encounter with Scotty, who is fresh off a rough break-up with Janice.

Charlie sets most of the action in motion via exploiting the clear angst of Scotty by persuading him to become an auxiliary member of the not-so wild bunch. This seduction and the impact of it on jealous group loose cannon Eddie provides strong homoerotic undertones by '50s standards. A modern audience must wonder how much heartache, bloodshed, and property damage that Charlie and Eddie kissing would have avoided.

A series of unfortunate circumstance that relate to the aforementioned charisma and jealous leads to Hays Codes developments in which Scotty and Janice horribly suffer as a result of getting caught up with the wrong crowd. However, any fears that Altman does more than dip his toes in the waters of melodrama are unfounded.

The best way to sum this up is that the sense and sensibility of Altman is behind creating a film that inspires the guilty pleasure cheesy Mamie Van Dorn teens run wild films.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Delinquents" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.