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Idealistic and naive Dr. Jason arrives at a school for delinquent girls and immediately begins to try to make a difference in the lives of some of the inmates. Oblivious to the sadistic treatment of the girls by the matrons, it takes a rebellious girl named Loretta to open his eyes. Assisted by a female staff member, Jason finally gets proof of the abuse and threatens the head of the school with exposure unless he is given full reign to run things. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Despite the many rough edges, the film remains more interesting than many of its slicker Hollywood contemporaries. Stereotypes do abound: the cruel matron (Coppin), the humane reformer (Henreid), the incorrigible inmate (Francis). A notable exception is the sympathetic pairing of the lesbian couple (Pulver & Jackson), unusual and daring for its time. The film has a distinctly non-studio feel to the New York state locations and rather grainy photography, suggesting an earnest project done on a shoestring. That's not surprising since writer Rouverol and director Vorhaus were both blacklisted a short time later, as was Henreid, though his American career appears uninterrupted. No doubt they were hoping to bypass Hollywood constraints with a small independent production that would highlight a social injustice.
The movie's main problem lies with Henreid's psychiatrist-reformer-- he's simply too idealized to be believable. He comes across improbably as something of a secular saint and father-figure to the girls. Then too, actor Henreid's effort at lightening-the-mood veers at times unfortunately into the near comical. No doubt, the ending, which is much too pat and conventional resulted from trade-offs with the censors. Too bad, because it softens a final note that should have had a harder edge. What really lifts the movie is the spirited band of young performers-- especially, Anne Francis who likes boys "but only for short periods". Her little cigarette trick with the laundryman was likely put in by Henreid who rose to Hollywood stardom using a smouldering variation with Bette Davis. Too bad, Francis never rose to the stardom her talent deserved and is remembered today mainly for her sexy costume in Forbidden Planet. Nonetheless, the girls breathe real life into what otherwise could have been a plodding production.
Of course, the dramatic high-point comes with the hosing-down scene whose length and intensity do go beyond conventions of the day. I expect the producers had to go to the mat with the censors on that one. For the politically savvy, however, the high point occurs between Henreid and his uncertain colleague (Catherine Mc Leod) on the merry-go-round. There, they argue about how the inhumane system at the reformatory can be modernized. She opts for a professional approach from within. To that, Henreid argues that that hasn't worked and she has been co-opted into the system as a functionary whether she likes it or not. The only way to change the system, he argues, is from outside. On a larger societal canvas, this brief exchange mirrors the political one between reformist liberals and insurrectionary radicals. Moreover the fact that it's staged on a merry-go-round is also revealing. Unless she gets off, as the operator tells her to, things will simply go round-and- round with nothing changing. The scene slips by quickly, but tellingly.
An interesting question for a movie like this is speculating on the film the producers wanted to make versus the one that's up there on the screen after all the inevitable trade-offs. Nonethelessl, it's a worthwhile little movie, far more so than its exploitative title would suggest, with a spunkiness from the youngsters that remains compelling, even after so many years.
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