YOUTH RUNS WILD (1944) B/W 67m dir: Mark Robson
w/Bonita Granville, Kent Smith, Jean Brooks, Tessa Brind
In frustration, neglected adolescents strike back at their parents and the authorities. Their parents are so busy with the war effort that their offspring become casualties of WWII on the homefront. Yes, this is another Lewton-produced film, but its listing here is more for the interest of seeing a Lewton film that is rarely screened than in the excellence of the movie itself.
Quoting from Joel E. Siegel's The Reality of Terror: "James Agee wrote of YOUTH RUNS WILD: 'Not even its faults are the usual Hollywood kind: it is gawky, diffuse, rather boyscoutish in its social attitudes (but it does have attitudes); often as not its characters go wooden (but they never turn into ivory-soap sculpture); too often the photography goes velvety (but always in earnestly striving for a real, not a false, atmosphere and never striving for a sumptuous look). When the picture is good --- and its overall inadequacy flashes with good all through --- you are seeing pretty nearly the only writing and acting and directing and photography in Hollywood which is at all concerned with what happens inside real and particular people among real and particular objects --- not with how a generalised face can suggest a generalised emotion in a generalised light.'
"One can appreciate Agee's enthusiasm for YOUTH RUNS WILD. In the midst of Hollywood's wartime fantasies of heroism and romance, Lewton set about making a small, serious film about the effects of war and how they were altering, even shattering, the social order of the United States. His means were simple --- a series of connected vignettes about wartime youth shot in a flat, neo-realistic style. Such an earnest effort surely merited applause and encouragement.
"Apart from its rather singular view of wartime life in small-town America, however, YOUTH RUNS WILD is barely watchable today. Lewton himself despised the film, which the studio had heavily cut and re-shot, and asked to have his name removed from the credits. (The request was denied.) One of the major plot-lines --- a brutalised teenage boy is forced to kill his sadistic father --- was totally excised, and most of the film's carefully distinguishing touches were removed. What is left --- a series of cliched dialogues and situations shot in an undisguisable studio back lot --- cannot be recommended.
"The cast is virtually a Lewton stock company --- Jean Brooks, Kent Smith, Glenn Vernon, Ben Bard, Arthur Shields and Elizabeth Russell. Lewton's screenplay, written with John Fante and Ardel Wray, is an improvement over the completed film, but is none the less below his usual standard. His sensibility was probably too baroque and antiquarian to explore successfully so contemporary a problem as deliquency. This is not to say that the film is not, as Agee indicated, likeable and deeply felt, but amiability and sincerity can only cary a film so far. By the film's conclusion --- a studio-added documentary montage demonstrating the success of a youth recreation centre programme in Illinois --- one's generosity and good nature have been stretched to the limit.
"THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE proved that Lewton was able to deal with youth very successfully when allowed to treat children of his own class and experience in a more literary form. But the woodenness of YOUTH RUNS WILD solemnly resists taking on the look and feel of life, however noble the producer's intentions. Indeed, the only hint of youthful feeling in the film is Lewton's joke on himself. When a young couple go to a neighbourhood movie, the showcases are literally plastered with posters advertising past Lewton productions."