It’s hard to know how Youth Runs Wild was supposed to turn out. RKO took it away from producer Val Lewton–the State Department was concerned the film would be detrimental to morale–but they were over his shoulder the entire time. The question is whether Youth Runs Wild was ever anything but silly propaganda. It’s a different kind of propaganda than the norm, sort of a home front, pro-community action propaganda… but it’s just as artistically minded as any of the more famous examples of the era.
The movie only runs sixty-seven minutes and is (passably) okay for the first three-quarters. There’s some bad acting–Vanessa Brown is particularly annoying, but her romantic interest, Glen Vernon, isn’t much better–but there’s also some good. Lawrence Tierney’s decent, Jean Brooks is fine (even if her role is useless) and Kent Smith’s good when he first comes in. As Youth Runs Wild becomes all about the propaganda, which I guess doesn’t take it long, since Brooks and Smith’s reunion (they’re a separated-by-war couple) only serves to further the propaganda angle, Smith gets progressively worse. By the end, it’s like a television commercial… or maybe an educational film strip.
Bonita Granville gives the film’s best performance after being deceptively poorly used in the beginning. The script betrays her at the end too, but she’s got some great moments in between.
The film’s particularly strange because it doesn’t look like other B movies of the period. It’s cheap–Mark Robson gets some good shots in when it’s people exciting their houses, but when he’s doing close-ups on people inside, the backgrounds betray the budget–but there is some location shooting and there’s some nice backdrop work at one point. The cheapness is in the story. There’s never an honest moment in the entire film. Everything’s geared toward that goofy, inspiring, nonsensical conclusion, which suggests Lewton’s version wouldn’t have been much better than RKO’s.
It is mildly okay, like I said before, throughout. The romance between Vernon and Brown isn’t particularly compelling, but it always seems like Smith’s eventually going to do something–or Tiernery might come back, especially since he’s got an almost monologue about his friendship with Smith. Or Granville will get some great scene or Brooks will get useful. Or the parents–played by Art Smith and Mary Servoss, in a couple of the film’s best performances–will actually get a real scene.
But it never pays off. Lots of the scenes are poorly edited to the point they’re just celluloid in the can (there’s one particularly strange scene involving a car careening into a bunch of playing kids). And then it has a bad ending, a cop-out ending. But that cop-out ending is before the big inspirational ending, which really does the picture in.
The movie’s just got way too big of a cast–especially for a B movie with limited locations and a quiet story; I rarely ever got anyone’s name on his or her first scene and acknowledged I didn’t catch the name, but never got worried about not knowing it. They’re only playing stereotypes anyway.
Though… the film does get in some material I didn’t expect to see in a picture from 1944.
Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by John Fante and Ardel Wray, based on a story by Fante and Herbert Kline; director of photography, John J. Mescall; edited by John Lockert; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Bonita Granville (Toddy), Kent Smith (Danny Coates), Jean Brooks (Mary Hauser Coates), Glen Vernon (Frank Hauser), Vanessa Brown (Sarah Taylor), Ben Bard (Mr. Taylor), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Cora Hauser), Dickie Moore (George), Lawrence Tierney (Larry Duncan), Johnny Walsh (Herb Vigero), Rod Rodgers (Rocky) and Elizabeth Russell (Mrs. Mabel Taylor).