Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Fine Art of Sequential Credits :: Roger Corman's Teenage Doll (1957)

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This is not a pretty picture ... It could not be pretty and still be true. What happens to the girl is unimportant. What happens to others is more than important; it is the most vital issue of our time. This story is about a sickness, a spreading epidemic that threatens to destroy our very way of life. We are not doctors ... We can offer no cure ... But we know that a cure must be found...
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Thus the stage is set for Roger Corman's Teenage Doll (1957), a stark and highly effective thriller that is honestly more film noir than a horrors of juvenile delinquency safety screed, which kicks off rather fantastically with an ominous animated credit sequence set to the rockin', spaz-jazz beat of Walter Greene.

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"A warning to vandals and hoodlums! This theatre is reserved for people who came to watch and enjoy the show. If you engage in any destructive acts or noisy conduct, we don't want you here! You'll not only be asked to leave, if your actions justify it, you will be prosecuted. Remember this warning and guide yourselves accordingly."

                                                       -- The Management
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Artists Paul Julian and Bill Martin contributed a ton of trippy backdrop paintings and minimalist animation for the credit sequences on a lot of Corman's low-budget epics of the 1950s through the 1960s. No title credit is given for Teenage Doll so I don't know for sure who to properly thank for them. Regardless, it's some truly eye-popping stuff.

The film that follows is just as simple and brutal. When one of their members is found dead, Hel (Spain), the leader of the all-girl gang, The Tarantulas, immediately tags the newest member, Barbara (Kenney), who was feuding with the deceased, as the guilty party, and the rest of the film follows their efforts to track her down through the demilitarized-zone-esque streets and squalid neighborhoods to exact some retribution.

Turns out the preamble was right, too, as this tale really isn't about finding out who really done it or the hunt for our fugitive protagonist. What it's really about is the glimpse into the hellish home life of these gang members as they scheme and plot and steal a gun to exact their revenge. (Just give the kid a damned cracker!) Some fantastic art direction and set designs (that junkyard sequence is just incredible) adds some molasses to the morality vinegar as the chase progresses and our heroine is traced to rival clubhouse, where she has taken dubious refuge.

Shot in *ahem* 'Wide Vision' for the Woolner Bros. and released by Allied Artists, Teenage Doll is a crass, bleak, and an unrelentingly downbeat affair. Corman, scriptwriter Charles Griffith, and cinematographer Floyd Crosby lay it all on pretty thick. So thick, and so effectively, the whole thing, after one helluva final rumble, is nearly undone by an out of the blue group-hug ending. Still, sometimes the journey is worth it even when the final destination winds up being the worst part of the trip.

Teenage Doll (1957) Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc. :: Allied Artists / EP: Bernard Woolner / P: Lawrence Woolner, Roger Corman / D: Roger Corman / W: Charles B. Griffith / C: Floyd Crosby / E: Charles Gross / M: Walter Greene / S: June Kenney, Fay Spain, John Brinkley, Colette Jackson, Barbara Wilson, Ziva Rodann

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