Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Teenage Mother

In Film on February 3, 2010 at 6:11 am

“You’ve gotta put out, if you’re gonna get back.” – Arlene Taylor.

The birth of a child – a sacred event for parents; a shameless subject for the movies. Depicting an actual child-birth was the crème de la crème of cinema taboos for decades, after King of Ballyhoo, Kroeger Babb presented said footage in 1945’s “Mom and Dad”.  The film met with protests  in every town it played. No surprise when you consider the Puritan ethics of post-war middle-America. But the real shocker? Babb himself initiated most of the flak. After all, when it comes to the business of show – there is no such thing as bad publicity – and Babb knew how to sell a movie.

Kroger Babb, self-proclaimed "Mr. Showbusiness"

“Mom and Dad” ranks as one of the most infamous and profitable Exploitation films ever made and is estimated to have grossed over 100 million dollars during its entire theatrical run (it played well into the 1970s and was most recently inducted into the National Film Treasury). Imitations were inevitable, but it was not until Teenage Mother in 1967 that this film upped the ante over Babb’s increasingly out-dated cash cow; telling a similar story in color – baby birth and all.

When a new Swedish Health teacher, Miss Erikson (Julie Ange) comes to Clairmont High School to teach Anatomical Biology to its students, she meets resistance from the school’s principal, faculty and townspeople (“Health Education taught by a woman? That’s something new.”) Doe-eyed Arlene Taylor (Arlene Farber) wants to marry her High school sweetie, Tony (Howard Le May) but she also has it for Duke, Clairmont’s  test-cheating, drug pushing lughead (Federick Riccio). When Tony agrees to help Miss Erickson after class, Arlene gets jealous and Duke makes his move – and what moves he has. See below and dig the poster of Robert Vaughn on the back wall.

Later, Miss Erikson is attacked and almost raped by Duke, and Arlene tells her BFF she’s pregnant (who then spills the beans to Arlene’s folks). Soon, faculty and parents go into a tizzy over Erikson’s progressive education – insisting that all of their problems stem from her curriculum – and demand that she be curtailed out of town. Meanwhile, Arlene runs away from home. Featuring music by The Young Set and the first screen appearance of comedian Fred Willard, Teenage Mother may be the best birth of a baby movie ever made – but then again – there weren’t many to tower over.

To call this trailer deceptive is an understatement. It’s nearly a downright swindle. The trailer depicts Arlene as a knocked-up, jail bait nymphet (“I’m gonna give you the time of your life, baby”). She is none of those. She is, however, a manipulative, sneaky ball-buster  – toying with the emotions of the two men who desire her (even her pregnancy is revealed to be a fib during the climactic PTA meeting) and uses that to her advantage, pitting Tony and Duke to fight one another over her. The photos of Arlene in the final stages of pregnancy and footage of her standing in her underwear, combing her hair and eating fried chicken (that’s sexy?) seen in the trailer, do not exist in the actual film. That said, both Teenage Mother and it’s trailer offer a unique experience, with both pieces offering completely different and equally satisfying camp values.

Produced, directed and distributed by the late Jerry Gross (he appears in the film as a truck driver and also narrates the legendary trailer), Teenage Mother was a modest success although its numbers were no where near Babb’s “Mom and Dad”. However, it did help to establish Gross’ career as a pioneering distributor of now-classic Exploitation films that would include I Drink Your Blood, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Fritz the Cat.  He would direct only one more film in 1970, Female Animal (under the pseudonym Juan Carlo Grinella), once again starring Arlene Farber. This time in the sexy role that Teenage Mother alluded to in its trailer, but failed to deliver.

Arlene and Tony share a tender moment

Teenage Mother is by no means a good film, but it’s strangely endearing. While many of the better known Exploitation films from the mid-to-late 60s such as Two Thousand Maniacs or Love Camp 7 revel in sex, violence or the grotesque – Teenage Mother is so dense with naiveté, I’m hard pressed to point out its flaws. I’m reminded of something that John Landis once told me; “If you’ve made a movie – it’s quite an accomplishment. Even if it sucks.”  Truer words could not be more relative here. After all, it’s easy to dismiss high ambition on a low-budget. But when the film concludes, I’m oddly touched by Tony’s dedication to Arlene. I’m sure that they will tie the knot after High school and Tony will devote himself to making Arlene’s life blissful. Poor fool.

In November of 2009, The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles screened Teenage Mother at a Midnight showing in a rare 35 mm print. Myself and about two-dozen others were in attendance, including poofy-cheaked porn legend Ron Jeremy (he was on the guest list). While the film delivered the goods on unintentional laughs, nothing was more amusing than The Hedgehog himself taking a personal cell phone call during the second reel.  The event was no birth of a baby – but to me – it was just as sacred.

Ron Jeremy: Silence is Golden