Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers. Sorry for the long delay between posts. Let's get started, shall we?
Being a parent may be the toughest job around. As Princess Grace of Monaco once said, "I don't think there is any formula for raising children. The best any parent can do is play it by ear and hope for the best."
However, even the most laid-back, hands-off parent would be appalled by the way Mr. and Mrs. Wilson (John Miljan and Vivienne Osbourne) treat their only son, Jimmy (Robert Lowell).
The Wilsons drink, party, sleep around, bicker, gamble, never clean house or cook healthy meals. They treat their child like an after-thought, if they ever think of him at all. No wonder, then, when Jimmy is accused of murder, he tells the judge "I accuse my parents"--which also happens to be the title of today's featured flick.
Made in 1944 by PRC Pictures, "I Accuse My Parents" is an earnest yet hilarious cautionary tale that dares to show how neglectful, drunk folks can turn their children from honest shoe salesmen into mob errand boys due to their neglectful, drunk folks ways.
"His Finest Hour": Jimmy Wilson (James Lowell), essay contest winner.
As noted earlier, Jimmy is the neglected son of self-involved, drunk folks. He also goes to great lengths to keep this information from his friends and neighbors.
How great a length, you ask?
When Jimmy submits an entry in an essay contest, it's titled "My Home and Family" and it paints an idyllic picture of a happy home with devoted, loving parents. The essay so impresses the judges, it wins first place. The principal of Jimmy's school even invites Mrs. Wilson to sit on the coveted Mother's Committee for his up-coming high school graduation.
Jimmy rushes home with the good news, but mom's not around. Even worse, cigarettes and empty bottles litter the living room, magazines and newspapers are scattered about. Suddenly sexy neighbor Shirley (Florence Johnson) strolls in. Seeing all the liquor bottles, Shirley twitters, "You can offer me a drink if you wanna--and I think you wanna!"
Seconds later Mr. Wilson arrives and begins complaining about the messy house and uncooked dinner. When Shirley defends his wife, Mr. Wilson says, "You women do sure stick together, don't you?"
"Love Thy Neighbor": Mr. Wilson (John Miljan) shows more interest in neighbor Shirley (Florence Johnson) than in his teenage son.
"Not necessarily," purrs Shirley, wrapping her arms around Mr. Wilson. "I'd rather stick to an attractive man."
Before anything interesting (or illegal) happens, Mrs. Wilson shows up, looking like she's been sucking lemons.
"Home so early, Dan?" she asks.
"I was a half-hour late," Mr. Wilson retorts. "But at least I was only detained on business. I suppose you had more important things to do!"
"You needn't be so cross about it!" Mrs. Wilson replies. "But the buses are so crowded and I couldn't get a taxi." She then turns to Jimmy and says, "Fix mother a drink, James, I'm exhausted." (From drinking so much?)
Weeks, even months pass, and Jimmy begins to rebuild his life--and broaden his cooking skills--under Al's mentoring. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson haven't notice that their son has vanished into thin air. Kitty, however, is deeply saddened by her cuddlemate's departure. At the Paradise night club, leaning against a grand piano, Kitty croons the mournful ballad "Where Can You Be?", obviously inspired by Jimmy. When her set is over, Charlie tells her not waste any more time mooning over the long lost dope and to do the town with him. Reluctantly, Kitty agrees.
Despite his new purpose driven life, Jimmy eventually realizes he must "square accounts" and return home. Al joins him. His first stop is to visit Kitty, who tells him that Charlie made her say all those awful things and break-up with him. Then Jimmy confronts Charlie, informing him that they're going to tell the police everything about Blake's illegal crime ring. Naturally, Charlie refuses and pulls out a gun. Naturally, Jimmy tries to wrestle the fire arm away from him. Naturally, just as the cops, Kitty and Al converge en masse at the gangster's head quarter's, shots ring out. Naturally, we find poor Jimmy staring at the floor, while Charlie Blake lies lifeless nearby...
Then it's back to the court room where this whole sordid saga began. Facing the judge, Jimmy wails, "I tried to take the gun away from him! But it went off!(Author's note: Funny how that ALWAYS happens. I mean, am I right?) Oh, I know I've lied, I've cheated...but maybe I wouldn't have started lying to my schoolmates if I hadn't been ashamed of my home life. (Pause.) If I hadn't been ashamed that my parents were denying me the understanding I was entitled to. (Another pause.) The love and protection a boy needs. (And another pause.) The guidance that sets him straight."
Jimmy then turns away from the judge, faces the courtroom, takes a deep breath and declares, "And that's why I accuse my parents!"
The judge (John B. Anthony) accuses Mr. and Mrs. Wilson of being lousy parents.
The judge soberly considers what Jimmy has said. He replies that much of the testimony given at the trial backs up Jimmy's version of events. His Honor declares Jimmy not guilty of killing Charlie Blake. Yes! However, the judge does find Jimmy guilty of working in cahoots with a crime ring and sentences him to five years at the Big House. No! Then the judge reduces Jimmy's sentence to a two-year suspended sentence. Yes! Court is dismissed and Jimmy is released into the custody of his parents--WHAT?!!!
Didn't we just spend 60 minutes of our precious time watching Jimmy being neglected by his parents? Didn't he just finish blaming them for all his troubles? Didn't the flashbacks clearly demonstrate that Mr. and Mrs. Wilson aren't fit to raise a fern? Why is the judge sending Jimmy back to them? Why isn't Al appointed his guardian? Or Kitty? Your honor, in the name of Junk Cinema, I object!
"I Accuse My Parents" never explains why Mr. and Mrs. Wilson are suddenly off the hook for all their parental malfeasance. Nor are viewers given any reason to believe this couple has suddenly turned into Ozzie and Harriet. Instead, the flick launches into a sober monologue that would do Tucker Carlson proud. The movie judge states that disinterested, drunk folks like the Wilson's turn their kids into mob errand boys "by pursuing their own pleasures". Therefore, they better stop or their kids could end up like Jimmy. End of story.
PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation), which is responsible for "I Accuse My Parents", was a "Poverty Row" studio that ran from 1939 to 1947. They managed to churn out 179 feature films and never spent more than $100,000 on any of them. Typical PRC fare included "The Devil Bat" with Bela Lugosi, "Misbehaving Husbands" and "Jungle Man." Yet they were so proud of "I Accuse My Parents" PRC arranged to have it shown free of charge to servicemen overseas.
The website Oldies.com describes our featured flick as "a pious potboiler" that declares "exactly who is to blame for juvenile delinquency: mom and dad!" They also called it "a shameless exploitation film."
The police accuse Jimmy Wilson of shooting mobster Charlie Blake.
Well, "I Accuse My Parents" is an exploitation film. These kinds of low-rent "cautionary tales" thrived from the 1930's until the early 1960's, promising movie goers a more honest portrayal of life's hard truths than their bigger-budgeted Hollywood counter-parts (who were hemmed in by the Motion Picture Production Code). Unfortunately, their much hyped "gritty realism" was just promotional razzle-dazzle; exploitation flicks rarely delivered the kind of shocks they promised. In fact, they were often preachy and tone-deaf, offering simple solutions to complex problems like addiction or parental neglect. However, they're fun to watch and provided Junk Cinema with some of its more colorful characters.
Like Mary Beth Hughes, the top rated star of our flick. Best known today as Henry Fonda's cuddlemate in "The Ox-Bow Incident"(1943), she had bit parts in "The Women", "The Dancing Co-Ed" and the musical "Fast and Furious"(all made in 1939). Although she was placed under contract at different times at MGM and 20th Century-Fox, Hughes failed to land significant roles at either studio; eventually, she found her way into B movies and TV appearances. Tired of auditioning for "sexy grandmother roles", Mary Beth worked as a receptionist, telemarketer and salon manager, while still appearing in nightclubs. She dated Robert Stack for a year (against the wishes of her studio) and married three times herself. Hughes does all her own singing in "I Accuse My Parents" and toured in a musical production of "Alice in Wonderland" while in her teens. It's too bad Mary Beth wasn't able to get a better toe-hold in movies because she did show quite a bit of promise.
James Lowell, as the hapless Jimmy Wilson, appeared in the ne plus ultra of exploitation films, "Mom and Dad" (1944). He played the dashing flyboy who impregnates small-town innocent June Carlson, then has the nerve to die in plane crash seconds later. "Mom and Dad" and "I Accuse My Parents" appear to be the most prominent roles of his career. After that, Lowell appeared in bit parts in flicks like "Jiggs and Maggie in Court" (1948), "Two Guys from Milwaukee" (1946), "An American Romance" (1944) and "Sound Off" (1952). Then in 1994, he showed up as the "old priest" in "Hellbound". As Jimmy, Lowell is earnest as all get out, but the basic stupidity of his character (and situation) undercuts his acting. The flick's preachy tone doesn't help, either. Perhaps the most realistic part of "I Accuse My Parents" is John B. Anthony, who played the judge. In real life, Mr. Anthony was the moderator the radio program "The Court of Goodwill", so he was well versed in family drama.
Now we come to the part where I ask, "What have we learned from watching 'I Accuse My Parents'?"
We learned that neglectful, drunk folks become neglectful, drunk parents.
"What's a five letter word for someone who plays around on his wife and neglects his kid?": Mr. Wilson doesn't think anyone would accuse him of being a bad parent.
We learned that earnest sincerity on the part of a film's leading man can't over come a bad script, uninspired direction and the bad acting of other cast members.
We learned that when your boss asks you to deliver "packages" at all hours of the night, you might want to ask why--and inquire what's in the packages, too.
We learned that if you're going to enter an essay contest, your entry must be honest and truthful, not some made-up fantasy, because you will be found out.
We learned that movies like "I Accuse My Parents" might be be low-rent and nutty, but Junk Cinema is the perfect place to protect and preserve them.
So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, the drunk, neglectful folks of today begat the mobsters of tomorrow. And help me SAVE THE MOVIES!