Thursday, November 26, 2020

"I Accuse My Parents" Or Neglecting Your Kids Can Be Murder

Jimmy Wilson accuses his parents in a rare newspaper ad for today's flick.

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?)

                      "Home, Sweet Home"?: The Wilson's engage in another bicker session.                 
"I don't suppose you could have left an hour earlier?" Mr. Wilson asks.

"No I couldn't," Mrs. Wilson snaps, growing more irritated by the second.

Sensing trouble brewing, sexy neighbor Shirley excuses herself  by brightly saying, "Well, may the best man win!"

The Wilsons then begin fighting, accusing each other of neglecting their familial responsibilities. Mr. Wilson accuses his wife of partying all over town. Mrs Wilson accuses her husband of gambling and staying out late.

"I've had just about enough!" Mr. Wilson thunders. "No decent meals on time! The house is always a mess!"
Jimmy Wilson assures him mother he'd never accuse her of anything.

"You do what you please, why shouldn't I do what I please?" Mrs. Wilson shrugs.

When Mr. Wilson threatens to leave, Mrs. Wilson screams, "That suits me! I'd have divorced you years ago if it hadn't been for Jimmy!"

"Mom, dad, please!" Jimmy interjects.

Too late. Mr. Wilson has stormed off and Mrs. Wilson has collapsed in tears.

Trying to console his mom, Jimmy tells her about his essay contest win and that she's been asked to serve on the Mother's Committee for his high school graduation. This perks Mrs. Wilson up and it looks as if things have simmered down...until Mrs. Wilson shows up at Jimmy's school drunk as a skunk. (Although to be fair, Mr. Wilson baited and insulted her, which probably drove her to start hitting the sauce.)

"I'm not not drunk! It's the rest of you who are sober!": Mrs. Wilson joins Jimmy at school.

"I'm Jimmy Wilson's mother," she slurs, trying to keep her hat from falling off.

"She's drunk!" one of Jimmy's classmates squeals.

"How shocking!" gasps the principal (who is a dead ringer for Eleanor Roosevelt.)

Jimmy quickly hustles his drunk ma back home, horrified that his idyllic home life has been exposed as a sham.

How will he cope with such a humiliation? By throwing himself into his work, of course.

A color title card shows the thrilling moment when Jimmy asks Kitty Reed for her shoe size.

 Shortly after graduation, Jimmy is hired at an upscale shoe store. It's there, while cleaning the windows, that he first feasts his eyes on the blindingly blonde Kitty Reed (Mary Beth Hughes, who received top billing). She's come to purchase shoes, naturally, and Jimmy, so smitten, stumbles all over himself  trying to help her. Eventually Kitty settles on a pair of black suede slippers and Jimmy agrees to deliver them to her apartment...even though the store doesn't do deliveries. Once there, Jimmy and Kitty start talking and we learn A) Kitty comes from a broken home, B) she's the featured singer at the Paradise night club and C) she's the arm candy of mobster Charlie Blake (George Meeker). Actually, Kitty doesn't tell Jimmy that she's a mobster's arm candy; we learn that later. After Jimmy leaves, room mate Vera notices how dazzled Kitty appears to be by Jimmy. She takes it upon herself to remind her gal-pal that Charlie Blake "is madly in love with you"--and he wouldn't take kindly to learning that his doll was hooking up with a shoe salesman.

"But Jimmy's so sweet," Kitty says. "He's the kind of kid every girl dreams of..."

"Now don't tell me this is love at first sight!" an incredulous Vera snaps.

"Well, what's so wrong about that?" Kitty asks before flitting off to prepare for her show.

When Jimmy arrives home, he's anxious to talk to his parents about Kitty. The Wilsons, however, have invited their friends over for a party. While his mother dances the two-step with an unidentified man, sexy neighbor Shirley is sitting on Mr. Wilson's lap. Then a fellow partier suggests they all head over "to Jack Taylor's beach house." As the guests dash for their cars, Jimmy corners his parents and reminds them that "tomorrow is my birthday." Instead of canceling their plans, the Wilsons hand Jimmy $20 bucks and tell him to celebrate with his own friends. 

"Oh, we were just leaving.": Jimmy's parents ditch him yet again for a party at Jack Taylor's beach house.

His parents gone, Jimmy makes the fateful decision to see Kitty at the Paradise night club. It's here that "I Accuse My Parents" showcases Mary Beth Hughes' singing skills. Her first number is an up-beat toe tapper called "Are You Happy in Your Work?" While singing, Kitty moves among the club's patrons, warbling, "Are you grateful/You're alive?/Is your day full/nine-to-five?/Livin' in the rhythm that I'm speakin' of/ You'll be happy in your work /If you're in love." Jimmy's so entranced by Kitty he looks as if he'd been hit in the back of the head by a 2x4 or shot in the neck with an elephant tranquilizer.

Later on, dapper Charlie Blake arrives. Although Kitty tells her mobster cuddlemate "to lay off" Jimmy, Blake can't help but see the infatuated shoe salesman as a potential patsy. When he, Kitty and Jimmy head over to another night club (a western-themed place), Charlie schemes to put Jimmy in his debt. As Kitty sings "Love Came Between Us", the mobster orders expensive alcohol and tells the head waiter that Jimmy will pay the tab. When the bill turns out to be $78 bucks (!), the shocked Jimmy doesn't want to seen like a needy, nerdy loser, so he writes a personal check--even though he doesn't have the funds in his account to cover it!

Wracked with guilt, and desperate not to bounce a check, Jimmy heads over to Charlie's office the next day and asks for a job. Of course, Jimmy doesn't tell Mr. Blake he's in need of funds for himself; instead, he lies and says he's wants to earn extra cash "to help a friend." Soon enough, Charlie has Jimmy delivering "packages" to all sorts of places at all hours of the night. Jimmy never asks what's in the "packages" and he it never occurs to him that Charlie might be involved in anything, oh, illegal. 

Meanwhile, his romance with Kitty is heating up. In a series of montages, we see Jimmy and Kitty eating out in fancy restaurants, Jimmy and Kitty dancing in ritzy night cubs, Jimmy showering Kitty with expensive presents--and he only graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago! Strangely, Kitty never tells her cuddlemate that she's also seeing Charlie...nor does Kitty tell Charlie she's seeing Jimmy. However, when Jimmy starts throwing money around, Kitty asks Jimmy if he has a new job or something. Jimmy lies and says no. Later on, Kitty asks Charlie if Jimmy's working for him. Charlie lies and says no. Then Charlie asks Kitty if she "built him up" to Jimmy like he asked her to. Kitty lies and says she did. Since nobody appears to be worried about all the lying they're doing, I guess we shouldn't, either.

As for Jimmy's parents, they have only a passing interest in what their son is doing. After Jimmy leaves for yet another night on the town with Kitty, Mrs. Wilson asks her husband if he's noticed that their son "has changed", pointing out that some nights "he doesn't come home at all!"

Open Mic Night at the Grand Ole Opry? Nope, it's singer star Kitty Reed wowing 'em with her rendition of "Love Came Between Us."

"Maybe he stayed with a friend," Mr. Wilson mumbles from the couch. "It's a little late to start asking questions now."

"After all, you're his father!" Mrs. Wilson protests. "You ought to keep an eye on him!"

"You're his mother!" Mr. Wilson snaps back. "If you stayed home once in a while, you might know what he's up to."

And with that dismissive remark, Mr. Wilson heads off to his club to play cards.

Charlie once again has a "package" for Jimmy to deliver, but this time the errand seems a little fishy. See, the contact gives Jimmy a letter and tells him to deliver it right away. When Jimmy returns to Mr. Blake's office with the note, Charlie is furious--until he reads the message. Then he has Jimmy go rent a car and meet some fellow "associates" later in the evening. On his way out, Jimmy rings Kitty on one of Mr. Blake's phones. Unbeknownst to the cuddlemates, Charlie is listening on the other end--and is furious when Jimmy calls himself Kitty's "boyfriend"!

Jimmy wonders if Charlie is happy in his work.

Rushing over to Kitty's, Charlie orders her to end it with Jimmy--or else. And to make sure Kitty does what she's told, Mr. Blake hides in the bedroom.

Needless to say, Jimmy is devastated when Kitty suddenly blows him off, ridiculing his career as a shoe salesman and implying that he'll never be successful enough to support her in the style she's become accustomed to. Jimmy stomps off and meets the other "associates" of Mr. Blake's at a warehouse. While sitting in the rented car, Jimmy hears gun shots. Suddenly the other "associates" (dragging a painting) tell Jimmy to step on it. Back in Mr. Blake's office, Jimmy finally learns that Charlie deals in stolen goods--and those "packages" were all illegal merchandise! When Jimmy vows to go to the police, Charlie slaps him silly and tells him that he's in too deep to play innocent. Instead, the mobster tells Jimmy to "lay low" and skip town for a while, "until things cool off." Jimmy agrees and staggers off for home. Once he's gone, Charlie orders his two other "associates" to kill Jimmy.

Desperate, over come with fear and grief, and sweating bullets, Jimmy arrives home to an empty house. When he calls for his dad at his club, Mr. Wilson, busy with a poker game, refuses to take the call. The next day, the police visit the shoe store asking for Jimmy. He manages to dodge the cops, but later on he runs into two of Charlie's "associates", who proceed to beat him up. Feeling the walls closing in on him, Jimmy packs a suite case, leaves his parents a note, swipes his dad's gun (!) and heads for the hills. In yet another montage, a worried looking Jimmy is seen walking down endless streets, hopping freight trains and thumbing for rides.

The poor dope ends up in a one-horse town, tired and hungry. Outside a cafe, Jimmy spies a portly chef named Al Frazier (George Lloyd) counting his money. Intending to rob him, Jimmy enters the cafe and orders a hamburger. Al, however, knows a hard case when he sees one. While cooking him up a burger, the folksy Frazier shares his philosophy of life: "Share what you've got and you'll never want." He talks Jimmy out of robbing him and instead offers him a job and a place to live. Jimmy quickly agrees. There is one condition, though: Jimmy has to attend church with Al. He's an usher, you see, and it wouldn't look right if Jimmy didn't worship with him.

"Six days a week I work for myself," Al explains. "On the seventh day I work for the church."

Al Frazier (George Lloyd) offers life hacks along with hamburgers.

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 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!

"But will you still respect me in the morning?": Robert Lowell puts the moves on June Carlson in "Mom and Dad" (1944). This is one of the films Lowell appeared in before going AWOL from the movies.