Thursday, December 24, 2020

It's Time to Discuss the Birds and the Bees with "Mom and Dad"

One of the more subtler ads for "Mom and Dad" (1945). 

Greetings, movie lovers.

Our feature presentation is the ne plus ultra of exploitation films. It's also one of the top grossing flicks of the 1940's--AND has been added to both the National Film Registry and the Academy Film Archive.

Directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine and exhaustively promoted by H. Kroger Babb, ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Mom and Dad" (1945).

Sustained applause.

The story "Mom and Dad" tells isn't new. A young gal ignorant of "the facts of life" meets a smoothie from out of town, has sex with him and is shocked shocked! to later learn she's preggers.

  "I'm not bad. I'm just directed that way.": Jack Griffin (Robert/Bob Lowell from "I Accuse My Parents") puts the moves on innocent Joan Blake (June Carlson).

However, what set "Mom and Dad"s apart from other run-of-the-mill exploitation films were the outlandish promotional gimmicks producer Babb unleashed to sell the picture. These included "eminent hygiene commentator Elliot Forbes" (actually an actor) lecturing the audience about STDs during intermission; nurses (actually actresses) hawking safe sex manuals in the theater lobby; paid protesters denouncing the film on street corners and passing out handbills to passersby (who promptly headed for the movie house); letters to various newspaper editors attacking the film (which were written by Babb himself); separating audiences along gender, age and racial lines; various lawsuits; and a "C" or "Condemned" rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency.

Yet I'm of the opinion that "Mom and Dad" didn't need all those gimmicks to cement it's place in the Bad Movie Hall of Shame. Take away all of Babb's promotional razzle-dazzle and you still have a badly made, super-cheap, poorly acted, genuinely nutty flick that will delight any Junk Cinema devotee.

Start with the director of the film, William "One Shot" Beaudine. Will's nickname derived from the fact that he rarely shot a second take of anything. This lack of attention to detail meant not only did his actors have little time to "finesse" their roles, but any blunders managed to stay in the final print (such as John Carradine burning his finger in "Voodoo Man", another Beaudine baddie reviewed in this blog). 

 Will began his career in silent movies. However, he either didn't realize or care that the advent of sound in 1929 required a more realistic approach to screen acting. Thus, his actors went over the top in a style better suited for 1918 than 1945. And because the script for "Mom and Dad" was so thin to begin with, Beaudine was perfectly happy to pad out the flick by inserting ready-made sex education films, bearing such piquant titles as "An Explanation of Sex Cycles." For his casual approach to film making, Will earned a coveted Golden Turkey Award nomination as the "Worst Director of All Time", but lost out to the mighty Ed Wood.

Next, the speed at which "Mom and Dad" as filmed ensured the final product couldn't help but be shoddy: the flick was shot on five different lots in six days! Talk about a runaway production...

Last, the script (provided by Mildred Horn, the future Mrs. Babb) was filled with the wacky touches bad film fanatics crave: a character named "Fish Face", a teenage tumbling troupe, a group of jitter buggers, footage of various forms of childbirth (including a C-section), graphic shots of people with advanced VD, the most hysterical mother on the planet and an attempt to provide an "up lifting" ending despite a still birth.

"What's all the hub-hub, Bub?": Crowds flock to the heavily hyped "Mom and Dad."

In other words, something for everyone!

Before our story begins, the National Anthem is played. Then the producers provide a lengthy forward explaining the high-minded purpose behind "Mom and Dad." The main character, Joan Blake (played by the puffy-haired June Carlson) is a "sweet, innocent girl", but she's burdened by having a ninny for a mom. Unfortunately, Mrs. Blake "like many mothers" thinks "innocence is a guarantee of virtue." The producers want viewers to understand that "the boys and girls of today aren't bad!", they're just badly educated about the realities of "personal hygiene". "Youth is entitled to a knowledge of hygiene," the crawl declares. "A complete understanding of the Facts of Life."

"Ignorance is a sin-knowledge is power," the crawl intones, in case anyone still misses the point.

The forward concludes by announcing that if "Mom and Dad" leads to "commonsense solutions" that reduce STDs and out-of-wedlock births, "it will have been well told!" (Sounds of the producers and investors patting each other on the back.)

And now our tale can begin.

"Strangers on a Train"? Nope, it's just "Mom and Dad."

Riding on a train from The Big City to their home town of Centerville are three members of the Blake family: dad (George Elderdge), mom (Lois Austin) and teen daughter Joan (June Carlson). While Mr. Blake reads the paper, Mrs. Blake, a prissy hysteric with a tent-pole up her ass, prattles endlessly about the lewd behavior of the other passengers (i.e. an old coot offers a young gal some booze). Later on, she nearly faints when Joan goes to get a drink of water and somebody whistles at her. Horrified, Mrs. Blake begins to wonder if Joan should be allowed to attend the school dance that evening. Then she informs hubby that the minute they get home, she's ringing up "all the members of my club" to discuss this flourishing public indecency.

At the train depot, the Blake family runs into Mr. Blackburn (Hardie Albright), a high school teacher very popular with the kids. Unfortunately, Mrs. Blake finds him too progressive for her tastes. After all, he wanted to teach "personal hygiene" to the high schoolers! When son Dave (Jimmy Clark) forgets to pick up the fam, Mr. Blackburn (not one to hold grudges) gives them a lift home.

Later that evening, Joan appears in her bias-cut formal. Tonight is the big dance and her escort is Alan Curtis (Jimmy Zaner), better known as "Fish Face." When Alan and Joan arrive at the dance, all Fish Face can say is how "swell" everything is. When Joan asks her date if he can say anything other than "swell", Fish Face wracks his brain and says, "Well, it's super swell!" Seconds later, in walks prep-school smoothie Jack Griffith (Robert/Bob Lowell, last seen in "I Accuse My Parents") with his cousin.

"Say, Tommy, who's the little blonde over there in the green dress?" Jack asks.

"You mean the one dancing with Alan Curtis?" Tommy replies.

"Like shooting Fish(Face) out of a barrel.": Suave preppy Jack muscles Alan Curtis' date.

"Who's Alan Curtis?" Jack retorts.

"The one dancing with the girl in the green dress," Tommy explains.

As you can see, the boys of Centerville are a bunch of dolts. Against such competition, smoothie Jack has no trouble elbowing Fish Face out of the way.

"Mind if I cut in?" Jack asks as he waltzes Joan away from her stunned date.

When the music stops, the irritated Fish Face goes to get Joan some lemonade. Jack quickly suggests he and Joan "get some fresh air." While strolling outside, Jack tells Joan, "You look beautiful when you smile." Then he plants a big, fat kiss on her.

Jack and Joan ditch Fish Face "to get some air" (remember, fish get their oxygen from the water).

"I'm sorry, honey, I just couldn't help it," Jack says.

"You shouldn't have done it!" Joan gulps. "I've never been kissed like that before!"

"Yeah?" Jack smugly replies. "Well, I feel honored!"--and proceeds to plant another wet-one on her.

The next morning, Mrs. Blake comes into Joan's room, anxious to know all the details about her evening with Fish Face. To her shock and horror, all Joan wants to talk about is suave Jack, who totally "swept me off my feet!"

 As far as Mrs. Blake is concerned, Fish Face is the perfect life mate for her daughter: not only is his mother president the Morals Committee, "she and I agree on everything" and Fish Face is being raised "properly--not petting and making love to every girl he meets."

Open mouth, insert tongue: Joan and Jack get physical.

"Oh, mother!" Joan protests. "Alan couldn't make love even if his mother wanted him to!"

This makes Mrs. Blake even more hysterical, if that's possible. "My whole day is ruined with your foolish nonsense!" she announces. "What's the younger generation coming to?!"

After Mrs. Blake unloads all this intelligence on her husband, he casually suggests she have "a talk" with Joan about how girls "get into trouble" and "have out of wedlock babies."

"Talk!" Mrs. Blake sputters. "Why, all I've done is talk! And I'm not going to fill her clean mind with a lot of worldly knowledge!"

Meanwhile, Joan is sneaking out and meeting Jack on the sly--he insists his sister does it all the time and she's in college, so what harm can there be?

One of several sex-education films used to pad-out the running time of today's film.

On one such date, Joan and Jack are snuggling in the front seat of a car. Pretty soon, one thing leads to another, Jack pledges eternal devotion and, sure enough, our teenage cuddlemates are doin' the Nasty. Unfortunately, there is no Milky After Glow for Joan once the Deed is Done.

"I feel like a leper," she sobs, adding she also feels "unclean" and "ashamed to associate with my friends." Jack, on the other hand, isn't bothered: "It was just one of those things," he shrugs.

Later on, over at the high school, Mr. Blackburn holds a very tepid "personal hygiene" discussion. A male student (who has a brother in the navy) asks what VD is. Mr. Blackburn says he can't go into specifics, but he'll lend him a book on the subject. Well! That's the last straw for Mrs. Blake and her club. The ladies insist the educator be fired pronto and the weak-as-water principal agrees. Telling his boss, "You can't fire me--I quit!" (but not in those exact words), Mr. Blackburn busily sets up an insurance office instead. His former students even show up to help him move in.

Unfortunately, after doin' the Nasty, Joan's world falls apart. First, cuddlemate Jack leaves "for the west coast" to learn the family's aviation business. Next, it's reported in the local paper that Jack has died in an air plane crash. D'oh! Soon after, Joan starts noticing her clothes are too tight and she's throwing up every morning. Worst of all, a quick check of her calendar reveals Aunt Flow hasn't been by for about three months. Putting two and two together, Joan comes to a horrifying conclusion: she's "in trouble", 1940's lingo for pregnant.

What's a girl to do? After all, her reputation is ruined. He family's been disgraced. Her mother will be forced out of her club! And what about Fish Face?!

 Joan realizes she's "in trouble"--her perm has totally frizzed out (she's pregnant, too).

Overwhelmed and desperate, Joan tries to off herself, but brother Dave stops her. He then insists "Butch" (his nickname for her) tell her what's wrong.

"I'm in trouble!" Joan wails.

The shocked Dave declares, "Who is it, Butch? I'll break his neck!"

Since the guilty party is dead, Dave does the next best thing: he heads over to Mr. Blackburn's insurance office for help. The teacher/insurance agent is saddened and shocked, of course, but he assures Dave he will think of something. The next day, Mr. Blackburn heads over to the Blake's and is given a chilly reception by the lady of the house. When Mrs. Blake refuses to get her husband, Mr. Blackburn blurts out, "I just wanted (to tell your husband) your daughter is going to have a baby!"

The Blake's are horrified. "Who was the boy!" Mrs. Blake demands. "I'll have him arrested!"

Mr. Blackburn (Hardie Albright) attempts to teach his students "the Facts of Life", but local busybodies fire him instead.

Mr. Blackburn just shakes his head. "Why blame the boy?" he asks.

"Well, who would you blame?" she exclaims.

Fixing her with a withering stare, Mr. Blackburn replies, "I'd blame you, Mrs. Blake. You and every parent who neglects the sacred duty of telling their children the real truth!"

Ripping her a new one, he adds, "When your children have to go to someone else for advice, you've fallen down on your job!"

Prissy hysteric that she is, Mrs. Blake starts fretting about the family's ruined reputation and about how she'll be kicked out of her club. Once again, Mr. Blackburn slaps some verbal sense into her: "Mrs. Blake, if I were you, I'd stop thinking about myself and start giving Joan some of the consideration a girl has a right to expect from her mother!"

"Gosh, who could they be talking about?": Another title card from "Mom and Dad".

After that, things move pretty quickly. Seeing the error of her ways, Mrs. Blake wises up and takes Joan to "visit relatives out of town"--way out of town. Mr. Blake, meanwhile, insists Mr. Blackburn be given his old job back. A class in "social hygiene" is soon available at the high school. Under the direction of "Dr. John Ashley", the girls of Centerville (and the audience) watch such mini-features as "The Facts of Life", "An Explanation of Sex Cycles" and "How Conception Takes Place in the Human Body" (Hint: it's by intercourse). There's also a close-up view of a C-Section (eww!). Later on, the boys of Centerville watch movies about the dangers of VD, which includes graphic images of spores and deformed babies.

Strong stuff, to be sure, but medically accurate.

As for Joan, depending on which print of "Mom and Dad" you screen, she either A) delivers a healthy baby that is soon adopted or B) endures a delivery that nearly kills her and ends in a still birth. After she returns to her hospital room, the Blake's are able to visit their daughter. Relieved that she's going to be OK, brother Dave gives thanks to God for "saving little Butch."

It's on this uplifting note that "Mom and Dad" ends its broadcast day. Goodbye and don't forget to pick up your free safe sex manuals from the "nurses" in the lobby!

It's impossible to know, of course, what viewers in 1945 thought of "Mom and Dad". Were they shocked, informed, educated, entertained? Or did they laugh it off the screen? Clearly the selling point of the picture was not the soapy saga of Joan and her prissy mother, that's for sure. Every movie trope you can think of (and a few you can't) about dumb parents/bad mothers were duly trotted out: moms are hysterical busybodies; dads are laid-back; parents are more concerned about girls retaining their "purity" than their sons retaining theirs; sex makes girls feel dirty; boys who impregnate girls always die; the local teacher knows more about raising kids than parents do. I bet a good portion of the viewing public found these hand-wringing theatrics rather tedious. After all, it was the promise to learn more about sex that drew people in in the first place.

Yet another promotional poster for "Mom and Dad". Note the name "Elliot Forbes" in the corner. This "expert" was actually an actor.

 The success of "Mom and Dad" inspired other such cautionary/exploitation films on similar themes, such as "The Desperate Women" (1958), "Street Corner" (1948) (about illegal abortion) and "The Story of Bob and Sally". The later, made in 1948 by Universal studios, was ultimately deemed too controversial to release. As always, these films' selling point was that they were grittier and more "honest" than the standard Hollywood studio "message" picture. When television arrived, the example of "Mom and Dad" no doubt inspired the "ABC After School Specials" that ran in the 1970's and '80's. These hour long dramas warned kids about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex. The flicks usually ran a disclaimer, encouraging kids and parents to watch the program together. Not to be left out were "the very special episodes" of sitcoms like "Family Ties", "Valerie", "Full House" and "Kate and Allie", where "social issues" (such as under-age drinking and sex) were explored, albeit with humor. We owe this to "Mom and Dad" as well.

So you see, movie lovers, Junk Cinema isn't just about monsters in rubber suits and actors like Vera Vague chewing the scenery. Well, actually, Junk Cinema is about monsters in rubber suits and actors like Vera Vague chewing the scenery...but it can be about important things, too. Consider this: several generations of movie goers received a better understanding of "the birds and the bees" from a movie shot in six days, featuring a family tumbling troupe and a character named "Fish Face" than they did from their own parents or respective school health classes. That's why Junk Cinema needs be seen as the valuable part of our cinematic heritage it is--and therefore needs to be protected, promoted and preserved.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, ignorance doesn't protect anyone, and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.