Judge Bill Gibron admits to being addicted to only one thing: the exploitation goodness provided by Something Weird Video in releases like this one.
Boozers, Losers and Heroin Users!
With an average cast age of 34 and a strange narrative style that's one part Dragnet, two parts Bill Haley and the Comets, Hooked does for drugs what a movie like the road show warhorse Damaged Goods does for socially unacceptable STDs. At the center of the story is one Ray Bowman, a former scholastic spaz who has now become a full-blown joy popper. When he takes a poison-loaded shot in the sirloin, the cops suddenly care about the moral corruption in their tiny, tainted burg. They recruit one of their desk jockey gal Fridays and place her in the field as a carhop. Then they employ another undercover brother as a no-goodnik new kid in class, hoping that someone discovers who offed the lame-brained Ray. All leads seem to point to Jimmy, a supposedly 21-year-old bigwig who drives a snazzy car full of H wherever he goes. In order to get to the suave snake, they have to get cozy with his on-again, off-again moll with the incriminating name of Julie Barnes. If that's not reason enough to rid the town of this horrible heroin scourge, another unknowing knob named Dick is directly in sight of the drug's opiate onus. If they don't act fast and bring Jimmy down, they'll end up with the entire class of 1958 Hooked on this pusher's own brand of vein-activated reality escape.
The Flaming Teen-Age, on the other hand, is like a lesson in living from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Broken up into two diametrically-opposed displays of addiction, we first meet liquor lightweight Tim Kruger. Barely able to hold his beer and cordials, Tim's parents think he's a highball away from a habit. So Dad gets one of his Beefeater brainstorms and decides to drag Tim to every dive bar in town, the better to see how alcohol actually affects the social dynamic. A drunken housewife picking up a lubed-up longshoreman is all the tottling teen needs. He swears off the sauce—at least until college. A few admonishments from our omnipresent narrator and it's off to the tale of Fred Garland and his one-man rum-and-Coke wrecking machine. Unhappy with everything in his rotten stinking life, including overprotective parents, the pure virginal love of a gal named Mary, and his own storefront sweet shop, Fred trades it all for an endless date with that bawdy old babe—booze. Before you know it, our alcoholic anti-hero is jumping from town to town and skipping out on any and all responsibilities placed upon him. After a tincture-of-iodine suicide attempt, Fred falls even deeper, right smack into heroin. Dope makes him do foolish, felonious things and he gets pinched pilfering ties from a department store—the better to foster his last-minute jailhouse conversion.
Beginning with a shooting that results in a rather reluctant corpse and ending with a direct lift of Jack Webb's personal prose, Hooked has the distinction of being procedurally correct while straying all over the psychological map. When the mother of the soon-to-be ex-Ray Bowman is questioned over his apparent problem with narcotics, mom dismisses it as a "phase" he's going through. Whenever anyone mentions the name "Julie Barnes," they say it as if speaking such a collection of consonants and vowels out loud will call up the very bowels of Hell. And then there is Jimmy, a well-polished pusher with the fatal flaw of fickleness. When Ray wants a fix, Jim originally says "no," but when he realizes he can rid himself of the demanding mainliner, he forgets his line about a lack of credit and hands over the smack, toot sweet. Loaded with such causation coincidences and illogical human hunches, Hooked is also an interesting elegy to actor Paul Kelly. A famous silent child star, Kelly grew up to be a Hollywood constant for nearly 40 years. Only 57 when the movie was made, the actor died of a massive heart attack before its release. When you realize this important piece of information, you soon understand why an obviously ailing Kelly was filmed almost exclusively in the sedentary position. It's especially noticeable during the finale's foot chase. As a much younger, but far doughier, detective gives chase to a necessary witness, a skinny stunt man, badly disguised as Kelly, jumps and leaps over fences and stairwells in equally hot pursuit. With a storyline swamped in overdramatic dross and a cast capable of nothing but over-the-top tricks, Hooked is the happiest form of hokum histrionics.
Like a version of Paul Harvey's famous "The Rest of the Story" as told by a bunch of know-it-all God lovers, The Flaming Teen-Age, on the other hand, represents a very odd entry in the SWV canon. Directed by Charles Edwards (who?) and sci-fi filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth (of The Blob, 4D Man fame), we get something like the cinematic equivalent of a motivational speech. Supposedly based on a true story, we see the rye ruins and religious redemption of one man. In the lead role of Fred Garland, Noel Reyburn looks like a pre-pickled Ron "Tater Salad" White, with a face that seems ready for a collection of addiction-related accessories. Sure enough, it's not long before Garland is sporting bags, dark circles, and perhaps the most revealing of all, gobs of black eye shadow. Yet it's really hard to understand why Fred falls into the easy escape of alcohol and drugs. He's perhaps the only person outside of a major Hollywood studio who consistently fails upwards. He drops out of high school, but manages to buy a candy store. He sells the shop and ends up in a Broadway road show. He's canned from the act and ends up going into a talent agency partnership with a pal. It's only after he pops that first fix of Chinese rock that he appears to lose his helpful happenstance.
Even better is the surreal opening sequence, where a young man is taught the horrors of hooch by barhopping with his well-informed old man. Before the opening credits, we see the totally tanked Tim stumbling down the street like Foster Brooks during a walkathon. The decision to scare him straight is novel and needed, especially when we see what a lousy wino Tim really is. During a flashback, he and his pals sop up the sauce and, in a matter of moments, everyone is pawing at each other like chimps looking for nits to pick. Director Edwards was obviously caught up in the whole kids-gone-feral aspect of the juvenile delinquency drama, yet he ends up making a combination of evangelism and educational film. We, like Tim, are supposed to learn by example. And if that fails, we always have God—the go-to guy when personal responsibility and common sense just won't work. Like the sacrosanct salve that He is, The Flaming Teen-Age wants everyone to believe in a higher power. For Fred, it's the Son of Man. For Tim, it's seeing some sauced-up spouse get beaten by her husband. Talk about your power to convert.
On the technical side of things, Something Weird finds some almost acceptable prints of these relatively unknown rarities. Presented in mighty monochrome and featuring a 1.33:1 full-screen image, The Flaming Teen-Age has lots of damage and other visual defects. All dirt and scratches aside, the film is very washed out and the contrasts are off by a mile. This means we see scenes where darkness overwhelms everything and then there are other sequences where light makes its fading qualities known. Hooked looks better, nearly pristine in its black-and-white wonder of a transfer. From a purely sonic point of view, the Dolby Digital Mono is acceptable, especially when that ersatz rock 'n' roll comes honking out of the pictured portable record players.
SWV also offers us three choice examples of those pre-teen classroom mindbenders from a bygone educational era. In "Drug Addiction," we learn how smoking reefer can lead to drinking from broken bottles and a direct trip into mainlining heroin. Next, someone claims "Alcohol is Dynamite," but not in the way hep cat hipsters like Jimmy "JJ" Walker would imagine. As much a criticism of playing in dance bands as a slam at underage drinking, our trio of high schoolers discover the joys of juice and the vehicular homicide that can result when rot gut and revved engines mix. Our last entry arrives full of potent potable propaganda from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and makes it clear that, when getting good and liquored up, "The Choice is Yours" and the repercussions are as well. Two neighbor kids go over to visit the lonely, unmarried adult male teacher from the high school, but instead of rampant molestation, they are forced to sit through a fact-heavy multimedia production on the dangers of drink. One of the highlights? The bratlings explaining all the "funny acting" and "dirty" people they see while walking down Skid Row.
Sitting through the potboiler pleasures of Hooked and The Flaming Teen-Age proves that part of growing up is watching one's elders overreact to situations that eventually straighten themselves out via experience and mistakes. There is really no way to prevent curious kids from shooting up or taking the occasional peer-pressured snort. As a preventative measure, the juvenile delinquency drama was, and remains, laughable, but as a boss bit of ancient entertainment, these mannered movies are a real gasser.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
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