Judge Paul Pritchard don't follow your stinkin' rules, man!
Handle the often sticky issues of adolescence.
It would be very easy for anyone to approach Classic Educational Shorts: Troubled Teens expecting nothing more than a chance to laugh at the antiquated, ultra-conservative views this collections of films will undoubtedly be based upon. I mean, come on, we're talking about films mostly produced from the 1950s to the 1970s where the sole purpose was to educate kids on subjects as hazardous as puberty, teen drinking, and—shock horror—teen pregnancy.
Well, although there are undoubtedly moments that will elicit a few sniggers, what stands out is how often these evenhanded films offer surprisingly open and honest guidance for teens.
Opening the set is As Boys Grow, produced in 1957. Perhaps my favorite of these shorts, it is admirable for the honest way it tackles the changes boys go through upon reaching puberty. Sure, there are plenty of laughs to be had—particularly as the guy giving the boys advice is a football coach who seems to have an endless supply of diagrams of genitalia—but the quality of information contained within these 16 minutes is hard to fault. Having discussed how puberty will cause the boys to change in terms of their appearance, he goes on to field questions about their growing sexual urges; when the time comes to discuss masturbation, this guy doesn't beat about the bush (if you'll pardon the expression). I think the moment that really stands out here comes when one of the kids asks if masturbation has adverse effects. Now, considering the guff young boys get told ("You'll go blind"), it's refreshing to see such an honest answer given.
Next up is 1950's Last Date. Now this, despite the appearance of Dick York (Bewitched), is utter guff. I'm not knocking the film's intentions, as far too many teens die from driving recklessly, but the overdone melodrama just goes too far, undermining the entire picture. The next short, What Made Sammy Speed? from 1957, spreads a similar message in that teens and cars are a deadly combination. Sadly lacking the semi-decent production values of its predecessor, this one holds little replay value.
Released in 1964, A Quarter Million Teenagers talks about the shocking number of teenagers who have an STI. Rather than berate teens for fornicating, the feature is more interested in educating them on staying safe from gonorrhea, syphilis, and a host of other nasty diseases that I needed to Google to spell correctly. Complete with diagrams of how these infections enter through your johnson, this is grim, but no less worthwhile viewing.
How to describe Drug Attack, the bizarre, experimental feature from 1969? No narrative, no narration, no clue. I'm sure the filmmakers had the best of intentions—perhaps the jazz soundtrack and collage of images is supposed to mirror a particularly bad trip—but this is just a confusing mess.
Violence and Vandalism from 1972 has pretty much one message: "Follow the rules, mister." To be fair, the short does empathize with the anger young people feel at what they see as injustice, but make no mistake, actor Hugh O'Brien is here to tell you that acting out comes at a price.
In the 1973 short Teeth, a bunch of hippies flash their pearly white teeth, reminding us all to brush. Sadly the message—which is surely common sense anyway—is lost behind the dated soundtrack and annoying succession of smiling kids.
Ah, Lucy…you poor unfortunate girl. Having just met her first boyfriend, Lucy ends up going to fourth base quicker than Babe Ruth, and finds herself "in the family way" (up the duff, knocked up, pregnant). Released in 1975, it might lead you to expect a puritanical attack on the evils of teen sex, but instead we get something far more balanced. Sure, the film does explain that pregnancy comes at a price—Lucy's life, as she points out, is going to change massively—but it also reminds us that it isn't the end of the world. The options open to a girl are explained (if not in massive detail), and most importantly, there isn't a hint of sensationalism. Good stuff.
The Party's Over (1975) is a mixed bag. The short splits its time between scenes where a teacher discusses alcohol consumption with a bunch of teenage students, and scenes of these same teens at a party where alcohol is present. The classroom set scenes involve some genuinely well-reasoned arguments, with a few wise-ass comments thrown in, but the party scenes are just annoying. The primary reason for this is just how annoying these kids are when intoxicated. If anything is to be garnered from The Party's Over, it's that sneaking a drink as a teen is much more fun than watching it unfold.
The Day I Died combines two of the three major evils that blight teenagers: alcohol and automobiles. The film follows a teenager who recounts his final moments from beyond the grave. A worthy cause is lost behind the sensationalism, not to mention the narration from the dead dude. That said: the film's final moments are memorable, even if it's unlikely to have much impact on the teens it set out to save.
The single-disc release of Troubled Teens contains an additional eight bonus shorts, which go under the heading "How To Treat Troubled Teens." The first of these, "Facing Reality" from 1954 is nightmare-inducing stuff, as a woman with two faces spins in a circle as a stuttering narrative about teen insecurity plays out. "A Case for Beer" was produced in 1970 to help store workers spot underage drinkers, and is most memorable for the way it ultimately encourages boozing—so long as you're old enough. "Talking to Your Teen About VD," something I'm sure all parents look forward to, is a 1972 short that pretty much does what it says on the tin. If the delivery is poor, the basic message—that parents should educate their teens on safe sex—is admirable. Next up is "Condoms: A Responsible Option," from 1985. Released during a time when AIDS was making the headlines, this short talks about the importance of safe sex. 1972s "Social Seminar Promo" is a borderline incoherent mess, which attempts to address the use of drugs by teens, but struggles to get its point across. "Teenage Conflict" attempts to reconcile the conflict between faith and science, and—for a 1960s piece—is surprisingly liberal in its views. "When I'm Old Enough, Goodbye" is a bit like The Beatles classic, "She's Leaving Home," just far less catchy. Released in 1962, it paints a stark picture of life once one leaves the family nest. Finally there is "The Gang." Released in 1983, "The Gang" has victims of real life gang violence talk about their experiences. The only other extra is a collection of notes for each of the films, that—in many cases—help put them into context.
The 1.33:1 transfer was taken from the original 16mm prints, and Kino Lorber do stress that the quality of the audio and video is not to their usual standard. There are numerous instances of damage to be found, but never is this distracting. The audio is similarly mixed, with a less-than-sharp mono soundtrack.
Whether viewed purely for giggles, or as a chance to experience the way society has changed in its approaches to handling teenagers, Classic Educational Shorts: Troubled Teens delivers, and earns a recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
• Bonus Shorts
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