My Teenage Daughter (1956)
“You weren’t so outspoken or brutal as young people are today … if you’d been born at the beginning of a war and reared through a blitz and always had the bad joke of the H-Bomb with you, might you have been brutal and perhaps a little cynical.”
This is a juvenile delinquency flick: We all know this ...
|Sylvia Syms & Kenneth Haigh|
... leads to this:
In the 1950s the world became obsessed by the rise of the ‘teenager’: a supposedly post-war phenomenon, the teenager was – in the eyes of the media and much of the watching world – dangerous. Juvenile delinquency was all the rage: journalists condemned it, kids found it exciting and parents found it terrifying. And, of course, film makers found it enticing. Whether mainstream (Rebel Without a Cause) or B-Movie (I Was A Teenage Werewolf), it was a subject that was ripe for exploitation. For some British filmmakers, such as Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, it was the perfect opportunity to raise serious social issues in films such as I Believe in You or Violent Playground. For others, it was just about getting bums on seats, rather than educating the public.
Whilst it is no surprise that producers wanted to exploit the teenage sensation, it is surprise to see certain names getting involved. Who would have thought that the husband and wife team of Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle would have decided that the story of a seventeen year old running wild was just the thing for them? After all this was the team that gave the world historical stories of strong women, such as Nell Gwynn; Queen Victoria (Victoria the Great & Sixty Glorious Years); Florence Nightingale (The Lady with a Lamp); Edith Cavell (Nurse Edith Cavell); Odette Sansom (Odette) and Amy Jonson (They Flew Alone). Then there were the London dramas with very specific titles, such as The Courtneys of Curzon Street, The Piccadilly Incident, Spring in Park Lane, Maytime in Mayfair & I Live in Grosvenor Square. And finally there was the somewhat unexpected My Teenage Daughter.
Remember, 1956 was the year rock and roll was unleashed on the British public. But look what they got!
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the tale of some slum girl running wild, but a rather cosy, upper middle-class drama in which a journalist (Neagle) ...
... finds her seventeen year old daughter Jan (Sylvia Syms) ...
|Kenneth Haigh & Sylvia Syms|
... is going out with a rather disreputable fellow, Tony Ward-Black (Kenneth Haigh). He drives a Bentley (it isn’t his), is believed to be running through his inheritance (he is actually broke) and doesn’t even use his real name (he’s really just plain old Tony Ward). But he is good looking, loves jazz clubs and has confidence by the bucketload.
It's easy to see he's disreputable: he gate-crashes parties, wears white-tie when everyone else wears black-tie ...
|Sylvis Syms, Michael Meacham & Kenneth Haigh|
... has friends who hang out in coffee bars, wearing duffel coats ...
... and teaches Jan to smoke and drink coffee:
Oh yeas, he also lives like this:
Yes, that's right. He's the type of man who will turn your nice, classical music listening daughter ...
... into a jazz-loving, bad pyjama wearing, wild-child:
There’s very little booze, no drugs and barely a hint of sex, but he just isn’t the right sort for Jan – as everyone but her knows. OK, Jan goes to jazz clubs but she still gets home at the end of the evening. Rebellious, eh? And she thinks about giving up secretarial college. But does she do it? Nope. But she does do a bit of driving without a licence, so that’s her entry into the world of fully paid up destroyer of western civilisation. Or maybe not.
It’s not a bad film, it’s just a bit tame. If there was even a hint of teenage pregnancy or of her shoplifting, smoking dope … even if any of the others in the jazz club were dabbling in drugs, it might have given the film an edge. But no. This is British cinema at its most tame and middle class.
When American audiences went to see this, retitled as Teenage Bad Girl, I bet they were disappointed.
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