A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Girls Town Redux

According to my diary, I saw the movie "Girls Town" when I was twelve years old. I don't, however, have any recollection of the plot or of my reaction to it. It stars Paul Anka, my heartthrob at the time, which explains my interest. I decided I wanted my 63-year-old self to see it, too.

The movie was released in 1959 and only rates a 2.6 (out of 10) on imdb.com, so it's not easy to find. However, it was shown in 1994 on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and those episodes are available. I downloaded the MST3K version, laid in some nice wine, made a batch of spicy Indian puffed wheat (lots of cereal still left), and invited Chris for a viewing.

Mamie Van Doren stars in this schlockfest as the teenaged bad girl accused of pushing wealthy "Chip" off a cliff. For some reason, there's no official arrest, and no trial. She's sent to Catholic nun-run Girls Town ("not a reform school!"), where her bad attitude makes enemies of all but sweet roomie Serafina. Singer Paul Anka is the good guy who saves the day, while Mel Tormé plays the nasty motorcycle gang leader.

I know it's a B movie, but what were they thinking? Mamie Van Doren, the underage teen, was actually 28, and Mel was 34 with a receding hairline and a chin to match. His ill-fitting motorcycle jacket looks vinyl, and while sneering and pushing women around, he's drinking a glass of milk. The teenage inmates' kangaroo court is more fearsome than the law or even the nuns. The most ominous threat is "I'll bingle your bongle." Least believable of all: Mamie starts to cry, kneels down and prays after hearing Paul Anka sing "Ave Maria" to her.

Another thing that's odd: the number of unknowns in this film who are related to big stars. Jim Mitchum is Robert's son; Cathy Crosby is Bing's niece, and Harold Lloyd, Jr. and Charlie Chaplin, Jr., well, it's obvious. Was producer Albert Zugsmith handing out favors to all of his friends?

There's one bit of psychological realism in the film. Serafina, who starts out hysterically in love with Paul the teen idol, at the end joins the novitiate. Perfect example of sublimation.

The MST3K version of "Girls Town" (slightly cut) with its sardonic commentary lifts the rating to a 10. We laughed hysterically throughout. Zugsmith also made "Sex Kittens Go to College," "College Confidential," "The Beat Generation," "Confessions of an Opium Eater," and over two dozen more middling to awful movies. Tonight might have been opening night at the Emory House Home Theater of the Zugsmith Film Festival.