2 May 2008 | dougdoepke
Why Ike's in the White House
The girls are all blonde and the boys all clean-cut. It is 1957, the peak of those ten years of innocence between the end of the Korean war and the Kennedy assassination. The biggest concern of middle-class white youth is getting a job and "settling down". Jobs are plentiful, Ike's in the White House, and marriage takes care of the sex problem. This earnest little movie rivets on that last element. It's like a one-note laser. The kids are in heat and only marriage is acceptable. But are they responsible enough, adult enough. Stockwell and Trundy say they are, but their parents being certifiably respectable and responsible say they're not. The conflict, I'm sure, resonated from malt shops to drive-ins all over America. Sure, bigger budget films like "A Summer Place" (1959) dealt with the same angst in lavish Technicolor and to much bigger crowds. Still, this minor production presents no distractions to teen mores of the time.
Unfortunately Director Hiller paces events like he's got 10 minutes of script and 60 minutes to fill. Nodding off seems the natural reaction to much of the stretched-out dialogue and Leave It to Beaver action. Stockwell may look like the second coming of James Dean but wisely avoids the temptation, while Trundy makes for a convincing version of Doris Day's younger sister. Even the normally competent John Larch takes the idea of "working stiff" to some lengths. Yet the movie is astonishing in one regard-- it was co-written by Hollywood's top communist of the blacklist period, John Howard Lawson under a pseudonym. I guess Lawson was picking up paying gigs where he could, even drive-in teen movies. Likely he was responsible for Larch's blue-collar status in what is otherwise a strictly white-collar movie. Still and all, the script could easily have come from Dick Clark between sets on American Bandstand. Oh well, as they say, life is stranger than fiction, or something like that.
Anyway, for those interested in what teen concerns were like before Vietnam and an assassin's bullet ushered in a new era, this little Ozzie-and-Harriet artifact is a good place to start.