27 February 2008 | dougdoepke
Pot Invades Kansas City, 50's Style
One puff of pot and you're hooked for life and on your way to the hard stuff and a life of crime. That's the over-the-top message that makes this teen flick a 50's version of the notorious Reefer Madness of the 30's. Too bad, because the movie has some good points if you can get past dewy-eyed Scott Marlowe working hard at an antic version of James Dean or a 30-year old Dick Jones playing a teenager with thinning hair.
There are of course the usual juvenile delinquents of the 50's youth era otherwise known as the Silent Generation, riding around in their hotrods, hanging around drive-ins, and talking back to the teacher-- sort of the norm for the cool crowd of the time. Then again, maybe not so much for Kansas City, where, if I recall correctly, at least one cast member was hauled in for sporting a banned haircut called a "ducktail". Anyway, this is the sort of thing many wanna-be teens of the time aspired to.
Two points almost redeem this exploitation cheapie. First, filming on location in Kansas City gives the background an unusually gritty and realistic appearance. Director Witney makes good use of this in his staging, especially the night scene with the carpet of downtown lights stretched out below the carousing youths. Second is the showcase provided for teen super-star Richard Bakalyan (Jackie) who manages to give the show some depth of character. For a lesson in acting, contrast his natural style with that of the heavily mannered Marlowe-- Dean may have been a master of the latter, but with Marlowe, the antics become plain annoying.
Anyway, the movie remains an interesting capsule of the time. Younger viewers can begin to understand the youth rebellion of the 60's in this movie's twisted portrayal of pot smoking, a hype that millions of youngsters were only too eager to disprove 10 years later. Had the film-makers really wanted to perform a public service, they could have inserted something about the effects of smoking of any kind, especially cigarettes so popular among teens of that day. Watch Marlowe who lights up like a smokestack. He also died relatively young. But, guess how many tickets that message would have sold.