02 July 2012

Reform School Girl

United States - 1957
Director - Edward Bernds

This snappy little poster does a wonderful job of making an otherwise tame film appear incredibly exciting. They sure don't make 'em like this anymore. With over fifty years of retrospect it's easy to call this movie tame; by today's standards nothing in Reform School Girl is shocking in fact, much of its tension seems downright silly, its claims simply naive, but in 1957 well, things were a little different than they are now. But, while the shocking moments might plausibly have mellowed with the social changes of the last half century, the overall scope of the film, that is good girls gone bad, seems not to have lost it's appeal. What remains interesting are the circumstances of the protagonist(a)s fall from grace and, her subsequent redemption.

Thanks to Lewis Wayne Gallery for the lobby cards.

And her redemption is essential to films of this era (and still to a lesser extent) because in the end, the starlet must be made appealing to the audience once again. I would venture that there are not too many movies before the 70's that started to feature irredeemable protagonistas. It's always titilating to see how low she can go, but ideologically we prefer the pure girl after all. In Reform School Girl, Donna (New Mexico native Gloria Castillo) is the product of a broken home where her harpy aunt and lecherous uncle each abuse her in their own way. Seeking escape she goes out with some kindof-friends only to be harangued and abused again by her rotten 'date.' When he runs a man over and the two are caught, Donna is sent to a rural Reform School where she soon finds herself fighting for survival with the other girls. Finally, a local farm boy sneaks onto the school grounds and slow dances the warmth back into Donna's heart. The End (more or less.)

So, while the love of a good man proves once again to be the saving grace of the lost woman, Reform School Girl still offers some interesting tributaries into the river of tradition. The fact that Donna's home life, and the rotten boy who gets her into trouble are clearly centered in the city suggests that the new (in '57) urban way of life is responsible for the erosion of traditional family structures. Note that Donna is saved by a rural boy whose greatest transgression (by his admission) was the borrowing of a tractor without asking. Compound this with the fact that her uncle, clad in dungarees and an undershirt ('wifebeater') idles at home ogling Donna while aunt Rita comes home and goes out again wearing a handkerchief on her head, hinting that she is the one earning a living. The working class way of life and the eroding of traditional gender roles are, if not equally at fault, at least complicit in the urban industrial decay of ideal feminine purity.

If Reform School Girl's conservative solution is less than surprising, it does at least highlight the abusive nature of objectification. In the opening scenes, shots of Donna's uncle watching in the mirror as she puts her clothes on are cross-cut with shots of the rotten boy dressing in front of a mirror surrounded by pin-up-girl posters and Donna spends a good deal of the movie voicing her subsequent distrust of men. And for a movie, and a genre marketed to a predominantly male audience that sort of critique -however obtuse- can't be a bad thing.
 The two posters come thanks to MovieGoods.

Thanks to Psychotronic 16 for making this movie available for us to watch. It's worth the hour and ten minutes it takes up and boy does the time fly!

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