Rated: 2 / 5
Introduction and Context
Title says it all doesn’t it? Well maybe not, so let me explain the plot and the reasoning for the film’s existence. So, keeping in mind that this was released in 1938, well into the Hay’s Code timeline (which more or less started in 1930), the film starts out quite hypocritically. The opening text states that the film is based on real people living in the area of the United States, basically hillbilly country. It states that they have their own way of life, the film wishes to neither ridicule nor defend their way of living, but that the film’s purpose is to help abolish child marriage. Not that I’m a fan of child marriage, or even marriage in general, but if their hillbilly way of life involves marrying children, isn’t that basically a giveaway that the film is ridiculing their way of life? But maybe I’m jumping the gun here, maybe back then in that area it was just a few minority hicks who somehow managed to get away with this or something. On the other hand, if it was an extreme rare occurrence, why bother making a film about it?
It’s worth digging into the history of marriage here, what marriage meant back during this time period, because it sure as shit isn’t held by the same standards of today. During the 20s, and I believe the 30s as well, many questioned the purpose of marriage and what it actually meant. Up until this point, marriage was used for political/monetary reasons, it wasn’t for love (I still believe that to be the main purpose of marriage to this day, because it’s stupid to think that marriage is mandatory for those who wish to live in a loving relationship). Then in the 1920s, it did become more about love. Dating became a new craze, getting bitchin’ cars, driving to restaurants, doing it in the car, and taking out a bunch of loans to afford all this before causing the Great Depression. But in any case, popular culture embraced sex (especially since AIDS wasn’t around), but those scheming low-life political/religious/corporate motherfuckers had other things in mind. Especially the religious fucks who believed in the whole sanctity of marriage, and that fucking outside of marriage is sacrilege, or some bullshit like that. It wouldn’t be until the 50s when the political/religious/corporate motherfuckers won out and succeeded in convincing everyone that marriage is mandatory, required, and nuclear families were the next big thing (that label certainly makes the families sound more interesting than they actually were), and being single made you loathed by everyone (Source).
So that’s what we’re dealing with when it comes to the time period and all that. The 30s, when dating fucking in cars was still a big thing, but the big wigs were working towards influencing the minds of everyone. So with historical context out of the way, let’s get to the movie. And yes, this is the controversial movie I told you about a little while back. It was stated as being an educational film with the purpose of drawing attention to the fact that child marriage wasn’t banned in several states at the time, and thus promoted the message that it should be banned. Fair enough.
Lastly, there’s the director himself, Harry Revier, who did most of his films during the silent era, and had several of them censored.
[…] his films are quite unlike others of the time; his work, while lacking technical polish, is completely without regard for the production code in effect at the time.
Admirable, but I do question his ethics. Plus he wasn’t all that artistically gifted anyway, so…
One last note worth mentioning regarding this film:
According to an interview with Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, this movie was screened for the show, but it was considered too awful and disturbing by the crew, with Murphy saying that he needed “a good cry and a shower” after the film.
So as you can tell, this film shouldn’t have been able to get made during the Hay’s Code (or even post-Hay’s Code for that matter) with all those descriptions for it. But they got around that by being an independent film, made outside of major film studios, and under the guise of being an educational film. Well, that didn’t stop it from being labeled as exploitation after its release. But in any case, it can be seen online for free because the film is under public domain now.
So, why talk about this film? Well, something about Hollywood’s exploitation and the whole “he raped/sexually assaulted me” claims flying around kinda had something to do with it.
So the film begins about as subtly as the opening text crawl. Focusing on a wood hanging that says, “I will fear no evil.” Following this the camera pans down to a book on a headboard titled Child Marriage is a Crime. Pan down to a young girl sleeping below both these things. I feel a little concussed with how hard the film hit me over the head with its message, and I’m not even 2 minutes into this fucking thing. The film makes this girl look as young and pure and angelic as possible, clearly giving the “she’s an innocent flower” allure, obviously getting the viewer to have the mindset of, “This hick bastard better not deflower her!” that is inevitably coming later on. And just to give you readers some reassurance, there is no sex scene with the girl later on in the film. I wouldn’t be reviewing this thing if there was. So at least the Hay’s Code has that level of protection. Oh wait, this was made independently outside of the Hay’s Code. Well, human decency then?
On that note, how old is she supposed to be exactly? The girl’s film name is Jennie, played by actress Shirley Olivia Mills, better known for her role in The Grapes of Wrath, and in the Shirley Temple film Young People. She is 12 years old at the time of this movie, pretty much as the age depicted on-screen. Keep that in mind for later.
So she gets changed for the day into a dress that seems to have its bottom portion cut off so that legs are revealed at a fairly high length. Seems too short for a kid.
“Ooohhhh! My poor little pig!”
Pfffffffffffffffffffttttttttt! Hahahah! That line delivery! Oh God, this child actress really sucks.
Anyway, the film gets pretty damn slow and boring about 8 minutes into it when they’re at school. Because this film forgot an important lesson in film-making: you never do an accurate depiction of school classrooms! You know why you never do an accurate depiction of school classrooms? Because school classrooms are fucking boring! Any fucking kid from elementary or middle school will attest to that! Hell, I bet most high school and college kids would attest to that! School is boring!
And then we go to the adult portion of the film where some lady who cares more about her work than personal relationships and will never get laid gets her boy toy to help her spread the anti-child-marriage propaganda through several scenes. It makes this film come off as the next Reefer Madness, but for child marriage instead of marijuana. Granted, anti-child-marriage is a much better cause, but propaganda in film is always annoying if it’s blunt. It could be blunt propaganda for Iron Maiden, WWF Attitude, or some ultimate bombastic fan edition of The Dark Crystal and I would still find it fucking annoying.
“Weed is bad.”
No it isn’t! Shut the fuck up!
“Child-marriage is bad.”
I know! Shut the fuck up!
“The Dark Crystal is the greatest movie of all time.”
You’re driving away people who might’ve been interested in seeing it! Shut the fuck up!
Oh yes, now we’ve got a midget in an old 30s film. Oh this is going to be good. Yep, big guy is picking on a midget and robbing him of his money, then another person shows up to beat the shit out of him and give the money back to him. I think we’ve met our film’s antagonist. No better way to make someone hated than by showing them picking on minorities. Speaking of which, he gathers up some of his friends to kidnap that preacher woman and, *sigh*, she keeps screaming, “What have I done!? What have I done!?” just after yelling at them, “I know who you all are!” You know, for an educational film, this is kind of stupid, especially on the protagonist’s part. Well anyway, she gets saved and nothing much else happens for a while.
And then halfway through the film, oh boy, then comes the middle of the movie where the big controversial bit happens. The main kid actress goes skinny dipping, and the viewer gets to see pretty much everything. And the camera does linger a bit too long for this sequence.
So let me state it clearly for everyone who doesn’t get it at this point, for a couple minutes, this film shows a naked 12 year old girl swimming in a lake, and you get to see the nudity. Not exactly something I’m comfortable with showing on this site (unless you want to watch the entire film which I’ve linked to above, in which case go for it if that’s what you’re into), so I’ll show someone else doing skinny-dipping to give you an idea.
But the film at least has an excuse for this scene. While she’s skinny-dipping, she catches the eye of a hillbilly, who’s married, to someone more his age. And I get the idea, she’s innocent and happy, while it’s the middle-aged geazer who peaks in on her in a not-so-innocent way. A transition (that she is made somewhat aware of) from becoming a child to a woman. How she’s still a kid, and her best friend is still a kid, but she knows they can’t play together the same way they used to. Still, the scene comes off as exploitative and unnecessarily long.
It all leads to this pervy asshole killing the girl’s dad, putting the blame on the girl’s mother (who for the record also tries dressing scantily off and on), and convinces her to help him dump the body somewhere to make it look like he died of an accidental fall, or something like that. He then uses this leverage to get the mother’s permission to marry Jennie. And they do! They actually get married! What the fuck!?
“You may kiss the bride.”
And he does! What the motherfuck!?
Only 5 minutes left. Is this going to have a sad shitty ending or something? Oh, maybe not. Apparently, the law to outlaw child marriage passed in the area about 3 days prior to the marriage, and this anti-child-marriage preacher chick knows she can get involved in this. But Jennie’s best friend, in his rage and jealousy (though he does know this husband is an asshole), gets a loaded rifle. Damn, this this is escalating fast! Whoop, but it turns out the midget character had his own rifle and beat the kid to it. Then the kid shows up and takes Jennie out of there, says that someday she can be his wife, and then they kiss. The end.
Jeez. I mean, I knew there was no way a film about child marriage was going to let the bad guy win, especially with how blunt it is with the messaging. Then again, I did have doubts, considering the nude under-age swimming scene. But, man, seemed like the film was willing to pull just about every trick out of the hat to make sure this girl didn’t stay married by the end of it all. Bloodthirsty kids and midgets taking out murderous pedophile.
I’m not sure if I should be shocked or happy or what at this. As to whether I can recommend this movie, Christ, I don’t really know. I mean, this is something that deserves a rifftrax treatment, but it’s also something that the MST3K and Rifftrax guys aren’t willing to touch. It’s something most people aren’t willing to touch. Either way, it was something.
PS: for another take on marriage during that time period (child marriage isn’t discussed), check this link for an interesting article that gives more insight into the flux of marriage during the 1920s and 30s: