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Whatever the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency may have accomplished during its brief but influential tenure, the resulting hue and cry over the roots of teenage crime made for some entertaining movies. Riot in a Juvenile Prison (1959) is no Rebel Without a Cause (1955) but does belong to the same gene pool of films cashing in on all that PTA paranoia. Set within the confines of Southern California's fictitious Ditman Reformatory, the film starts off with a bang as two inmates are gunned down during a failed breakout. The ensuing scandal brings in reform-minded psychiatrist Jerome Thor (former star of the NBC drama Foreign Intrigue), who dismisses the institution's armed guards and makes the place co-educational! Earning the enmity of martinet warden John Hoyt, Thor strikes an uneasy alliance with reform school matron Marcia Henderson (Wendy to Boris Karloff's Captain Hook in the 1950 Broadway revival of Peter Pan), who has been wearing a skeptical chip on her shoulder ever since her kid sister was driven insane after being raped by a juvenile delinquent.
Just as progress seems within reach, a lust triangle between misunderstood bad boy Scott Marlowe (fresh from The Cool and the Crazy, 1958), pretty shoplifter Virginia Aldridge (whose last credit was as a victim of Jack the Ripper on the Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold") and Marlowe's jailhouse rival Richard Tyler (Robert Casey's replacement as Henry Aldrich on NBC's The Aldrich Family) results in a near rape. As another scandal explodes, the armed guards are brought back to Ditman, sparking long simmering resentments on both sides of the wire to explode into a full scale reformatory uprising.
Director/producer Edward L. Cahn was a dab hand at cranking out fast, cheap and profitable B-films that often took their cues from earlier A-list successes. Born in Brooklyn in 1899, the UCLA grad got his industry start working as a film cutter at Universal, editing Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs (1928) and Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He shared his first director's credit with George Melford on Homicide Squad (1931) starring Leo Carrillo. Although Cahn worked in many genres, crime was his mtier until science fiction became popular in the 1950s. Fans of Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) might note more than a few similarities to Cahn's It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) while Invisible Invaders (1959) seems to have inspired George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). The public furor over juvenile delinquency and the success of Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause prompted Cahn to turn from fantastic themes to the troubled youth genre, to which he contributed Runaway Daughters (1956), Shake, Rattle and Rock! (1956), Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Riot in a Juvenile Prison, his last word on the subject.
Scenarist Orville H. Hampton would go on to script the proto-disaster flick The Flight That Disappeared (1961) and the cult favorite Jack the Giant Killer (1962). He received an Academy Award® nomination for co-writing the interracial love story One Potato, Two Potato (1964) and later penned the Blaxploitation movies Detroit 9000 (1973) and Friday Foster (1975).
Riot in a Juvenile Prison was an early credit for two charismatic young performers whose careers never quite lived up to their early promise. Dorothy Provine is almost unrecognizable as Babe, a reform school bombshell whose slinky peregrinations are accompanied by a burlesque bump and grind. The South Dakota-born actress had already played the title role in William Witney's The Bonnie Parker Story (1958) and would go on to be Lou Costello's oversized intended in The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959) but remained less famous for her acting than for the men she dated (by report, Frank Sinatra and Glenn Ford). After playing Prohibition flapper Pinky Pinkham for two seasons on ABC's The Roaring Twenties, Provine returned to the big screen for supporting roles in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Blake Edwards' The Great Race (1965) and Walt Disney's That Darn Cat! (1965) before marrying and retiring at the end of the decade.
Looking like the love child of James Dean and Sal Mineo, Scott Marlowe was visiting a pal on the 20th Century Fox lot when he was discovered by Italian director Pietro Francisci. The chance encounter got the Los Angeles native a small role in Attila (1954), opposite Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren. Within a few short years, Marlowe racked up an impressive resume of TV credits while playing misunderstood youth offenders in several feature films. (Along with John Cassavetes and Lee Remick, Marlowe tested for but was rejected for Rebel Without a Cause.) Although he officially "dated" co-stars Lola Albright, Leslie Caron and Natalie Wood, Marlowe was claimed as a lover by Tab Hunter in his tell-all 2005 memoir. Scott Marlowe was a cofounder of LA's Theatre West repertory company and kept busy in episodic television until his death from a heart attack in January 2001.
Producer: Robert E. Kent
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Orville H. Hampton
Cinematography: Maury Gertsman
Production Design: William Glasgow
Music: Emil Newman
Film Editing: Edward Mann
Cast: Jerome Thor (Paul A. Furman), Marcia Henderson (Grace Hartwell), Scott Marlowe (Eddie Bassett), John Hoyt (Col. Ernest Walton), Virginia Aldridge (Kitty), Dorothy Provine (Babe), Richard Tyler (Stu Killion), Ann Doran (Bess Monahan).
by Richard Harland Smith
Scott Marlowe obituary by Austin Mutti-Mewse, The Independent
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star by Tab Hunter
Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephr