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On the Loose (1951)

With taglines like "A Date... A Drink... A Car... A Kiss... Now she's known as "THAT GIRL!" and "School-Girl by day... Thrill-Seeker by night!," On the Loose (1951, also known under the title The Restless Age) was one of many films dealing with troubled teens in the 1950s. Joan Evans, who was named after and was the goddaughter of Joan Crawford, plays Jill Bradley, a sixteen-year-old whose parents (Melvyn Douglas and Lynn Bari) are too wrapped up in their own lives to pay much attention to her. After a couple of crises, Jill attempts suicide, but her father's efforts to help her only make things worse. Robert Arthur, Hugh O'Brian, Constance Hilton, Susan Morrow, Mickey Kuhn (best known for playing Beau Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, 1939) and prolific radio actor Lawrence Dobkin made up the rest of the cast. Ida Lupino was the film's uncredited narrator.

Directed by Charles Lederer, with a screenplay by Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson, based in an original story by Collier Young and Malvin Wald, On the Loose was clearly a "B" picture, filmed when the careers of Douglas and Bari (who had been perpetually doomed to playing mean girls at 20th Century-Fox) were in decline. Made by Ida Lupino and Collier Young's The Filmakers production company, who had also produced Beware, My Lovely (1952), Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) and Outrage (1950), the film was shot at and released by RKO Studios. The exterior scenes of Central High School were filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School, and 17-year-old Marilyn Hendrickson, a senior at Hollywood High School, was hired by the studio as a consultant to make sure that the dialogue and the sets were real to life. Thanks to Hendrickson, the script was changed to reflect 1951 idioms. Cars were no longer "jalopies" but "rods" or "bombs", a handsome guy was "terrific, great or swell" instead of the passé "dreamy," and "shake a leg" was replaced with "let's shove" and "best we go." Hendrickson advised the prop man that dolls and school pennants in Jill's room wouldn't sit well with contemporary audiences because she only had "one panda bear and no pennants" in her own room.

Despite The Filmakers and Lederer's efforts to be hip and relevant, On the Loose was not popular with critics when it was released on September 28, 1951. Cue: The Weekly Magazine of New York Life called it "Routine, superficial." Melvyn Douglas' movie career had become too routine for him, so On the Loose would be his last film for nine years. He would move into television for the rest of the decade, as would Lynn Bari and Joan Evans. A few years later, James Dean would come on the scene and make teenage angst an art form.

SOURCES: Handsaker, Gene "Not Hep Now to Say Man is 'Dreamy'" Daytona Beach Morning Journal 30 Mar 51
The Internet Movie Database
"Joan 'On the Loose'" The News 10 Jul 52

By Lorraine LoBianco



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