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Starring Dean Stockwell
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,The Careless Years

The Careless Years

It wasn't until the early 1950s that the world of commerce had any concept of teenagers as potential consumers, a specific market off which money could be made. Hollywood studios certainly wanted a piece of the action, and to that end served up pictures like The Wild One (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955) and, most significantly, the 1955 Rebel Without a Cause, a plea of sympathy for misunderstood teenagers everywhere that was all the more effective thanks to the presence of two extraordinarily charismatic young stars, James Dean and Natalie Wood.

The Careless Years (1957), following two years after Rebel, was clearly made in the same mold. The story of two high schoolers from different class strata who meet, fall in love and, tortured by their sexual desires, decide to get married immediately, The Careless Years even featured its own James Dean lookalike, Dean Stockwell. As young Jerry Vernon, a somewhat shy, well-mannered kid from the wrong side of the tracks, Stockwell, with his petulant pout and glossy pompadour, conveys just the right mix of hormone-addled vulnerability and not-trying-too-hard sex appeal. There's something sleepy and sensual about him, in a just-skipped-shop-class kind of way. He plays Jerry as a good kid, not a troublemaker, but there's subtle danger in his slow, winsome smile, and in the way he squints ever so slightly when he's trying to make a serious point. Even in his eagerness to bed his sweet young girlfriend, Emily (Natalie Trundy), he's more smoldering than he is awkward, and that hint of dangerousness makes him all the more appealing.

Although Stockwell was being packaged as a Hollywood teen heartthrob at that point in his career, he hadn't come out of nowhere. By the mid-1950s he'd already been appearing in films for 10 years: He played the son of Nick and Nora Charles in Song of the Thin Man (1947) and starred in Joseph Losey's 1948 war parable The Boy with Green Hair. The Careless Years presented him with more of an adult role, even though the story doesn't quite have the tension that it should. Jerry and Emily fall in love quickly, almost inexplicably; their decision to marry comes about so suddenly that it seems more of a plot point than anything teens in their situation would decide to do. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther called the film "drab and routine," but he did cite one "modest distinction" that set it apart: "It does not get lost in the usual movie hokum about puppy love. It calls a spade a spade by reminding us that the problem stems from the fact that young people today mature physically long before society has prepared them for marriage."

Stockwell and Trundy are somewhat charming in their complete guilelessness. Barbara Billingsley plays Emily's sensible mother, trying to prepare her daughter for the reality of sex and adult love even as she's trying to protect her from things she might not yet be old enough to comprehend. And John Larch gives a fine performance as Jerry's father, a hardworking single dad who wants to make sure his son is marrying for all the right reasons.

The Careless Years was Arthur Hiller's directorial debut; the script is by John Howard Lawson, first a playwright and later a journeyman screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, though his name didn't appear on the film at the time of its release. When Lawson began working in Hollywood, he became involved in the then-newly formed Screen Writers Guild, shortly thereafter becoming its first president. Meanwhile, the content of Lawson's plays and screenplays became more and more political. He joined the Communist party in 1934, eventually assuming leadership of the party's Hollywood cell.

In 1947, Lawson was branded one of the Hollywood Ten by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Refusing to cooperate with the committee's investigation, he was cited for contempt of Congress and served a one-year term in federal prison. After finishing his sentence, the blacklisted screenwriter moved to Mexico, where he focused mostly on writing Marxist studies on American history and culture. Later, he taught drama and film in American universities, although he did manage to write two more screenplays before the end of the decade. The first of these was the 1951 Cry, the Beloved Country, directed by Zoltan Korda. The Careless Years, written and produced under the pseudonym Edward Lewis, was his last picture.

Producer: John Howard Lawson (originally as Edward Lewis)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: John Howard Lawson (originally as Edward Lewis), Mitch Lindemann
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Music: Leith Stevens
Film Editing: Leon Barsha
Cast: Dean Stockwell (Jerry Vernon), Natalie Trundy (Emily Meredith), John Larch (Sam Vernon), Barbara Billingsley (Helen Meredith), John Stephenson (Charles Meredith).
BW-70m.

by Stephanie Zachareck

SOURCES:
IMDb
The New York Times
John Howard Lawson web site, johnhowardlawson.net

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