The Careless Years
Cast & Crew
When eighteen-year-old Jerry Vernon returns to retrieve his belongings from a cluttered motel room, he sees two matching wedding rings, which trigger recollections of events leading up to that moment: Jerry and his pal, Bob Williams, two typical California teenagers, decide to crash a party being given by Emily Meredith and her friend Harriet. At the party, the self-assured Bob pursues Harriet while Jerry and Emily talk uneasily until her parents Helen and Charles return home. Later, Emily and her mother discuss Emily's college plans and her mother brings up the topic of sex and how some teenagers tend to view a moral code as old-fashioned. When Jerry invites Emily to a beach party, he tries to kiss her, but she gently rebuffs him. However, they discover that they enjoy talking to each other and begin dating regularly. Soon they fall in love and find it increasingly difficult to control their sexual urges, although the moral values they have been taught help to restrain them. When Emily's parents leave on a weekend trip, she and Jerry have dinner at her house and Jerry tells her that he wants to make love to her. They kiss passionately, but Emily pleads with him to go no farther. He respects her feelings and leaves, but not before she agrees to his suggestion that they should get married. Jerry's parents, steelworker father Sam and mother Mathilda, are not happy when they hear the news and Sam, who has been saving for Jerry's college education, points out that Jerry will never get a decent job without an education. After Emily's parents learn about her plans, they decide to take her on a summer-long vacation in the East in the hope that she will forget Jerry. That only prompts the young couple to plan to elope immediately, as they fear they will be kept apart. When Sam refuses to give Jerry some money from his college fund, Jerry forges his father's signature. After telling only his younger brother, Biff, about his plans, Jerry meets Emily at a motel before heading to Mexico. Sam tracks them down and hits Jerry, accusing him of throwing his life away because he cannot stay out of bed with a girl. A horrified Emily witnesses the confrontation and realizes that their imminent marriage is causing their parents much anguish. Unable to convince Jerry to delay their marriage, she walks out on him. In the motel room, Jerry looks at the rings again then leaves. Eventually, after an emotional reunion with his father, Jerry admits that he was wrong and agrees to pursue his plans for college. Jerry then forces himself to visit Emily and is welcomed by her family as if nothing has happened. Jerry assures Emily that he will be waiting for her when she returns from her vacation.
Alan Dinehart Iii
John Howard Lawson
The Careless Years
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).
by Stephanie Zachareck
The New York Times
John Howard Lawson web site, johnhowardlawson.net
The Careless Years
This film's working title was Young Lovers. Although a print was unavailable for viewing, the credits and summary above were derived from studio billing sheets and synopses in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library and from reviews. Although contemporary materials state that the film was produced and written by Edward Lewis, in 1998 the Writers Guild of America restored the credits of blacklisted screenwriters John Howard Lawson and Mitch Lindemann, who wrote the screenplay. In a synopsis submitted to the PCA, Catherine McLeod is listed as playing "Helen Meredith," but the role was played by Barbara Billingsley. A contemporary source states that some scenes were shot at Santa Monica High School in California. The Careless Years marked Arthur Hiller's debut as a feature film director.
Released in United States Fall September 1957
Feature directorial debut for Arthur Hiller.
Dean Stockwell stepped into his first starring role with this picture, after years of being a child actor for MGM.
Released in United States Fall September 1957