Cast & Crew
Howard W. Koch
Mamie Van Doren
In the rural South, sisters and musical performers Janey and Penny Low are hitchhiking to Hollywood, when the corrupt Sheriff Mitch Bowers arrests them. During their trial, the county judge, Cecile Steele, sentences them to thirty days, which they can choose to serve in prison or at a work farm. The girls choose the latter and are taken by Mitch with other young offenders to a cotton farm owned by sleazy Russ Tropp. After Tropp pays Mitch for trumping up charges against young people in order to provide him with cheap labor, the sheriff tells the new workers that most of their meager earnings will be reclaimed by the farm to pay for their living expenses. When Tropp discovers that Lilibet, a young laborer he promoted to housekeeper to serve him in bed, has been romancing one of his hired men, he fires the man and demotes Lilibet to "cottonpicker" status. In the bunkhouse, Lilibet starts a petty quarrel with the sisters, which erupts into a fight, but after Tropp intervenes, the girls acknowledge that he is their common enemy and befriend one another. Cecile's son Bob, who has returned from the Navy, takes a regular job at the farm working the cotton gin and is greeted warmly by Tropp, who bought the farm from the widowed Cecile. When neighboring farmers Yancey and Collingwood come to negotiate for the use of workers to harvest their fields, Tropp insists on sixty percent of their profits. Mystified by Tropp's abundant work force when there is a labor shortage, the farmers are forced to accept the unfair deal or watch their crops rot in the ground. While the young people work in the hot sun, a worker named Baby passes out. When Bob tries to assist her, the foreman, Jack Landis, assures him that a doctor will be contacted. That evening, Tropp visits Cecile, with whom he is having a secret affair. When she suggests assigning some of the delinquents to neighboring farms in order to be fair, Tropp, unwilling to share the wealth he is amassing from his profitable arrangement, argues that his money pushed the work farm legislation through the courts and paid for her election, and that he deserves to have all the workers. Although he pretends to care for Cecile, he is just using her and is biding his time until he no longer needs her. At the ranch, Janey tells Bob, who is concerned about Baby's mysterious illness, that his mother did not provide medical checkups for the inmates before sentencing them to farm labor. Despite the hard work during the day, at night the young people enjoy dancing in the mess hall and the talented Penny often performs for them. After watching her, Pinky, the good-hearted, loquacious cook, suggests to Tropp that he arrange an audition for her at a local television station he partially owns. Remembering Penny's blonde and buxom physique, Tropp says to send her up to the house, where he tries to force her to "pay for" favors he might provide later. When Penny does not return from the house, the worried Janey tells Bob, who offers to fetch her. He knocks at Tropp's door and asks him to arrange for Baby to get medical attention. While Tropp is distracted, Penny slips out of the house and Tropp sends out his two vicious dogs to corner her. After Bob comes to her rescue and escorts her to the mess hall, he witnesses the workers being grossly overcharged for necessary work shoes and notices empty cans of dog food, which he realizes are being served to the workers as stew. His discoveries are mentioned to Tropp by one of his hired hands. Nervous about what Bob is observing, Tropp meets with Cecile under the pretense of romancing her and convinces her to find other outlets for Bob's energy. Later, Baby passes out again and Bob takes her to the doctor's office, where she dies. The doctor reports that Baby, who was concealing a pregnancy, miscarried and died from hemorrhaging. Bob complains to Cecile, who trusts that Tropp is fulfilling his "part of the agreement" by providing medical checkups for his workers. She suggests that Tropp is unaware that his staff is feeding the workers dog food, but when Bob insists that Tropp does know about the dog food and tells her about other abuses, she reveals that she has been secretly married to him for four months. Bob returns to the ranch, intending to quit, but decides to stay when he realizes he is falling in love with Janey. Cecile has Janey brought to her office for questioning and the girl not only confirms Bob's report, but adds that Tropp sexually abuses the girls. Later, while Bob is waiting for Janey to return, Mitch and a Mexican man meet with Tropp. Eavesdropping on them, Rita, a Spanish-speaking inmate, tells Bob that they are planning to bring immigrants in illegally to work at the farm. When his dogs alert Tropp to Bob and Rita's presence, Tropp orders Mitch to drive them into Mexico and leave them there. Penny rounds up the other inmates, who confront Tropp and prevent the car from leaving. When Mitch gets out to deal with them, the Mexican tries to escape in Mitch's car, but Bob grabs the steering wheel and forces the car to crash. Mitch is threatening to shoot when Cecile arrives with Janey. She orders Mitch to search Tropp, and after paperwork found in Tropp's pocket documents his illegal deal, she orders his arrest. To see that Mitch carries out his orders, Cecile deputizes several of the inmates. Then, acknowledging to the whole crowd that the county failed to protect them, she announces that she will commute their sentences to time already served before resigning her post. Later, the Steeles and Janey, who has stayed to marry Bob, watch a television program featuring Penny in a musical number. After her performance, the television announcer predicts that Penny will be a great success.
Howard W. Koch
Mamie Van Doren
The Hollywood Rock And Rollers
John C. Higgins
Robert B. Lee
John F. Schreyer
Kids Turned Rock-N-Roll Wild -- and the "House of Correction" That Makes 'Em Wilder!
Starring the Girl Built Like a Platinum Powerhouse -- Mamie Van Doren!
The ad campaign for Untamed Youth (1957) was lurid and sensationalistic -- just like the movie itself. A low-budget, campy exploitation film designed to showcase the huge-chested, blonde starlet Mamie Van Doren, Untamed Youth succeeded both in making certain critics and morality crusaders rather angry, and in earning quite a bit of money for distributor Warner Brothers. (When the Catholic Legion of Decency condemned this movie, it only made more people want to see it.)
Directed by Howard W. Koch (who in a few years would become head of production for Paramount Pictures) and produced by Koch's longtime producing partner Aubrey Schenck, Untamed Youth has a script by John C. Higgins, talented writer of many films that are considered classics today, like T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), Border Incident (1949) and Sabotage Agent (1943, story credit). In this one, which is not on the level of those others, Mamie Van Doren and co-star Lori Nelson play hitchhiking, skinny-dipping sisters who are bogusly arrested on vagrancy charges and sent to work on a cotton farm in lieu of jail. At the farm, they are forced to toil for a sadistic rancher boss (John Russell) who works them nearly to death.
But at night in their dorm, the young workers/inmates let loose musically, providing a handful of rock-and-roll musical numbers (and one calypso number), mostly by songwriter Les Baxter, that keeps Untamed Youth from being all doom and gloom. Among the rockers is real-life rock legend Eddie Cochran in an extremely rare feature film appearance; three years after this movie's release, he'd be dead in an auto accident at age 21. Mamie Van Doren, who was married at this time to bandleader Ray Anthony, later said she grew "real close" to Cochran, who often came to her house to "rehearse the songs" for the film.
Van Doren also said that she choreographed her own numbers "with the help of a dancer who was appearing in Damn Yankees... I based it on Elvis and the swivel in his hips... For a woman to do rock and roll on the screen...was unheard of. And I've never been given credit as the first one."
Having just been released from her contract by Universal, Van Doren signed a multipicture deal with Koch and Schenck, and Untamed Youth was the first film out of the gate. "I really liked Howard Koch a lot," Van Doren later reflected. But she and co-star Lori Nelson, who had previously worked together on the Universal film The All American (1953), did not get along so well; they fought over who would receive top billing. In the end, Van Doren gave in, in exchange for a few extra contract perks. Van Doren told author Marty Baumann that on screen, Lori Nelson "was always Miss Goody Two-Shoes and I was the bad girl. In real life, I was probably the Goody Two-Shoes."
Many reviews of Untamed Youth were predictably terrible, and in some cases more entertaining than the film itself. The Los Angeles Mirror-News called it a "mediocre mishmash of melodrama, rock-and-roll numbers and Mamie Van Doren. Another tasteless cheapie." The New York Times declared, "The amazingly endowed Miss Van Doren's...variety of torrid gyrations...are guaranteed to keep any red-blooded American boy awake. Nothing else in this picture can make that claim." And Cue magazine, perhaps taking it all a tad too seriously, ranted: "The worst of television can hardly match this sleazy combination of phony melodrama, distorted images of crooked laws and thieving sheriffs and judges, of framed convictions and the enforced peonage of youngsters in Western states -- all interspersed with ugly and debasing jungle-born rock-and-roll monkey antics set to shrieking boom-boom music. The film's object is frankly sensationalism aimed at undiscriminating young people."
Some major critics, however, were far kinder. The Los Angeles Times said, "For a change, pulchritude, calypso and rock 'n' roll are laced up on a reasonably sound story." Trade paper Variety said the musical numbers "hold the footage together" and "are well staged within the plot framework, even though director Howard W. Koch tends to over-flaunt Mamie Van Doren's more prominent curves and body gestures to the point of doubtful taste."
And The Hollywood Reporter praised the "surprisingly good performances from Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson and a largely youthful cast. [The numbers] are well integrated into the story and interestingly staged. Miss Van Doren establishes her right to be classified as a female Presley with the rock-and-roll numbers."
By Jeremy Arnold
Marty Baumann, The Astounding B Monster
Joseph Fusco, The Films of Mamie Van Doren
Barry Lowe, Atomic Blonde: The Films of Mamie Van Doren
Don't hit me in the mouth again, you'll break my dental plate.- Lillibeth
According to a January 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, actor Don Burnett was on loan from M-G-M. Untamed Youth was the second of three films in which popular rockabilly guitarist Eddie Cochran appeared. Cochran, who played "Bong" and performed in the musical numbers, was an early influence on Beatles George Harrison and other rock stars. In 1960, at the age of twenty-one, Cochran died in Chippenham, England after the car in which he was riding crashed on the way to the airport after a United Kingdom tour. Portions of Untamed Youth were shot on location at Bakersfield, CA, according to a January 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item.