Friday, February 06, 2015

THE DELINQUENTS (1957) - Robert Altman


Never did I imagine I'd see a Bob Altman film that begins with a somber disclaimer about the scourges of teenage delinquency. Or end with an narrated appeal for viewers to "seek the support of their community elders or church group." This is the same man who brought us M*A*S*H and numerous booze and weed addled films to follow. One must ask how the same director of The Delinquents could later become the helmsman of California Split or Brewster McCloud.

It's called a paycheck or, more than that, a chance to shoot a feature film. For a very early Altman effort, The Delinquents is not half bad. Tom Laughlin (of later Billy Jack fame) plays a nice-guy high schooler who's bummed when his girlfriend's parents restrict him from seeing her (they're getting "too serious"). He reluctantly starts hanging out with a band of local rapscallions whose the leader promises to pose as her new boyfriend and give her rides to meet up with Laughlin for clandestine necking and petting sessions at the local park. But these hooligans have other nefarious things in mind. They get too fresh with Laughlin's girl ad later get him blind drunk in a pretty hilarious scene where Young Billy Jack is force-fed endless tumblers of whiskey before stumbling away from a gas station assault.

There are a few scant Altmanesque touches to be found. The film begins in a jazz club, and there's a pretty vivacious party scene later where the young director manages to handily orchestrate a crowded frame. The dialogue isn't overlapping, but it's a busy mix in spots. The fight/knifing scenes are pretty clumsy, but then no one's ever mistaken Altman for Yuen Woo-ping. Altman claims to have written the script for this in 5 to 7 days. That sounds about right. He'd been directing industrials before this, so he knew his way around a Bolex. The direction may not scream auteur, but it's definitely drive-in competent. For an early cheapie about teenage malfeasance, that's probably the best you can expect.

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