In most juvenile delinquent films I’ve encountered, the parents are usually pretty run-of-the-mill. They’re usually a bit strict, and perhaps not as tuned in to their troubled teens as they should be. It certainly wasn’t the “everyone over 30 is stupid” type vibe that ruled the teen films of my era, the 80′s. But in 1958’s “The Party Crashers,” the parents seem to be causing just as much trouble as the kids.
The film opens with Twig Webster (Mark Damon, who we last saw in “Young and Dangerous”) and his toadies trying to figure out what to do on a Saturday night. They hear that a party is going on at the home of a schoolmate and decide to crash the party. This party is a very polite affair, that is until Twig and his buddies show up. With them on hand, the drinking starts, and before you know it, a fight has broken out and the cops are on the way. This completely disgusts one of the guests, Josh Bickford (Robert Driscoll), but his girl, Barbara Nickerson (Connie Stevens) is clearly aroused by Twig’s behavior. Josh walks Barbara home that night and can tell that she’s interested in Twig.
With the night’s partying over, Twig returns home where he’s greeted by his alcoholic father (Walter Brooke). To cap things off, Twig’s father begins accusing his wife, Hazel (Doris Dowling) of sleeping around (which she is)…an argument ensues which ends in mommy beating up daddy.
The following morning, Josh heads over to Barbara’s house to take her on their weekly Sunday morning date to the country club. But he is surprised to find Twig at the house. Barbara’s father (Onslow Stevens) forces the two boys to shake hands and make nice after the previous evening’s fight…then Twig invites Barbara and Josh to accompany him to “The Shack.” Josh reluctantly agrees after Barbara complains about always doing the same thing each Sunday.
Soon, the trio meet up with Twig’s friends and decide to crash a party being held at a nearby lodge. When they arrive, they gain entrance easily, but are surprised to learn that the party is full of a bunch of middle-aged drunks. Among them is Twig’s mother! As the teens try to escape, things just go from bad to worse.
This is a great juvenile delinquent flick! First I’ve got to give big props to the cast. Mark Damon is much better here than he was in “Young and Dangerous.” He still seems a bit too smiley and handsome to be the leader of the bad kids, but his performance is pretty convincing. Robert Driscoll is also very effective as the good kid reluctantly going along with the crowd, but the standout in the cast is Connie Stevens. Considering the type of film we’re dealing with here, she puts in a skilled and layered performance as the good girl who desperately wants to be bad. To say her presence on screen is sexy is an understatement.
One of the things that make this film different from many other juvenile delinquent films, is that the story is actually pretty complex. This mainly comes through in the bizarre and interesting things that are hinted at in the characters of the parents. I mentioned Twig’s parents, dad’s a drunk, mom’s a tramp. But, something very strange happens in the scene where Twig tries to drag his mom out of the nasty party he and gang stumble into. Believe it or not, she actually appears to come on to him! Her own son! Barbara’s family is also…shall we say “unique,” as well. Her mom (Cathy Lewis) is prominent in politics and is in the midst of writing a speech when Twig and Josh pay Barbara a visit on Sunday morning. When Barbara introduces Twig, mom gets one look at him and slinkily says, “Well, our home is always open to Barbara’s friends.” Then turns to Josh and purrs, “Josh can vouch for that.” Is it me, or are the filmmakers trying to hint that Mrs. Nickerson makes a habit of having affairs with her daughter’s boyfriends!?! And that’s not all, there are also hints that Barbara’s father may be gay…especially when he speaks with Josh’s father in the police station at the end of the film and winkingly invites him to get together in someplace more “cozy.” Remember, this was released in 1958, so hinting at such things was as far as the filmmakers could go. This approach leaves a lot to the audience’s imagination, and it works to great advantage in this case. I should also mention that Josh’s mother is played by Frances Farmer in her final film role.
“The Party Crashers” is a unique entry in the juvenile delinquent genre. It leaves the viewer with a bunch of unanswered questions, but the film ends up being a more enjoyable experience because of them.