I’ve shared several times about the fondness I have for the juvenile delinquent films of the 50’s. They try, oh so slyly, to disguise themselves as exposing the dangers of letting your teens run wild, but they really just use that as an excuse to show the sort of nastiness that puts butts in seats. But today’s movie, 1957’s “Young and Dangerous,” really is more of a “delinquent-turns-good” movie.
The film centers on Tommy Price (Mark Damon), who, though he is the son of a prominent local doctor, enjoys life as the leader of a gang of delinquents. One day, Tommy bets his buddies that he can have his way the squeaky-clean Rosemary Clinton (Lili Gentle). As is the case with many juvenile delinquent flicks, Tommy’s buddies look like they’re closer to getting their AARP cards than their diplomas. Anyway, Rosemary is not as impressed with Tommy as her friends are, but she agrees to the date.
Rosemary’s parents (Dabbs Greer & Ann Doran) are a couple of gossiping busybodies who ignore their daughter and go out to parties every night. Of course, they don’t approve of Tommy in the least. As it turns out, Rosemary probably should’ve listened to her parents…Tommy ends up taking her to a secluded spot under the pier and quickly tries to tarnish her good-girl image. Of course, Rosemary is somewhat down with that…when Tommy asks, “Why am I wasting my time talking to you?” Rosemary responds with, “I was wondering the same thing” and tumbles into his arms. But Tommy ends up going too far. Then, just as the two begin to reconcile, two cops show up and haul the teens in.
Rosemary’s parents end up forbidding her from seeing Tommy, but that just spurs her on to see him more. The two begin dating secretly, and Rosemary’s party-hoping parents are none the wiser. As the couple gets closer, they begin to talk about the future. Tommy starts to consider going to college after all, and talk of marriage begins as well. Then, right on cue, a gang of rival delinquents start to make life tough for Tommy, just as he’s trying to go straight.
“Young and Dangerous” is a bit too nice when compared to similar films. Mark Damon is just a bit too smiley and handsome to be believable as the leader of the “wrong crowd.” Lili Gentle, on the other hand, is very convincing as uber good girl Rosemary. Still, the highlight performances come from supporting players. Tommy’s buddies (Jerry Barclay & Danny Welton) are fun, even if they do look old enough to be Tommy’s father. But, in a strange way, Dabbs Greer turns in the best performance as Rosemary’s strict father. It’s the sort of Ward Cleaver gone vicious role that these kind of films often had. Greer ends up turning in one of the quintessential performances.
There is plenty of 50’s fun to be had with this film, but this is basically a juvenile delinquent film…light. Tommy and his gang are pretty much harmless, while Rosemary’s parents come across as a much bigger menace. There would’ve been more drama had Tommy’s gang also turned on him once he started to go legit. The normal delinquent film formula would’ve at least had one of them try to make the moves on Rosemary to try to drive the couple apart.
“Young and Dangerous” doesn’t exactly live up to its name. There’s not a lot of danger and the cast couldn’t remotely be called “young.” However, fans of 50’s teen flicks will most likely want to check this one out.