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Untamed Youth

Untamed Youth(1957)

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teaser Untamed Youth (1957)

Shocking Juvenile "Punishment" Farm!

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

SOURCES:
Marty Baumann, The Astounding B Monster
Joseph Fusco, The Films of Mamie Van Doren
Barry Lowe, Atomic Blonde: The Films of Mamie Van Doren

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