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High School Hellcats
(1958)
 

Director: Edward L. Bernds                      
Cast:
Yvonne Lime, Bret Halsey, Jana Lund


If I ever got an offer to work at MGM, I'd turn it down. That's because I would be too afraid of turning into a moron. For those who do not know the woes of MGM, let me explain. For the past several decades, the various people who have worked at MGM at one point or another (including, for a short time, Yoram Globus) have made the studio unbeatable when it comes to making boneheaded decisions. Such idiotic decisions have included selling off the MGM films in its library, dissolving their United Artists division in the late '80s (despite the fact U.A. was making more money with its movies than MGM was), and picking up the theatrical rights to Inchon. As well, they don't seem to know what "customer service" and "customer relations" mean.

Occasionally (very occasionally), MGM makes a good decision. One of those rare occurrences was earlier this year, with MGM Home Video introducing its Midnite Movies series. With this video line, they have introduced a number of American-International movies to a new generation, like Frogs, A Bucket Of Blood, and Angel Unchained. From what I gather, all of these movies have been put out on video before. That is, except for the movie I'm reviewing now, High School Hellcats, a '50s teen exploitation drama that 40 years later is an absolute hoot to watch. Though only 69 minutes long, it has a lot more laughs than many longer intentional comedies, and also has some additional interest when you compare the attitudes and beliefs on display here to what's generally accepted today.

The first laugh I got was before I actually started to watch the movie. Looking at the video box, I saw that the Canadian ratings board had given this movie a "14A" rating. For a movie made in 1958?!? I wondered if they had even watched the movie, which I suspected even more after watching the movie myself. Even giving this movie a PG rating may be stretching it a little today. Yes, this movie is about an all-female high school gang, but just look at how the movie depicts these girls. None of these actresses had been in high school for a long time when they acted in this movie. Except for one scene where the Pia Zadora-lookalike wears pants that go right up to underneath her breasts, the members of this hardened gang all wear fancy dresses, jewelry, and hairstyles.

Yes, they illegally drink alcohol, but do it with class by daintily drinking it out of paper cups - no doubt that showing them slugging it down directly from the bottle was too hard core for 1958. The roughest language they speak is when they utter, "Holy smokes!" or snap back, "Where do you want us to take them?" when their teacher tells them to take their seats. The rowdiest they get in school is when one of the gang members, told to pass out the textbooks, throws the books quickly yet carefully across the room to the hands of each student. (Neverless, this makes their male teacher run out of the classroom, almost in tears.)

Boy, these girls are really vicious! But I haven't told you yet just how cruel they can be. When new student Joyce Martin (Lime) comes to school, gang leader Connie smirks, "I think I'll start off with the slacks test!" In class, she introduces herself and the Hellcats to Joyce, and tells her that tomorrow all of the girls are going to stick it to those rotten teachers by....breaking the dress code and wearing slacks instead of dresses! Though Joyce is a good girl at heart, she really wants to be accepted, so she wears slacks to school the next day. But get this - it was all a joke! Joyce finds herself the only girl in school wearing slacks! When the home ec teacher reasonably explains to her that she knows she is not supposed to wear slacks to school, the humiliation is too much - Joyce bursts into tears in front of the entire class, and immediately runs out of the school.

Cutting class! You see how peer pressure can really affect a kid, or even someone of legal age trying to act like one. No wonder our youth can get so screwed up. But the movie also points out another reason why children go down that fiery path to hell. Having passed the first initiation test, the gang is interested in Joyce continuing on to become a full-fledged member of the Hellcats. Joyce is still reluctant, but its her painful homelife that turns on her desire to be accepted. The first big abuse we see is her getting home to an empty house, and finding a note from her mother telling Joyce she will be late home from her bridge game, and if Joyce is hungry she can fix a sandwich! Later, Joyce is heavily chewed out by her father for walking around the house once again wearing only a slip! Well, a girl can only take so much. So she starts lying to her parents, saying she is going out to homework parties (!) when she is really seeing her friends, and she doesn't tell her parents she has a boyfriend, seeing him secretly by walking next door to where he waits in his idling car!

The movie is hilarious elsewhere it tries to lecture to us how teenagers can be corrupted. The girls themselves make several heavy-handed statements such as, "If we had some real homes, we wouldn't have to go out and look for another one!" Equally amusing are several scenes with Joyce's mother and father talking to each other about their daughter, with their soul-searching and opposite points of view such an obvious attempt to deliver a "message" that I though I was watching the ending of a typical episode of Full House. It seems American-International was trying to have this movie appeal to two audience. Not just teenagers, but parents, with its lecturing to the audience and its unsubtle messages. Though I can't really see how this movie would really appeal to any of those groups, even in 1958; teenagers would most likely be turned off by the messages in the movie, and as for the parents - what parent in his right mind would go see a movie called High School Hellcats?

Earlier in this review, I remarked on how tame the movie is by today's standards. While this innocence on parade is amusing by itself, it also hampers the movie a little bit at the same time. I was hoping for a good old catfight or some of that sleaziness found in movies like High School Confidential. But the movie is actually too careful, even for 1958. Also, even though it runs for only 69 minutes, the movie doesn't feel tight enough. There are a number of little moments, such as when we see Joyce walking up to her front door then fumbling around her purse for her keys, that are clearly only there to enable this movie to reach feature film length. It's these wasteful moment, plus the sadly missed sleaze element that prevents High School Hellcats from becoming the classic that it would have become otherwise. Maybe that's why it's taken so long for this movie to be released on video.

But that's not to say this is a bad movie. That is, so bad it's bad. There definitely was enough camp value and unintentional laughs here to have made it worth the rental fee. I won't forget the abrupt and loud musical sting that suddenly plays on the soundtrack when a Hellcat asks Joyce, "Did you ever steal?" It was a hoot when the Hellcats were partying hard with some boys, and everyone loudly voiced their enthusiasm when someone suggested they play "Sardines". And though there isn't a catfight, there's a pretty darn amusing fistfight between the clean-cut male hero and two punks. You can just sit back and enjoy the laughs without having to concentrate on the story. Though if you do, you'll notice that what happens in the second half of the movie is not what the back of the video box claims happens. Remember what I said working at MGM does to you?

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See also: Hollywood High, Skidoo, Revenge Of The Teenage Vixens...

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