Jail Bait (1954)

EDWARD D. WOOD JR.

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

USA, 1954. . Story and Screenplay by , Edward D. Wood Jr.. Cinematography by . Produced by Edward D. Wood Jr.. Music by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by , .

If you’re looking to discover the thrills of watching the cinematic mishaps of Ed Wood’s movies, this may not be the best place to start, for while it does feature his strangely casual relationship with both narrative and editorial logic, it doesn’t quite have the ridiculous follies we all enjoy in Plan 9 From Outer Space (there are no foam headstones accidentally being knocked over, for instance).  , a first-time actor discovered by Wood while delivering his groceries, plays the privileged son of a world-famous plastic surgeon () who has brought shame on the family name, carousing around town with gangster friend and getting in trouble for unlawfully owning a gun.   When these two ne’er-do-wellers attempt to rob a vaudeville house, their plans go awry and they end up shooting a female witness and killing a security guard.  The boys go on the lam while Rawlinson and his daughter worry about how to help Malone in the trouble he’s in and still use it as a life-lesson.  Rawlinson wants to help his son but only on condition that he turns himself into the authorities, represented by two cops who follow and interview all the characters we have been introduced to; one of them is played by Steve Reeves in his film debut, and other than one scene in which we get a peek at that famous physique while he’s buttoning up a shirt, he manages to stay fully dressed the entire time (this is also one of the few movies in which you get to hear him speaking with his own voice).  It’s not easy to place this film within Wood’s oeuvre, the stilted dialogue, simplistic plot turns and bad acting (they all pretty much seem like they delivered his groceries) may not be unheard of in his repertoire, but these failings actually have more in common with preachy educational films of the time than they do with his own delightfully ridiculous works.  When you get to the third-act climax, however, you witness a situation that only the king of schlock could provide, an at-home facial reconstruction surgery performed at gunpoint (performed on the sofa, which is the best part).  B-movies of the fifties were usually made in the name of exploitation, and any manner of teen rebellion or gangster crime could be presented so long as the moral message was ultimately pleasing to censors; combining that financial impetus with the deservedly beloved Wood’s fringe sensibilities, an imagination simultaneously that of a mentally unhinged adult and a starry-eyed twelve year-old, makes for something special.  Some prints of this film take you into the theatre sequence by cutting to a musical number with Cotton Watts performing in blackface, which is actually  a scene from an earlier film Yes Sir Mr. Bones that was put in place of a striptease that Wood filmed and may still exist in some versions.

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