Friday, January 2, 2009


"Naked Youth" (*1/2 out of ****) generates a modicum of suspense as it intertwines two stories about criminals on the lam in the dusty southwestern United States. First, a couple of youths at a State Honor Farm--Switch (Steve Rowland)and Frankie (Robert Arthur)decide to escape and rendezvous with Frankie's cute girlfriend who has a car waiting for them nearby under a bridge to make their getaway. Second, Rivas (John Goddard) is a drug smuggler in suit and tie who kills a Mexican dope buyer with a knife at a deserted bullfighting arena and then flees Mexico with his own girlfriend Madge (Carol Ohmart)carrying a doll packed with smack in the nick of time before the authorities lock down the border.

Meanwhile, tension between Switch--he wields a switchblade but appears to be all gab and no guts--and Frankie develop over his girlfriend. This tension grows after their getaway car overheats and forces them to walk the rest of the way on foot in the hot, arid desert. Goddard and his girlfriend pick them up in their station wagon so that they will look like one big happy family and fool the cops. Goddard spots a roadblock, loses his nerve, and swerves off onto a back road. Eventually, the kids and he tangle. Frankie slugs him from behind, and they rip out the distributor cap from their car and force the adults afoot, too. It seems that Switch--nicknamed for his reliance on an illegal switchblade knife--and Rivas are both edgy about blade fanatics. The chief difference is that Rivas is ready, willing, and able to stab at the least provocation.

Robert Hutton, once a popular character actor in Warner Brothers' World War II movies such as "Destination Tokyo" and "Hollywood Canteen," plays a Federal agent named Maddo who tails these reprobates. This low budget juvenile delinquent/narcotics exploitation drive-in feature maintains a fast enough with okay performances and authentic on-the-road realism. Nothing in the way of memorable lines of dialogue make up for their predictable shennagians, but none of it is idiotic either. In fact, "Naked Youth" doesn't qualify as one of those "so bad it's good" thrillers with hundreds of gaffes.

This represented director John F. Schreyer's only directorial outing; he was better known for editing westerns and war movies, such as "Hostile Guns," "More Dead Than Alive," and "Ambush Bay." Nevertheless, he knows when to cut back and forth between the pursued and the pursuers. You can tell that the Production Code Administration was still enforcing some of its self-censorship rules because when Carol Ohmart injects herself with heroin in the forearm, we get to see the reaction shots of those watching her shoot up. Ironically, Ohmart's character is the most sympathetic of the bunch. She guns down her dastardly boyfriend rather than see him murder a Maddo.

The worst thing about this exploitation meller is that the music is a blatant rip-off of Elmer Bernstein's "The Man With The Golden Arm" and Bernard Herrman's "Vertigo." Otherwise, "Naked Youth," which boasts neither nude scenes nor sex scenes to speak of and refrains from preaching its crime does not pay message, is passable.

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