Tuesday, May 3, 2011

[dolefully shakes head at Ginger Rogers]

Like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers didn't always get the best movies to star in as she aged. A good example of this is the movie Teenage Rebel, which is airing tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel

Fortunately, Rogers isn't in the title role of the "teenage rebel", as she was 45 and much too old for something like that. The rebel is Rogers' daughter, played by Betty Lou Keim (more on her later). Rogers plays Mrs. Fallon, living with her second husband (Michael Rennie) and her young son Larry, who is as mischievous as all boys in the 5-7 year old range. The Fallons receive a telegram that Mrs. Fallon's daughter Dorothy from a previous marriage will be coming for the three weeks of visitation that Mrs. Fallon was supposed to have. You see, Mrs. Fallon divorced and lost custody of her daughter because she was in the wrong, having fallen in love with Rennie and having an affair while still married to another man. And Dorothy's father was vindictive in the divorce, taking the daughter to Europe so that the visitation order couldn't be enforced. It turns out, though, that Dad has a reason for bringing his daughter back to the States. He's got a woman he wants to marry, and up to now, Dorothy has been successful in breaking up all of Dad's attempts at remarrying. So packing Dorothy up and sending her across the country to spend time with Mom gives Dad a chance to finalize his remarriage.

As you might have guessed from the comment about Dorothy breaking up her father's relationships, Dorothy has grown up to be a real teenage prize. She has no desire to be out in California with her mother, and is a snotty, stuck-up little bitch to everybody. (Pardon the language, but at the start she really is a piece of work.) It gets to the point where Mr. Fallon pays the neighbor's two kids (Warren Berlinger and Diane Jergens) to make nice to Dorothy. But Dorothy sees through them. At least, she sees through them at first. This is where the film starts to develop big problems. We should probably expect that she's going to warm up a bit over the course of the movie, but she does so almost on a dime. And then she turns back again, and again, going through a series of melodramatic mood swings. That, and a bunch of the tropes of teenage movies of the 1950s. There's even a scene that looks to be stolen from Ninotchka along the way. Teenage Rebel tries to take a serious look at the problems old farts thought teenagers of the mid-1950s were facing, but probably gets them wildly wrong. (I wasn't a teenager in the 1950s, but my teenage years were nothing like any Hollywood teen movie.) Still, the movie is good for some unintended laughs along the way.

As for the cast, Rogers does as well as she can. Rennie's wooden, and you have to wonder what Rogers ever saw in him. Their neighbor is played by Mildred Natwick, and it's nice to see character actors like that show up. Poor Louise Beavers gets to play the Fallons' maid, and is used as stereotypically as she'd been for the previous 20 years. And then there are the teens. Keim, Berlinger, and Jergens are billed as something like "Three Stars of the future", as though the suits at Fox were really trying to push them. Berlinger has a relatively lengthy career playing supporting roles in movies and TV, while Jergens retired relatively young. Keim stopped acting even younger, when she decided to get married -- to Berlinger. They were married in 1960 and married for almost 50 years until Keim's death in early 2010.

Still, you have to feel a bit bad for Rogers. She tries, and it's not her fault that Teenage Rebel isn't very good. It hasn't been released to DVD, either, so you're going to have to catch it on the Fox Movie Channel.

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