Youth Aflame (1944)

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Well, maybe getting a bit overheated . . . but in a thoroughly wholesome way!
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vt Hoodlum Girls
US / 61 minutes / bw / Jay-Dee-Kay, Continental Dir & Scr: Elmer Clifton Pr: J.D. Kendis Story: Helen Kiely Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Joy Reese, Warren Burr, Kay Morley, Michael Owen, Rod Rogers, Edwin Brian, Julie Duncan, Sheila Roberts, Edward Cassidy, Mary Arden, Duke Johnson, Johnny Duncan.

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I confess it was the variant title that sold me on this one.

Stuffy bank guard Mr. White (Cassidy), a widower, is single-handedly raising two daughters of a dangerous age. The younger, Katy (Reese), is prim, righteous and self-righteous; she and the equally wholesome all-American head boy of her high school, Frank Monaghan (Burr), have their cute little hearts set on each other. The older White girl, Laura (Morley), is the wild one; she has her heart set on small-time punk Al Simpson (Owen), who encourages her to drink alcohol in nightclubs:

Al: “Laura’s free and . . . well, just old enough for me.”

Today Al calls by to pick up Laura for a date and sees Mr. White cleaning one of his collection of guns. He tells Laura that, if she really loves him, she’ll steal the gun for him. Later in the movie, Al and his slimy sidekick Harry Ketchall (Brian)—who, in an important subplot, has a hankering after Katy and a Trumpean way of expressing it—will use the gun in an attempted mugging.

But back to the present. Soon after Al and Laura have left the White kitchen, teenage-liaison cop Amy Clark (Arden) arrives in it. She’s concerned that teenagers are going astray not just because of parental disinterest but through the lack of suitable social facilities. A local businessman has offered the use of an empty store should the kids want to set up a jive club; to set the joint a-jumpin’ they could even have a milk bar!

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Amy Clark (Mary Arden) wants to expand the local yoof’s access to milk bars.

The wholesome Katy thinks this is a fabulous idea. The wholesome Frank thinks this is a fabulous idea. Their wholesome pal Lester (Rogers), a self-styled intellectual who serves as a sort of walking encyclopedia, thinks this is a fabulous idea. The unwholesome Al and Laura have left by now, but we can guess they’d probably think this is an idea that sucks major-league, milk bar or no milk bar . . . although, as we see in due course, Laura sees in it the opportunity to tell Dad she’s off to knock back the nourishing milk at the jive club when really she’s sneaking away to a nightclub to knock back a few adult beverages with Al and Harry.

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Katy’s pal Lester (Rod Rogers; no comment) is the brains of the wholesome little band.

But she’s not the only White sister to be knocking back adult beverages that night, no sirree. Al and Harry have a Cunning Plan to get the wholesome jive club shut down. With Laura’s connivance, they spike the wholesome and innocuous fruit punch with copious amounts of unwholesome and distinctly nocuous gin, they call the cops to alert them to the fact that there’s distinctly unwholesome underage drinking going on.

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Al (Michael Owen) and Harry (Edwin Brian) phone the cops.

At this point I expected the scene at the jive club to descend into stumbling disarray, with sozzled teens attempting unwholesome maneuvers; but no such luck. As with the attempted mugging noted above, we don’t actually see the police raid; what we see instead is wholesome Peggy Baker (Julie Duncan), whose very first date this night at the jive club was. phoning her mom to tell her that she’s in police custody, and could mom (a) forgive her and (b) come and get her? Mom is, you see, a holy roller of the relentlessly puritanical kind.

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Unfortunate Peggy (Julie Duncan) has to try to deal with her fundamentalist mother.

You can’t help feeling that, although the moviemakers decry Peggy’s mom, they’re really cast from the same mold themselves. Time and again throughout Youth Aflame we get pious little interpolations, usually from Amy Clark. Clark isn’t responsible for one of the worst of them, though; that comes from the pristine Katy. The wholesome gang has gathered to discuss the post-raid demise of the jive club, which they resolve to resurrect by fair means or, er, fair. Katy reckons that what’s wrong with society is that women don’t know their place:

Katy: “I’d like to put in my two cents’ worth. We girls ought to be willing to take on the duties connected with the home. How many girls are learning to cook and take care of the house today?”
Lester: “According to the latest polls, the situation is appalling.”

By this time we’re rooting for Laura, even if she does have abominable taste in men.

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Laura (Kay Morley) is appalled when little sister Katy turns up at the nightclub. Who next? Jehovah’s Witnesses?

This is far from the only example of reactionary prissiness from Katy; there are plenty of others. I was especially entranced by her response to the discovery that Laura has permitted Al to give her a chic satin slip:

Katy: “You know better than to accept presents like that from boys! Unless you’re going to marry Al . . .”

I’ve mentioned the oddity that two of the major opportunities for an action scene are consciously eschewed—the attempted mugging and the police raid. In contrast, though, a couple of fights are conducted in full view of the camera—first Frank whops Harry, then later he whops Al—and it’s only fair to say that these are unusually well choreographed for a movie of this caliber. A third tussle, alas, is conducted almost entirely off-camera. We see only the very start and the very finish of the cat fight that breaks out between the two jammies-clad sisters; all we get are the sound effects (Oooo! Thwack! Ouch! You –—!) as heard by a seemingly terminally gloomy White from the next room. Daughters! he seems to be thinking. The second-worst gender of kids you could have.

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Dad (Edward Cassidy) does his best to understand his daughters.

Youth Aflame is short, but it finds time to pack in a few of the musical acts at the nightclub favored by Laura, Al and Harry. There’s an extended drum solo from Karl Kiffe that’s every bit as much fun as drum solos usually are. There’s a song from crooner Don Weston as a singing bartender; the less said the better. And there’s a dance/gymnastics act from Lindsay, Laverne & Betty (Lindsay Bourquin, Laverne Thompson and Betty Phares). I’ve been unable to find out much else about this trio except that they appeared also in the short Showboat Serenade (1944) and—albeit not as Lindsay, Laverne & Betty—in the Three Stooges movie Gents Without Cents (1944); they were uncredited in Affairs of Geraldine (1946). The brevity of their screen career is regrettable: their gymnastics act is very skilled and thoroughly entertaining.

With one exception, none of the principals here had what you might call an extensive time in Hollywood, although its unsurprising that Morley was far more prolific than her supposed sister Reese; Morley has definite screen presence whereas Reese, aside from being very pretty, is just, well, wholesome. The one exception was Cassidy, who appeared in well over 250 movies, most of them, so far as I can see, B-oaters.

I’m still trying to work out what happens at the end of Youth Aflame. The story of the movie has been told through two flashbacks—one brief, the other accounting for almost all of the running time—as Katy lies critically ill in a police hospital.

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The movie’s opening moments see Katy (Joy Reese) on death’s door.

Any dramatic tension that the movie possesses lies in the answer to the question: what concatenation of circumstances brought her to that hospital bed? Either she dies in it (moral: see what you hoodlum girls do? you destroy the ones you love, scumbags!) or she survives and, sometime after the closing credits, she and wholesome Frank marry, set up a wholesome home in the wholesome suburbs and have a football team of wholesome kids, all boys.

Hard to know which would be the worse fate, really.

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Katy (Joy Reese) and Frank (Warren Burr) solicit Mr. White’s permission to become engaged. How could he refuse such a wholesome couple?

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21 thoughts on “Youth Aflame (1944)

    • Definitely a subject I am always fascinated with.

      Wholesomeness? 🙂

      The movie’s not quite as funny as Les Vacances de M. Hulot, but it does have its (inadvertent) moments.

  1. I like this flick. Laura and Katy and both sympathetic figures although Laura has let herself be taken in by a sociopathic cad. As far as “women knowing their place,” I think it was more that Katy believed it important that women — who usually do most of the housekeeping in most homes — be familiar with what needs to be done and have the skills to keep the house well.

    • I quite enjoyed it too, in a hokey sort of a way, but I did find the datedness of some of the attitudes both amusing and depressing in a way that I generally don’t when watching movies of this vintage.

      • “Police work is a man’s job” and “guns aren’t for girls” are certainly dated comments. But I think the positive view of housework is NOT dated but timeless. Many women (and some men) do in fact find housework enjoyable and it is certainly necessary. That is something I liked about the film.

          • I watched this film more than once. I really liked it. The pacing was good and quick and the idea of the “Jive Club” to keep the kids socializing w/each other and off the mean streets just struck me as a good idea. I also really, really liked Karl Kiffe’s excellent drumming, the couple jitterbugging, and the trio with their acrobatic dancing. Finally, it just seemed like Katy was a very sweet, very good kid so you automatically root for her. In a way, you root for Laura too even though she’s willing to hook up w/a psychopath because of the “ladies love outlaws” thing. This film is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures. I just wish i could find out if someone who played in it is still alive. I’d love to write that actor or actress a thank-you/fan letter!

    • I really don’t know, I’m afraid. I did a quick spot check over at IMDB, but for most of them even IMDB has no birth or death dates. As you say, most had short and pretty obscure careers.

  2. According to the tom website, Joy Reese and Kay Morley were together in another film, the 1945 “Out of this World” in which they both played “Stooges.”

  3. Like “Rebel Without A Cause,” “Youth Aflame” reminds us that something odd happened in the 1960s-1970s: conflict between the generations became politicized. Prior to that period, there was generational conflict but it wasn’t associated with political and social causes. Even “bed girl” Laura is no feminist as she says, “I wouldn’t mind being enslaved by housework.” The ’60s-’70s saw a lot of social changes and the generations tended to find themselves on opposing sides.

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