Child Bride / Child Bride of the Ozarks (1938)

“I’m going to fight for these people until the state realizes that child marriage must be stopped!”

Synopsis:
A schoolteacher (Diana Durrell) enlists the help of her D.A. boyfriend (Frank Martin) in lobbying to make child marriage illegal in Appalachia — but will she succeed in time to prevent 11-year-old Jennie (Shirley Mills) from being forced into marriage with lecherous Jake Bolby (Warner Richmond)?

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “sleazy backwoods potboiler” — a “low-grade exploitation film” which did not have to operate within the strictures of the Hays Code, given its status as an “educational” movie — is “terribly acted, scripted, and directed”, not to mention “very campy”. It’s perhaps best known for the infamous skinny-dipping scene, when Mills (actually, her body double) takes a lengthy swim in a pond while her friend (Bob Bollinger) stands nearby keeping watch — and it is indeed shocking to see what the producers were able to get away with in this regard. A number of later scenes — such as sleazy Richmond “wooing” Mills by bringing her a stuffed doll — are equally disturbing.

What Peary chooses to focus on his review, however, is the “extremely interesting character” of the teacher (Durrell), who is a “liberated woman in the sense that she has chosen her job and living alone over marriage to the man she loves”, and is “a crusader, willing to put herself on the line for her cause” (indeed, one particularly frightening scene shows her being kidnapped and nearly tarred and feathered by a group of angry men). Unfortunately, after her strong presence during the film’s exposition — in which she’s shown actually traveling “around talking to the men and women of Thunderhead Mountain” in an attempt to explain that child marriages have “ruined the lives of the females” — she is largely absent, as the narrative shifts instead to the central plot involving wily Richmond’s manipulation into a marriage contract with young Mills. Yet her presence does indeed allow for some “unexpected feminism” in an otherwise “ridiculous” film — which, according to Peary, will keep you “constantly… amused and amazed”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A notoriously risque look at child marriage

Must See?
Yes, as an infamous exploitation flick.

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One Response to “Child Bride / Child Bride of the Ozarks (1938)”

  1. A must!

    As oddly compelling as it is mercifully short, this is one cult gem no self-respecting ff would want to miss (and you don’t even have to respect yourself all that much).

    As an “educational film” of the late ’30s, it has the kind of below-par script one might expect but I actually don’t think it’s all that badly directed. (No one bumps into a door frame, as might happen in an Ed Wood film. And isn’t that what Spencer Tracy said was the secret of acting?: learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture. ;)) In fact, it seems as though the cast has been encouraged to do its best. And, even though there isn’t much “best” in evidence, it’s clear everyone on board is trying. (If there’s one major offender here it’s Durrell. She’s really awful. And her character’s heart and feminist spirit may both be in the right place, but she sure doesn’t know how to teach kids how to spell!)

    Actually, ‘CB’ contains one of the best performances ever by a German Shepherd! Just great!

    The subject matter is “sleazy” but to say the film itself is sleazy is probably misleading. (The ‘infamous’ swim shot is in long shot, although some breasts are in ‘danger’ of full exposure elsewhere.)

    I’ll certainly give it a vote for camp value. A fair amount of the dialogue is howl-worthy, and the film doesn’t really escape its overall naive quality.

    However, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the lengthy thunderstorm sequence, during which there is a significant plot twist. The storm is practically a supporting player here and the whole visual mood of this scene is eerily effective.

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