“There’s more to war than fighting — what it does to kids, that’s just as much our job.”
During WWII, a teenager (Glen Vernon) whose parents (Mary Servoss and Art Smith) work the night shift at a munitions factory dates the girl next door (Vanessa Brown), whose parents (Elizabeth Russell and Ben Bard) are equally absent from her life. When Vernon gets in trouble for petty crimes, he’s told not to see Brown anymore; meanwhile, Brown befriends a woman (Bonita Granville) whose boyfriend (Lawrence Tierney) runs a tire-stealing “trade”.
The teenage “hoods” in this earnest, low-key social interest drama are just about the nicest “delinquents” you’d ever want to meet. Best known as a curio in the estimable oeuvre of RKO producer Val Lewton, Youth Runs Wild remains a sincere if overly sanitized attempt to address an emerging concern at the time (absentee parents during the war), offering audiences sympathetic protagonists to root for, and a convenient solution to walk away with (just build youth centers to keep kids busy and out of trouble!). The storyline itself is laughably simplistic, but helped a bit by the welcome presence of Brown (an Austrian-Jewish emigre reminiscent of a young Ingrid Bergman), and the always-excellent Granville in a supporting role as her “corrupting” new buddy. Perhaps of most interest to film fanatics, however, will be seeing a small handful of Lewton’s regulars (i.e., Kent Taylor and Elizabeth Russell from both Cat People films) in the cast. Given that Peary lists all of Lewton’s films produced during the height of his acknowledged “creative period” (beginning in 1942 with Cat People, and ending in 1946 with Bedlam), I guess his completist nature wouldn’t allow him to avoid throwing this oddball title into the mix as well (he lists it as a Sleeper). But it’s not must-see.
Note: One can’t really blame Lewton for wanting to disown this title, given that it likely reflects little of his original vision; one wonders what it was like before a negative audience screening caused the studio to make drastic cuts. (See IMDb’s trivia for an extensive list of actors whose bit parts were reduced or eliminated entirely — including Dorothy Malone).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Vanessa Brown (billed as Tessa Brind) as Sarah Taylor
- Bonita Granville as Toddy
- An interesting social document
No, though most Lewton fans will probably be curious to seek it out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.