Explosive Generation, The (1961)

“I asked if it was wrong for a girl to prove to a boy exactly how much she loved him.”

Synopsis:
When a high school teacher (William Shatner) allows his class to talk openly about sex, his job is jeopardized; but his well-meaning students refuse to let him to be punished for something they initiated…

Genres:

Review:
This unfairly maligned “youth picture” — which could easily have been turned into a trashy exploitation flick — instead deals honestly and respectfully with some surprisingly relevant issues. While it’s purportedly about sex education (and what teachers should or shouldn’t be allowed to discuss with their students), it quickly moves into the fascinating realms of students’ rights, activism, and freedom of speech. These teenagers — each unique and sincere — are willing to stick up for what they believe in, and their actions show the power of tenacity and collective will.

Fortunately, the adults in the film are three-dimensional as well; while McCormack’s mom (Virginia Field) is perhaps a bit too stereotypically uptight about her daughter’s sexuality, other parents are conflicted in their own ways, and even the principal — who could easily have been the heavy here — is played with nuance by Edward Platt. While an essential aspect of the film’s ending is unrealistic and far too pat (a key character suddenly has a radical shift in attitude), overall it provides a satisfying resolution to this enjoyable, provocative film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Surprisingly strong performances by many of the teen actors — especially Patty McCormack (evil Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed)
    Classroom
  • William Shatner in a pre-“Star Trek” role
    William Shatner
  • Edward Platt as the well-meaning but pressured principal
    Principal
  • A unique depiction of meaningful collective activism by teenagers
    Activism
  • Good use of natural locations in Southern California
    California
  • A realistic — albeit cynical — look at the competing demands of teachers (and principals); as a colleague reminds the idealistic Shatner, “You’re being paid to lead these kiddies down the garden path of readin’, writin’, and retirement…”
    Teachers

Must See?
Yes. As one commenter on IMDb put it, this is an “enlightened, sensitive, and even-handed treatment” of sexual education in high school.

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One Response to “Explosive Generation, The (1961)”

  1. Yes, though for the average film fanatic it would probably be a once-and-done deal, this is worth checking out–for reasons well stated here. Director Kulik efficiently handled a surprisingly intelligent script (for a film of this sort); scenes don’t seem longer than they absolutely need to be. It’s also interesting to compare McCormack’s low-key performance as very much a good girl with her indelible, polar opposite work in “The Bad Seed’. Kinsolving — giving a quieter performance here — was very effective a year earlier in “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs’ (a notable Peary omission).

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