Cast & Crew
After a gang of seven teenagers, led by Cholly and Eddy, create a disturbance in a bar when they are refused service for being underage, they head for a drive-in theater. Meanwhile, college-bound Scotty White goes to pick up his sixteen-year-old girl friend, Janice Wilson, for a date at the same drive-in. However, when Scotty arrives at the Wilson house, Janice's parents, who have decided that she is too young to go steady, forbid Scotty to see her for six months. Scotty then goes to the drive-in alone and becomes innocently involved in an altercation between the gang and two other patrons. The gang comes to Scotty's rescue and, unaware that they initiated the incident, he is grateful to them. After Scotty explains the situation with Janice to Cholly, mentioning that her parents want her to date other boys, Cholly offers to front for him and bring Janice to him. Somewhat reluctantly, Scotty agrees to have Cholly pick up Janice the following evening. The next morning, Scotty's younger sister, Sissy, takes a message to Janice asking her to meet him in a park. After Scotty reassures her that he will try to reason with her father in a week or so, he tells her about the arrangement with Cholly. Janice is uncertain whether her parents will approve of Cholly, but agrees to try Scotty's plan. That evening, Cholly manages to convince Janice's parents that he is a suitable date and brings her to Scotty. The other gang members, including the psychotic Eddy, who is antagonistic toward Scotty, intend to break into a remote, unoccupied house and have a party. Cholly insists that Scotty and Janice join them and, although Janice is suspicious and afraid of Cholly, she and Scotty reluctantly agree to go along. At the party, whiskey is passed around and while Scotty's attention is diverted, Janice is forced to dance with Cholly and then Eddy, both of whom behave suggestively toward her. Janice runs from the house and Scotty takes her home. Later, after the police raid the party and the gang members' parents have to put up bail for their teenagers, Eddy convinces Cholly that Scotty informed the police about the party. The next day, Cholly and the gang pick up Scotty and, although he protests that he had nothing to do with their being arrested, take him to a gang member's house and force him to drink several glasses of whiskey until he passes out. The gang then puts Scotty in their car and when they stop for gas, Eddy talks Cholly into letting him rob the station's cash register. When Scotty says he is going to be sick, the others let him out of the car and he collides with the escaping Eddy and ends up with the stolen cash. Cholly slugs the station attendant with the pump nozzle and they drive off, leaving the injured attendant and Scotty behind. Later, worried that Cholly may have killed the attendant, Eddy tries to persuade Cholly to return to the station to kill Scotty because he can identify them all. Deciding to kidnap Janice to ensure Scotty's silence, Cholly phones her to tell her that Scotty has been hurt and arranges to pick her up. Cholly then takes Janice to a gang member's house and assaults her when she tries to escape. Meanwhile, Scotty has sobered up and takes a taxi home where Eddy approaches him on the street, demanding the money from the robbery. Scotty gives Eddy the cash and tells him to advise Cholly that he will say nothing about the robbery as long as the gang stays away from him. After Eddy tells him that the gang has kidnapped Janice, Scotty grabs him and strangles him until he reveals where they are holding her. While Scotty races to the house where Janice is being held captive, his parents call the police. When Scotty arrives, he finds Cholly attempting to molest Janice. Cholly backs off, allowing Scotty to comfort Janice, but as the couple is about to leave, Cholly suddenly lunges at Scotty with a switchblade knife, wounding him in the stomach. Although wounded, Scotty is able to defend himself and severely beats Cholly as police car sirens wail in the distance. At police headquarters, the Whites and the Wilsons reclaim their children.
Bill Nolan Quintet Minus Two
James P. Johnson
Elmer C. Rhoden Jr.
According to writer Patrick McGilligan in his biography, Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff, there was immediate tension on the set of The Delinquents: "It was not a marriage made in heaven: the square, free-wheeling Altman and the bohemian, mercurial Laughlin, both of them future counterculture heroes. Altman has described Laughlin during the filming as "an unbelievable pain in the ass," totally egomaniacal, guilty that he had not become a priest, with a "big Catholic hang-up" and a James Dean complex.
"For one thing, remembers cameraman Charley Paddock, Altman and Laughlin had conflicting theories of acting. Altman would be ready to shoot a scene in which Laughlin was supposed to appear physically drained, and Laughlin would excuse himself with, "I've got to get in the mood now." Then Laughlin would insist on running around the block a couple of times while cast and crew cooled their heels.
"Altman was not the only one to dislike Laughlin's "living-the-part" pretensions. The crew gave him a wide berth. Laughlin wanted to quit the film halfway through the filming, before Altman worked out a compromise for communication whereby Altman would tell him exactly what he wanted in any given scene. "And he was as good as doing that as when he was really working in the first part of the picture," Altman has said. The director also added that Laughlin performed "the last half of the picture under protest."
Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that Altman has a low opinion of The Delinquents. He freely admitted in one interview that "Nobody knew what they were doing. I don't think it has any meaning for anybody." One could argue, however, that the film is an impressive first feature, particularly in light of its brief shooting schedule. According to the director in Robert Altman: American Innovator by Judith M. Kass, an investor in Kansas City "said he had the money to make a picture, if I'd make it about delinquents. I said okay, and I wrote the thing in five days, cast it, picked the locations, drove the generator truck, got the people together, took no money, and we just did it, that's all. My motives at that time were to make a picture, and if they'd said I gotta shoot it in green in order to get it done, I'd say, 'Well, I can figure out a way to do that.' I would have done anything to get the thing done."
Altman biographer McGilligan wrote that "except for Laughlin, the filming was full of spontaneity, good humor, and happy incident. It was like a party, cast members say - and indeed, in the movie was Altman's first life-is-a-party sequence, an otherwise minor scene that, for Altman, was a kind of signature. Parties, often filmed at Altman's own house, have found their way into virtually every other Altman production over the years.
"SuEllen Fried, then a dancer associated with the Resident Theatre (in Kansas City), was playing a small part. 'He rented an old house off Walworth Boulevard,' she recalls, 'and told us to pretend we were having the wildest party of our lives, while he moved the camera from room to room and just filmed whatever was going on. We didn't know when the camera was going. We were just having a wild party.'"
Yes, indeed. There are plenty of wild moments in The Delinquents but, after all, what are a bunch of thrill-crazy hoods supposed to do on a boring Saturday night in Kansas City? See these kooky kids joyriding, robbing a gas station, playing chicken with switchblade knives, and getting busted by the cops. It's all in a night's work.
Producer: Robert Altman, Elmer C. Rhoden Jr.
Director/Screenplay: Robert Altman
Art Direction: Chet Allen
Cinematography: Charles Paddock, Harry Birch
Film Editing: Helene Turner
Original Music: Bill Nolan
Principal Cast:Tom Laughlin (Scotty), Peter Miller (Cholly), Richard Bakalyan (Eddy), Rosemary Howard (Janice), Helene Hawley (Mrs. White).
By Jeff Stafford
Robert Altman's onscreen credit reads: "Written, Produced and Directed by Robert Altman." The opening titles include the following written statement: "Our appreciation to the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department for their cooperation in making this picture possible." The following voice-over is heard over the opening credits: "The story you are about to see is about violence and immorality-teenage violence and immorality-children trapped in the half-world between adolescence and maturity-their struggle to understand, their need to be understood. Perhaps in his rapid progression into the material world, man has forgotten the spiritual values which are the moral fiber of a great nation-Decency, Respect, Fair Play. Perhaps he has forgotten to teach his children their responsibility before God and society. The answer May lie in the story of The Delinquents in their violent attempt to find a place in society. This film is a cry to a busy world-a protest-a reminder to those who must set an example."
The following voice-over narration is heard over the film's closing scenes: "This is one story. Who's to blame? The answers are not easy, nor are they pleasant. We are all responsible and it's our responsibility not to look the other way. Violence and immorality like this must be controlled, channeled. Citizens everywhere must work against delinquency, just as they work against cancer, cerebral palsy or any other disease for delinquency is a disease, but the remedies are available-patience, compassion, understanding and respect for parental and civil authority. By working with your church group, with the youth organization in your town, by paying closer attention to the needs of your children, you can help prevent the recurrence of regrettable events like the ones you have just witnessed. You can help halt this disease before it cripples our children, before it cripples society."
Several reviewers commented on the sanctimonious nature of the voice-over narration. In a modern source, Altman stated that United Artists, the film's distributor, added the spoken prologue and epilogue after the film's completion. A August 24, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that actor George Kuhn (who appears in the film as "Jay") recorded the narration at Ryder Sound Studios, thus indicating that the narration was added after the film had completed principal photography. The film's copyright registration lists the running time as 75 minutes, but the Variety review lists 72 minutes, which was the approximate length of the print viewed. The review erroneously identifies the title of the song performed by Julia Lee.
The Delinquents was shot entirely on real locations in Kansas City, MO, and marked the feature directing debut of Altman (1925-2006). Altman, whose first work in films was in a bit role in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (see below), went on to a long career as a director and writer. Altman received five Academy Award nominations as Best Director, as well as a special Academy Award presented to him in 2006. A modern source states that the film was shot in two weeks on a budget of around $45,000. The film was not included in a January 2001 retrospective of Altman's films at the National Film Theatre in London at which a program note stated that Altman now prefers that the film not be seen. It has, however, appeared on U.S. television. Producer Elmer C. Rhoden, Jr. was also an executive with Commonwealth Theatres, Inc, a mid-Western theater circuit. Like his father, Elmer C. Rhoden, a pioneering film distributor, Rhoden, Jr. was based in Kansas City, MO. Rhoden, Jr. and Imperial Productions, Inc. made only two other film, both teenage-delinquency themed productions. The second, The Cool and the Crazy, was released in 1958, and the third, Daddy-O, was released in 1959. Rhoden, Jr. died in July 1959 at the age of 37.
According to a September 19, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, actress June Foray had been signed to record "several women's voices" for the film, but her participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Documents in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal that in late October 1956 the PCA required cuts for violence and sexual suggestiveness before issuing a seal in February 1957. Advertisements for the film's Kansas City opening noted that several local actresses, Donna Baldwin, Jeanne Gallagher, Monica Mayes and Gail Greenwell, appeared in the film. A modern source adds SuEllen Fried and Louis Lombardo to the cast, and states that Lombardo also worked on the camera crew.
Released in United States Spring March 1957
Feature directorial debut for Robert Altman.
Began and completed shooting during summer of 1955.
Released in United States Spring March 1957