Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
In a Los Angeles suburb, teenager Jane Koberly inadvertently becomes involved in a robbery attempt while on a blind date with one of the would-be thieves. Arrested with belligerent accomplice Terry Marsh, Jane cannot name the boys involved in the crime and is sentenced to juvenile hall for one year. Terry, convicted for a second time, is sentenced to juvenile hall until her twenty-first birthday, then the penitentiary until she is twenty-five. During the transfer to the work school, Terry's boyfriend and head of their gang, Mike Denton, intercepts the police car in which the girls are riding, shoots the police driver and ties up the matron. Terrified, Jane pleads to be left behind, but Mike and Terry insist that she come with them. When Mike hears the report of the killing over the radio, he grows anxious and decides to hide out at a farmhouse. After dumping the car in a ravine, Mike forces his way into the home of elderly couple Tom and Sarah Grant. Both Mike and Terry threaten the Grants, claiming they will kill again if necessary. Sarah anxiously reveals that her son Ben will be coming home the next day to celebrate Thanksgiving. Mike is dismayed to learn that the Grants have a party telephone line and wonders how he can contact his accomplice Al to help them escape. He writes a hasty letter to Al and forces Tom to post it in the mailbox. After dinner, Jane confides in the Grants that she is not connected to the gang. When the television news reports the girls' escape and the murder of the policeman, Jane grows hysterical until Sarah comforts her. The following day, Mike holds Sarah at gunpoint when Ben arrives. Ben, a decorated war hero, angrily challenges Mike, but Tom and Sarah plead with him to do nothing. Later that evening, Jane is gratified when she hears on the news that her father believes in her innocence and has hired a new lawyer to reopen her case. At police headquarters, Mr. Koberly insists upon accompanying the investigators on the hunt for the teens, declaring that it was his lifelong indifference which brought about Jane's careless involvement with Mike and Terry. Back at the Grants's house, Terry comes on to Ben, angering Mike. When Sarah is abruptly stricken, Mike refuses to allow Tom to go for a doctor, but Jane helps Ben put Sarah to bed and sits with her. Furious at Mike's callousness, Ben considers attacking him, but Jane beseeches him not to endanger his life or his parents. Meanwhile, the police and Mr. Koberly discover Mike's car in the ravine and, identifying it as the get-away car, begin a search of all the nearby farms. When they arrive at the Grants's, Mike forces Ben into the cellar with Terry and holds Sarah and Jane in the bedroom, leaving Tom to get rid of the police and Mr. Koberly. Overhearing the police telephone a recommendation for bloodhounds, Mike grows agitated and insists on trying to telephone Al. Tom places the call, but there is no answer, which disturbs Mike. Upon finally reaching Al later, Mike has Tom use a series of cryptic phrases to convey his and Terry's location. That evening, neighbor Bill Salisbury stops by to ask Ben's help in fixing his rifle. Mike, Terry, Jane and Sarah hide in the bedroom as Tom and Ben desperately try to force Bill to leave. Noticing their unease as well as a trail of cigarette butts leading to Sarah's room, Bill bursts into the room and is promptly shot by Mike, who then dumps the body in the cellar. The next morning, Terry makes another pass at Ben at the barn, and he succeeds in getting her gun away, only to discover it is not loaded. On the road just outside of the Grants's, Al attempts to get through a police cordon by posing as a feed salesman, but, panicking under questioning, is killed in a shootout. Everyone at the Grants's farmhouse hears the gunfire, and Tom impulsively makes a break, but Mike shoots him, then forces the rest into Ben's car and flees down an unguarded back road. The police arrive at the Grants' and a wounded Tom describes Ben's car. Against Terry's advice, Mike drives into downtown Los Angeles, toward Griffith Park. A police prowl car chases them and, believing that he can hide in the crowds at the observatory, Mike drives there, only to realize with dismay that it is closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Cornered, Mike and Terry abandon the car and Ben gives chase while Jane stays with Sarah. Terry is shot and Mike and Ben fight inside the observatory until the police arrive. Before dying, Terry confesses to Sarah that Jane was never involved with the gang and Mike breaks into tears when he finds Terry dead.
Fred F. Sears
Teen-Age Crime Wave
Teen-Age Crime Wave (the onscreen title employs the hyphen, while posters and ad art did not) went before the cameras as Jail Bait, which is how the film was registered with the MPAA in March of 1954. In fact, the film pulls a bit of a bait and switch early on, hinting it will be the story of underage bad girl Terry Marsh (Molly McCart), first seen striking up a coy conversation in a dive bar with the middle-aged but ever-ready George Cisar (in a rare non-bartender role). Luring her patsy out onto the street, Terry reveals herself to be a shill for her J.D. boyfriend Mike Denton (child actor Tommy Cook in career-changing mode), whose attempt at robbery is foiled by the arrival of the cops and the arrest of both Terry and Jane Koberly (Sue England), an innocent whom Terry has dragged into the act. Even as both girls are remanded to a teen detention center, the story still seems to be Terry's... until Mike intercepts the car transporting Terry and Jane and the thing turns into a hostage scenario reminiscent of The Desperate Hours (1955). Holed up for several days in the rural farmhouse of elderly James Bell (The Leopard Man, 1943) and Kay Riehl (A Star Is Born, 1954), Terry and Mike smoke cigarettes, spit hipster rebop and engage in public displays of affection while the police (aided by Jane's father) comb the Antelope Valley to bring these troubled teens to justice.
Teen-Age Crime Wave makes a pretty good case for juvenile delinquency. The homes of the adult characters, the seedbeds of dissatisfaction and postwar alienation, are depicted as shadowy and joyless, the only source of light (apart from the occasional 40 watt wall sconce) coming from the glow of the omnipresent television. While the script isn't so glib as to pin the whole of the blame on bad parenting, one agent of law enforcement actually admits "I think we lock up the wrong people" before Mike puts a bullet in his belly. (Beyond this, the film shows a positively fetishistic fascination with characters being shot in the back.) Certainly, Mike and Terry are "dirt" but Sears and his writers offer hope for the likes of the restless but decent Jane while the film's Thanksgiving setting suggests the authorial intention is one of accommodation and reconciliation rather than alarmist finger-pointing.
However Teen-Age Crime Wave may have ripped its scenario from the day's headlines, it proved eerily prescient in anticipating the crimes of 20 year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year-old accomplice/girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in January of 1958. With one murder already to his credit, Starkweather and/or Fugate slaughtered her entire family before hitting the road from Nebraska to Wyoming and racking up a total of eleven victims. The case inspired a number of feature films, among them the cult classic The Sadist (1963), Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), the ABC TV miniseries Murder in the Heartland (1993) and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994).
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Fred F. Sears
Screenplay: Harry Essex; Ray Buffum (story, screenplay)
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Tommy Cook (Mike Denton), Molly McCart (Terry Marsh), Sue England (Jane Koberly), Frank Griffin (Benjamin David 'Ben' Grant), James Bell (Thomas Paul Grant), Kay Riehl (Sarah Wayne Grant), Guy Kingsford (Mr. Koberly).
by Richard Harland Smith
Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood by Walker Wheeler Dixon
The Fifties: The Way We Really Were by Douglas T. Miller and Marion Nowack
Teen-Age Crime Wave
He'll never touch you, Terry. You're DIRT.- Jane Koberly
The working title of the film was Jail Bait. The title was probably changed to avoid confusion with a similarly named 1954 film by producer Ed Wood. Some scenes in the film were shot on location in Los Angeles at Griffith Park Observatory.