Don Gregor (Clancy Malone) is in trouble with the police again, and tonight his sister Marilyn (Dolores Fuller) has been called to the station to bail him out. The problem is that he has been caught carrying an unlicensed weapon, something he has been warned about before - as the detective who arrested him, Inspector Johns (Lyle Talbot) observes, this gun could get him into far more trouble. The cops confiscate it, but Don is not pleased - little do they know he already has another gun hidden in a hollowed-out book at the family home...
Jail Bait (the title refers to the gun, not a person) was the follow up to writer-producer-director Edward D. Wood Jr's first feature, Glen or Glenda?, a true weirdo classic that continues to baffle all who see it to this day. This film is not as notorious, however, as there was little of the unhinged imagination to its plot that would have attracted anyone but the dedicated cultists, if anything it was more of a basic B movie of which there were a great number being churned out of Hollywood at this time. Indeed, if you were hoping for a non-stop laughathon at the ineptitude on display, then you may well have been disappointed as Ed produced few of his authorial flourishes here.
But that's not to say there was no reason to watch, because it did reward the patient viewer with a finale that was ridiculous enough to be identifiable with this auteur's work. Before you got to that point there was a lot of low powered thrills to be endured as Don gets mixed up with small time hood Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell), who covers for him when the cops approach them in a bar. One of those cops was played by future Hercules Steve Reeves, making his debut and using his real voice (which was deep and not squeaky, to quash those rumours): just so we know he is a muscleman we see him without his shirt in one gratuitous scene as when Johns asks him if he has to shave at the office we presume he means Steve's chest.
Anyway, Don is coaxed into robbing a theatre's takings from the safe with Vic, forcing the nightwatchman to open it and then gunning him down in a moment of panic - this makes Don a cop killer, according to Johns who is quickly on the scene. Vic also shoots a fleeing witness (Mona McKinnon, soon to be immortalised in Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, as were a few of the stars here), but she survives, meaning someone can identify them. Hmm, I wonder what they could do about that? Well, it just so happens that Don's father (Herbert Rawlinson) is a plastic surgeon, so could be be persuaded to assist? This is all leading up to the big twist that happens in the last couple of minutes, and if you cannot predict it you haven't seen enough Ed Wood movies.
Sadly, the dialogue was not up (or down) to Wood's usual awkward standard, possibly because he had help on the script from Alex Gordon, soon to be a producer at AIP. The production values were a different story, with everything filmed in whatever available space there was, and in spite of what Vic's wife says, his apartment does not represent the taste of a classy man: this was fairly impoverished-looking. To underline that, two other aspects stood out, both borrowed from other movies: one, a time-padding clip from a minstrel movie which will be the most jarring part for many nowadays, and two, that droning guitar and piano score that drove you up the wall if you ever caught Mesa of Lost Women. But the most memorable bit was that ending, which improbably featured plastic surgery carried out on a couch in Vic's front room - at gunpoint! If that were not ludicrous enough, wait till you see what we're supposed to accept as the denouement.
Wood's career opportunities got worse as he drifted into writing softcore porn like Orgy of the Dead, and he eventually became an alcoholic. Sadly, he died just before receiving the peculiar adulation his eccentric movies deserved. Also the author of many pulp novels.