Widow Valerie Carr (Anna Neagle) had to bring up her two daughters herself on account of her husband dying in the Second World War, but she has done very well raising two well-mannered young ladies, seventeen-year-old Janet (Sylvia Syms) and her younger sister Poppet (Julia Lockwood). Valerie makes ends meet at a publishing house in London, and has to ask for the odd advance on her wages to provide for her children, such as this week when she buys a party dress for Janet to attend a posh do they are both going to. When they get back home they tell Poppet and housekeeper Bella (Josephine Fitzgerald) all about it - but what's this jiving that Janet is demonstrating? It couldn't be the results of a bad influence, could it?
By the mid-nineteen-fifties the teenager was a real phenomenon, a sudden explosion of energy that had hitherto been untapped by popular culture, or so the media would have had you believe. It could be the methods they tried to adapt to entertainment aimed at these young folks that became such a defining aspect of the craze for rock 'n' roll, but in 1956 all the Brits knew was that something big was happening across the Atlantic and wondering how it would affect them. It affected them in a big way, for now there was a whole, fresh market of post-war consumers demanding attention, and when the combination of Elvis Presley and James Dean sent shockwaves around the world, the teenager was a force to be reckoned with.
It was Dean who provided the biggest influence on movies like My Teenage Daughter, tellingly retitled Teenage Bad Girl in North American territories, as the decidedly square husband and wife team of director Herbert Wilcox and star Anna Neagle opted for a cash-in of their own. What the kids wanted to see was Janet run wild with her new beau Tony Ward Black (Kenneth Haigh), a disreputable sort who teaches her how to drink, smoke, drive without a licence, attend speedway matches and, yes, jive in a dingy nightclub where the live band plays the same tune incessantly - fair enough, there wasn't anything like as much variety in popular music then as there is now, but didn't the patrons notice they were grooving to the same repeated melody for hours on end? What would it take for the band to learn something new?
Anyway, we did get a few sequences of Janet's descent into Hell, guided by Tony who is a lot posher than the accepted idea of the juvenile delinquent, not to mention a lot older, but Wilcox and Neagle felt they had a duty to their usual family audiences, thus we were offered far too many bits with Valerie wringing her hands (literally) and staring tearfully into the middle distance as she laments her previously prim and proper daughter is now some kind of wildcat. Naturally, for maximum emotional anguish we can see that Val has done nothing wrong, but also that society will judge her as a bad mother who couldn't keep her offspring under control, all presumably to prompt those fans who had grown up and grown older watching Neagle to dab at the corners of their eyes as the traumas mount up.
In effect, it's Syms who acts everyone else off the screen since she had the most substantial role and while it's unintentionally camp to watch her transform from the young miss who wouldn't say boo to a goose into a screaming ball of nerves running the gamut from "Don't treat me like a child!" to the plain and simple "Get away from me! I hate you!", the actress truly sold it. Indeed, much amusement stems from the accustomed enjoyment of seeing the ordered society of Valerie turned upside down by her rebellious and unreasonable daughter; although Syms, one of the most beautiful British starlets of her era, was in her twenties when she debuted here, she offers a decent account of herself as Janet's tendency towards hysteria would be daunting in any decade. When she finally ends up in prison, her long, dark night of the soul is about the only scene which still succeeds today as it was intended to. Don't lament for Valerie, she has the shoulder of solid Hugh (Norman Wooland) to cry on - mind you, Poppet might be a handful soon. Also with a dog called "Dog". Music by Stanley Black.
[Network's DVD has a far clearer print than previously available on home video, but only a gallery as an extra.]