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  Girls Town Van Doren's Never Borin'
Year: 1959
Director: Charles F. Haas
Stars: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Margaret Hayes, Paul Anka, Cathy Crosby, Gigi Perreau, Elinor Donahue, Gloria Talbott, Sheila Graham, James Mitchum, Dick Contino, Harold Lloyd Jr, Charles Chaplin Jr, The Platters, Peggy Moffit, Peter Leeds
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Trash, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Chip (Mel Tormé) is a ne'erdowell out with his latest conquest by the beach in his hot rod one evening, and just as they are starting to share a tongue sandwich, they hear a scream and look around. He sees a girl being chased by a man, but is not too bothered and recommences his canoodling, that is until he hears him cry out - he has tumbled over the nearby cliff to his death. The girl seems to be wearing a distinctive headscarf belonging to Silver Morgan (Mamie Van Doren), so Chip heads over to the home she shares with her guardian and sister to find out what is going on - and finger her for the crime. However, Silver is having none of this and protests her innocence...

You just knew when you saw the combination of Mamie Van Doren and producer Albert Zugsmith that entertainment was going to be on the cards, and so it was with Girls Town, maybe not one of their highest profile escapades, that title would probably be High School Confidential, but garnering a certain notoriety among vintage trash fans for showing off Mamie at her bad girl best. You had the impression John Waters was lapping up her movies as a teen, inspiring him to fresh heights of bad taste when he would cast Divine in similar, even more exaggerated roles, but there was nobody quite like Mamie, despite her rivalry with Jayne Mansfield and to an extent, Marilyn Monroe.

A brassy platinum blonde, she was able to carry a considerable sexual charge to her performances that can still be quite startling today, and Zugsmith would push that envelope as far as it would go in her films for him. Alas, Girls Town fell foul of the censor, when no matter how pious Silver eventually wound up in the story, religious groups objected to the whole production, which could best be described as a juvenile delinquent female version of the Bing Crosby hits Going My Way or The Bells of St Mary's. There was no real equivalent of Der Bingle here, though his nickname is invoked as a swear word (!), but the point was to halt Mamie's progress to the furnaces of Hades.

Which meant her controversy over her shower scene, doubling as a musical number because, well, why not? Although you couldn't see anything too explicit, it was clear the star was starkers behind that shower screen as she belted out one of her pseudo-rock 'n' roll numbers as was her wont, and when the priests had the vapours, the scene had to go - if ever there was a reason to be sceptical of the benefits of organised religion, there it was. Van Doren fans of the day had to be content to see her fill out a ludicrously tight sweater and skirt which she sashayed across the screen in, although to be fair that was probably enough to prompt millions of, shall we say, less than wholesome thoughts. Resolutely doing the opposite was singer Paul Anka (with an introducing credit), who for some reason was attending the girls reform school as well.

It had to be said, Mamie did not make a convincing sixteen-year-old, but pop idol Anka made a convincing twelve-year-old, no matter he was supposed to be older, and witnessing him change Silver's heinous ways with a chorus of Ave Maria that reduces her to tears, and not tears of laughter either, lifted Girls Town to camp heaven. As if that were not enough, we were asked to swallow that crooner Tormé was a rough, tough he-man and not the ever so nice favourite of the nation's grandmothers, so Zugsmith put him in a drag race in an empty river bed where the participants were not allowed to touch the steering wheel. Also along for the ridiculous ride were former child star Gigi Perreau as Silver's sister who reveals her softer side, and Gloria Talbott demonstrating her judo moves by throwing Mamie over her shoulder - Anka and Tormé even got into a fist fight, preposterously. With more laughs than many a purported comedy, priceless slang dialogue you just knew was invented for the movie, and Mamie's va-va-voom (as they called it back then), this was top-flight trash until the fake morality intervened.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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