She’s a rebel and she’ll never, ever be any good.
Nancy Fallon (Ginger Rogers, Top Hat) is about to be reunited with her daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Teenage Dorothy, nicknamed Dodie (Betty Lou Keim, Some Came Running), isn’t happy about having to spend time with a mother she barely knows. Dodie’s stepfather (Michael Rennie, The Day the Earth Stood Still) convinces two neighbor kids to befriend Dodie, but will that be enough to get Dodie and Nancy to see eye to eye?
There’s not a lot of teenage rebellion in Teenage Rebel. The film instead fits more comfortably within the genre of the mother/daughter drama. You can find all kinds of mother/daughter chick lit ebooks crowding the virtual shelves of your favorite online bookstore. The gist of it is that the mom wants what’s best the daughter, but the daughter fights against that, longing for her freedom and independence. There are tears, hand-wringing, and slammed bedroom doors before the two learn to accept their differences and learn to love again, etc. That’s pretty much the case with Teenage Rebel.
Because this was a starring vehicle for Ginger Rogers, a lot of work has gone into convincing the audience that Nancy is not a deadbeat mom. She left a dreary marriage for one where she had true love, and we’re told she fought like crazy for custody of Dodie at the time. This all falls on deaf ears for Dodie, who might act polite but totally doesn’t want to be there. There’s a formality and stiffness to all the acting throughout the first half of the movie. Part of that is just the style of the time, still influenced by live theater and, to a lesser extent, live television. The other part of this, though, is that it’s the movie’s way of slowly building tension. Emotional turmoil is burbling beneath the surface, and when it reaches a boil, it does so in a big way. The movie’s highlight is the scene where Nancy and Dodie finally come clean with each other about how they really feel, and both actresses bring the drama without ever descending into melodrama.
It’s not all soap opera. Dodie’s flirtations with the boy next door lead her to stay out late at the local soda parlor (scandalous!). This gets her to loosen up, which, in turn, helps her make a connection with her mother, so I guess a little rebellion is actually good for the soul. Because these are teens in a 1950s movie, of course there’s a drag race. Instead of taking place in secret on the outskirts town, though, this one is at official racetrack in front of an audience on bleachers. It’s the “Fourth of July family picnic” version of a drag race, but it means the movie gets to take the camera outside for some production value, and we get to see some cool old-timey hot rods in action. The Dorothy Collins song “Cool It, Baby” was written for this movie, and was a modest hit in 1956.
The black and white, full-frame picture is often marked with white flecks and scratches. These can sometimes be a distraction, but aside from that, the picture is clean. The mono sound is decent, and you’ll have no problem discerning the dialogue in this mostly all-talky movie. There are no extras.
Teenage Rebel is a simple story, told in a simple way. It’s definitely of its era, but great performances by Ginger Rogers and Betty Lou Keim make it worth watching.