Teenage Devil Dolls / One Way Ticket To Hell (1956)

Teenage Devil Dolls (1956)‘The junkies call them Goofballs and Cassandra was about as goofed up on Seconal as the physical limitations of the human body can stand.’

A frustrated and misunderstood teenage girl joins a motorcycle gang and begins smoking reefers. Marriage to a nice young boy doesn’t work out and she becomes addicted to sleeping pills. Then her life really starts spiralling out of control…

Dreary, no budget exploitation brought to us by ’Voiceover Man’ (played by Kurt Martell in this instance) whose oh-so serious proclamations warn us of the risks of the deadly weed and the inevitability of apprehension by the forces of law and order. In fact his stern, unforgiving commentary replaces such usual filmmaking conventions as synchronised sound and actual dialogue.

The story follows a path only too familiar to anyone who has seen one of Dwain Esper’s ‘roadshow’ pictures from a couple of decades earlier. We start with the innocent, but fatally bored, Cassandra (Barbara Marks) falling into bad company and trying soft drugs due to peer pressure. Of course, this leads to dealing and hanging out with heroin addict Elaine Lindenbaum. Before too long, she’s known to the local police and ends up with a serious habit herself.

An unkind commentator might be tempted to draw comparisons between director Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr and Ed Wood, given the shoddy production values, poor camera work and terrible performances, but wait! Things are not quite what they seem. This film was not a feature release at all. In reality, it’s the Master’s thesis of a graduating UCLA film student and was filmed for the princely sum of $14,000. A lot of the cast were friends and family and, unsurprisingly, have no other acting credits. The complete lack of synchronised sound was probably down to an absence of resources rather than someone losing the voice track as apparently occurred with notorious carpet-monster trainwreck ‘The Creeping Terror’ (1964).

Giving the director the benefit of the doubt, he may have even intended the film as a kind of throwback to Esper’s kind of cinema, although there’s no evidence of anything but serious intentions. There’s even the sort of ‘warning’ caption at the end that Esper used frequently in his features.

Teenage Devil Dolls (1956)

What a trip, daddio!

Few of the cast members had a subsequent film career but Marks did, only it wasn’t in front of the camera. She worked briefly in the 1970s in a production and editorial capacity for Francis Ford Coppola on ‘The Godfather’ (1972) and ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). Voiceover Man Martell appeared, appropriately enough, on 4 episodes of Jack Webb’s po-faced hit TV show ‘Dragnet’ and had a couple of other minor credits as well.

What’s more interesting is that at the time of production, director Price Jr was married to MGM contract actress Anne Francis. She’d already racked up a featured supporting role in ‘The Lion Is In The Streets’ (1953) opposite James Cagney, appeared with Spencer Tracy in ‘Bad Day At Black Rock’ (1955) and played the female lead in smash hit ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (1955), which introduced the world to Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ In the very year that ‘Teenage Devil Dolls’ (1956) was made, she achieved cinema immortality opposite Robby the Robot in timeless science fiction milestone ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956).

Perhaps it was her success that soured the couple’s Hollywood dream but, by the end of the decade, they were divorced. Francis never quite achieved the stardom that must have seemed a real possibility, but she did appear as ‘Honey West’ on the hit network TV show in the 1960s and continued working regularly until the end of the century. Price Jr on the other hand has no other film credits after this. Not a single one.

Given the circumstances of the production, it seems unfair to judge this effort too harshly. Indeed the later scenes of Marks and her pusher boyfriend fleeing through the desert as the police close in actually has a decent, documentary-type feel and some of the shot composition is fairly good.

And it is a very cool title…



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