The 1930s produced a cornucopia of grindhouse exploitation films (aka "sexploitation" movies), usually disguised as "educational" movies that were ostensible cautionary tales about one social problem or another.
This week's feature is Rebellious Daughters from 1938.
Despite the nudge-nudge-wink-wink nature of its title and tagline, this is a standard 1930s melodrama showing how two diametrically-opposed parenting styles can lead to destruction for two girls. On the one hand is Barbara "Babe" Webster, whose social-climbing divorceé mother is too busy and too detached to show her daughter any affection (she even abandons her on her birthday to go with "The Carlyles" to the seashore). On the other is our "good girl" Claire Elliott, the product of a single-father family (mother died at some earlier point), who has been raised very strictly with "too much" parenting.
These are the poles, and the movie takes great pains to point out that neither one is good for the children. Especially the daughters. We never get to know how old these girls are, but the implication is that they are 18 or so (played by 25-year-old actresses, naturally), old enough to head for the bright lights of the big city, New York, as runaways.
They meet Joe Gilman, the stock bad guy (you can tell because of the mustache) in a super fancy nightclub in their home town of Glenhaven MA -- what a fancy nightclub with a band is doing in this obviously one-horse town in Massachusetts is an open question, but as I've said before, these movies don't have to make sense. Joe Gilman has a fancy dress shop in NYC and tells the girls they can come to work for him and be "models".
Yeah, right. But, as it turns out, he really does have a fancy dress shop and he does give them jobs as models. But we quickly learn that it's just a front for his real business, which is extortion of the wealthy men whose wives shop at his store. It's a variety of the old Badger Game, and when Babe is talked into cooperating, she's smart enough to realize the potential for financial reward. Uh-oh. Naturally, since in these movies, "somebody" has to die, it's gonna be Babe.
The one unintentionally funny scene in this move takes place just outside NYC. In the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking San Fernando Valley. Babe goes over a cliff in a car to her death, with a little "help" from Gilman, but survives long enough for a "death scene" at the hospital -- presumably back in New York, since Claire is able to see her just before she expires.
It all gets wrapped up nicely, though, right after we think that Claire is doomed when she moves into a fancy apartment that costs ... $40 a month! But no, her boyfriend is a crusading reporter who blows the whole thing wide open with a "surprise" ending.
The money shot: None, even though they had ample opportunity -- the "modeling" scenes, the badger-game scenes, and the final scene, wherein our heroine appears in her "nighties", a pajama-looking thing which fully envelops her body, right down to the wrists.
Lessons learned: Parents, if you are too lenient or too strict, your daughters will come to a bad end. And, as ever, stay away from men with mustaches...
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough, who went on to have a successful career directing Abbott & Costello comedies and a number of television shows. Oddly, this movie does not show up in his filmography on his Wikipedia page.
Taglines: They paid a high price for the luxury and excitement they sought and got!
Also known as Wayward Daughters
· Rebellious Daughters on the IMDB