It begins with a warning:
“Teenage marriage is one of today’s most controversial subjects. The producers of the picture you are about to see do not attempt to present a solution or take sides. It is a composite of several actual case histories… a story of a teenage girl who could be your daughter, your sister… or you…!”
For a film that doesn’t attempt to take sides, that’s a pretty strong way to open the film. And it lets the audience know straight away that this is going to be no sweet romance – it’ll be a cautionary tale.
Seventeen-year-old Judy (Anita Sands) has eloped with her older boyfriend Steve (Ron Foster), a 24-year-old law student. Judy’s parents and friends are all surprised to hear of the marriage, and not everyone approves.
Judy moves in with her new husband and is pelted with concerns and questions from everyone around her. Is she pregnant? Will she be able to balance school with being a good wife?
But Judy gets more than prying questions when her ex-boyfriend Chuck (Chris Robinson) begins antagonizing her and Steve.
Burt Topper directs 1959’s Diary of a High School Bride.
The film opens with a few sweet moments between Judy and Steve, who are traveling back home from their wedding. It comes complete with a super-catchy but also kind of corny theme song. Sing it with me, folks: “The days she was lonely, the nights then she cried! The diary of a high school… the diary of a teenage… the diary of a high school briiiiiide!”
As soon as they get back to their home town, trouble begins brewing. The couple uses the expected “You just don’t understand, we’re really in love!” argument after breaking the news to Judy’s parents.
The hatred from classmates and friends is a bit more difficult to deal with and makes for a higher level of drama. They mock Judy, telling her “You can’t go to school and be a good wife at the same time. You’re not playing house, you know!”
Things calm down for a while before the antagonism from Chuck picks up. The first half of the film attempts to show the day-to-day struggles that Judy faces as she balances her schooling and her home life. As a result, it can be a bit lackluster to watch at times, but the drama picks up in the second half without getting too over-the-top.
There are a couple of odd elements at work here as well. A few random dance/song performances occur early in the film that don’t seem to have much of a place. The film is already quite short, running at just under 75 minutes. The performances, though not too long, take up valuable time that could have been used to further develop the story or the characters.
There’s also an odd genre-swap near the end, from romantic drama to near-thriller.
The Diary of a High School Bride isn’t a boring movie, but it isn’t as great (in the actual or in the “cheesy great” sense) as it could have been given the “controversial” subject matter for the time. It manages to hold the viewer’s attention and it improves as it progresses, but it could have been a lot better.
The score: 2.5/5