(Image: impawards.com)
(Image: impawards.com)

Dr. John Jason (Paul Henreid) has landed a new job at a school for delinquent teenage girls. John is a good-hearted man who really wants to make changes in the lives of the girls who live at the school.

Those changes might be harder than it would seem to make, though, because the current staff of the school has been mistreating the girls, many of them without even questioning what affect they’re having on the futures of the “inmates.”

Loretta Wilson (Anne Francis), one of the toughest ladies in the new class, is more than willing to fight back against poor treatment. With her help, Dr. Jason sees the truth about what’s happening at the school, and it’s up to him (with the help of a pretty staff member named Ruth, portrayed by Catherine McLeod) to turn the school into a better place.

Bernard Vorhaus directs So Young, So Bad, a 1950 drama from Danzinger Productions. Vorhaus also constructed the story and screenplay with the assistance of Jean Rouverol and Joseph Than.

It’s no secret that I love Paul Henreid, and I’ll watch anything he’s in (especially if he’s the lead), which is how this ended up in my Netflix queue. It had popped up as a suggestion from one of the many other juvenile delinquency films I’ve enjoyed on Instant, and seeing Henreid’s name credited, I had to watch it. Because I found the film this way, I very much expected it to be a run-of-the-mill delinquency film, with Henreid acting in the typical “moral compass” role and winning out in the end after enduring a few light struggles.

Since I went in with those expectations, So Young, So Bad was a great surprise to me. It’s an extremely tense film with a highly capable cast.

Anne Francis stars as an unwed mother planning on giving her baby up for adoption when she's sent to the reformatory. (Image: Richard Valley's Scarlet Street Forums)
Anne Francis stars as an unwed mother planning on giving her baby up for adoption when she’s sent to the reformatory. (Image: Richard Valley’s Scarlet Street Forums)

Particular standouts are Rita Moreno, who gives an emotional performance here in her film debut, and Anne Francis, who plays the type of character that’s obnoxious at first but wins you over by the film’s end. Henreid, of course, impresses as well. It’s an interesting role for him, quite gentle and good-hearted in comparison to many of his rough-around-the-edges performances, but he plays it very well.

Any scenes that could have been a bit corny with a different cast are saved by the talent of the wonderful players at work here. The result is a film that is effectively gripping, treated as seriously as the subject matter of abuse should be.

The pace isn’t extremely fast, but I appreciated the fact that the film took the time to dig into the backstory of a many of the girls in the reformatory rather than just focusing on a single one. The “Henreid vs. evil” conflict keeps things moving along quickly enough while allowing the viewer to think about the issues that arise in the film, from teen crime and pregnancy to institutionalized abuse.

The film certainly opens the viewer up to a lot of questions about its subject matter. How helpful are(/were) institutions like this reformatory? Have they done more harm than good to the mental health of their patients? It’s great to see Henreid and McLeod “fight the system,” but the viewer can’t ignore all of the cases of poor treatment that must have gone unreported, unnoticed and unfixed in the real world.

Don’t let the stereotypical “juveniles gone wild” title of this film fool you: So Young, So Bad is a film much more complex and serious than the genre with which it is often linked. The score: 4/5

Watch this film:

Netflix Instant

(Unfortunately, this one isn’t available on DVD!)