William Shatner as Peter (Image: avmaniacs)
William Shatner as Peter (Image: avmaniacs)

Peter Gifford (William Shatner) is teaching a “life skills” class full of high school seniors, trying to prepare them for problems like getting into college and deciding what to do with your life.

One day, when he asks the students which problem they’d like to discuss, Janet Sommers (Patty McCormack) brings up sex and dating — the issue she feels is most relevant to their lives at the moment.

Peter instructs the class to come up with questions or talking points that they’d like to discuss in the next class, because he wants to be able to help them work through the problems they’re having and decisions they’re making.

When the parents get wind of the type of discussions that are happening in the class, Peter’s career may be at stake.

Buzz Kulik directs 1961’s The Explosive Generation, his very first directorial effort in film. (He had previously worked in television and continued to do so after this film was released.) The script was written by Joseph Landon (Von Ryan’s Express).

The Explosive Generation starts out much like your average “teens behaving badly” flick from the mid-20th century. They party so hard that they’re tardy for school the next day. Uh-oh!

(Image: The Lightning Bug's Lair)
(Image: The Lightning Bug’s Lair)

Once the party’s over, though, the film shifts. I expected this to be a “classic of the corn” as we like to call them around here on TMP, but it isn’t very corny at all. Instead, it aims to be quite serious, becoming a tale of the changing conversations about romantic relationships during the mid-20th century. Peter and his students are pushing for open conversation on the topic, and scandal grows as a result.

I wonder if the caused any controversy at the time of release, or if it went largely unnoticed due to its lack of star power and low budget. (I was not able to find box office stats or reviews of the film from when it was a new release, unfortunately.)

If there is any corn here, it comes from some stiff deliver on part of the film’s “teenagers,” Janet’s boyfriend in particular. Our two leads, Shatner and McCormack, are the most believable of the bunch, but none of the performances in the film are truly top-notch.

Still, the subject matter is interesting enough on its own that the film is worth a watch despite the acting issues. If the performances were stronger, this film would be a very good one. It has a lot working in its favor aside from the performances. It treats its teenager characters as inquisitive, opinionated human beings rather than just rowdy kids. They even stage a non-violent protest! I would have loved the film if the performances weren’t so stiff.

As it stands, I enjoyed the film enough to recommend it, but I wouldn’t count it as a favorite. The score: 3/5

Watch it:

Stream it on Netflix

Buy the DVD on Amazon

Stream it on Amazon Instant Video