A note from Lindsey: This review contains spoilers for The Age of Consent. The film’s run-time is less than an hour long, and the central conflict doesn’t come in until the movie’s past half-over, so I couldn’t summarize the premise without spoiling a few things. If you haven’t seen this film and are hoping to avoid spoilers, please revisit the review after you’ve watched the film instead!
Mike Harvey (Richard Cromwell), a student at a New York college, has found a thoroughly modern girlfriend in Betty Cameron (Dorothy Wilson). Mike, ever the typical college-aged male, is hoping that he and Betty will take their relationship to the “next level” soon. And Betty? As she says, “I’m not my grandmother. I like to have fun!”
Mike is so impatient that he tells Betty that they should quit college, get hitched and move away. He’s willing to give up school and his career prospects, even though he’s only got two years left of schooling. Though her morals may be “loose,” Betty is more level-headed than her beau, and she talks Mike out of the plan with the help of his mentor, Professor Mathews (John Halliday).
Upset that his plans aren’t going to pan out, Mike heads to the local diner where waitress Dora (Arline Judge) is just ending her shift. Dora has a crush on Mike, and when he offers to walk her home (after she not-so-subtly mentions that she’d rather not walk home alone), she accepts. A few drinks later, Mike’s forgotten all about his ladyfriend Betty in favor of some fun with Dora.
Mike must face the consequences the next morning, when Dora’s father finds the two together and has Mike arrested for “seduction of a minor.”
Gregory La Cava directs 1932’s The Age of Consent for RKO. The film’s screenplay was written by Sarah Mason (Stella Dallas) and Francis Cockrell (Dark Waters) from the play “Crossroads” by Martin Flavin.
The Age of Consent is pre-code through and through. Exhibit A: The dialogue.
“You’d make a swell missionary. You rouse my savage instincts!”
Exhibit B: The entire plot. (It’s all alcohol and infidelity.)
In a way, the story told by this film is timeless. Society’s morals on the whole may not be as outwardly rigid as they were in the early- to mid-20th century, but the transition from adolescence to adulthood remains a complicated time. Young’ns still think they’re more mature than they actually are (like Dora) and college kids still have a tunnel-visioned focus on romantic relationships (like Betty and Mike). These are wide generalizations, of course, but fairly accurate ones in my experience.
The issues are explored with a lot more care than I expected. I thought this film would be all sauce and no substance, but the conflict between romantic “freedom” and tradition is explored quite nicely through Cromwell’s character, and the film urges the viewer to think of what’s right and what’s wrong.
The cast is pretty wonderful. Dorothy Wilson, who had previously worked as a secretary at RKO and made her screen debut in this film, gives a strong performance. Cromwell is solid, and John Halliday is great as his mentor. Arline Judge is full of sass.
The ending of the film is a bit melodramatic (Spoiler alert: a fatal accident on top of all of the other drama?!) but overall, The Age of Consent is a pretty good watch. The score: 4/5