Finally thanks to Youtube I had a chance to see Youth Runs Wild, the Val Lewton produced RKO film that’s eluded me for a long time. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no. An interesting premiss, youngsters running wild due to lack of parental supervision, owing to the fact that most parents were either overseas or working in WWII related industries.
A LOOK Magazine story about a teenaged girl that started a Youth Club was the impetus for this project but once Lewton got involved he transformed it from a puff piece about wholesome Timmy and Jennie playing skittles in the church basement to a searing indictment of child neglect, abuse, and exploitation. This didn’t sit well with the brass at RKO, the State Department or even LOOK magazine so drastic re-editing was called for and Lewton disgusted at the end result asked that his name be taken off the project. What remains holds clues to what might have been, Lawrence Tierney’s performance as a corrupter of youth, garage owner. Fencing stolen tires, in big demand due to War rationing. Tierney claimed in an interview that his character sold drugs to kids as well in the original version.
Dickie Moore in Out Of The Past
Dickie Moore, one time Little Rascal and the deaf mute sidekick to Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past appears and is often complaining about the treatment he gets from his father, in Lewton’s cut little Dickie offs his abusing psycho padre with a rifle.
Dickie with chicks in Youth Runs Wild
The ending really comes from out of nowhere, hacked on by a studio hatchet man, a bizarre montage about the teenaged girl that started her Youth Club, trying to shuck and grin the film back to pure propaganda niceness. A few other noteworthy items, John Fante is credited as screenwriter, the author of the wonderous Ask The Dust, one of Bukowski’s (and mine) favorite L.A. novels. Fante knew his way around abusive, alcoholic parents, check out some of his other novels. YRW was directed by Mark Robson, Lewton’s pet director, elevated from the editing room to the director’s chair by Lewton on The Seventh Victim after cutting several films for Lewton including Cat P_eople, The Leopard Man, and the incomparable I walked With A Zombie. Robson later repaid Lewton for his help by cutting him out of an independent production company deal and having his agent deliver the bad news. Vanessa Brown plays an overworked, abused teenager lured into prostitution by an older wiser babe and in one scene she sports a flowery coif that I am pretty sure inspired Beth Short, the Black Dahlia to imitate.
Vanessa Brown with RKO stalwart Kent Smith
Life Imitates Art
Short probably related to the character Brown played. Brunette, sexy beyond her young years, struggling to make ends meet, hustling drinks in Hollywood Wartime nightclubs. Fascinating stuff. But anyway you too can watch via Youtube and judge for yourself. Too bad no copy of Lewton’s original cut remains. The trims and outs were probably burned to reclaim the 20 cents worth of silver in the emulsion, just like the missing parts of Orson Wells Magnificent Ambersons.
WatchYouth Runs Wild for yourself on Youtube!