Watching 1939: Mad Youth (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Mad Youth (1939)

Release date:  July 1939

Cast:  Mary Ainslee, Betty Compson, Willy Castello, Betty Atkinson, Tommy Wonder, Lorelei Readoux, Margaret Fealy, Donald Kerr
Jitter Bugs: Ray Hirsch, Patty Lacey, Eugene Taylor, Aileen Morris, Maxine Taylor, Pearl Tolson

Studio:  Willis Kent Production

Director:  Melville Shyer

Lucy Morgan (Compson) hires a male escort, Count DeHoven (Castello). While her mother is away, teenage Marian Morgan (Ainslee) has a big party while her mom was away, which includes jitterbug dancing and strip poker. When Lucy returns home with the Count, he falls for Marian. When Marian and Lucy have a falling out over the Count, Marian decides to go live with Helen, which ends up being a marriage-for-hire and sex trafficking organization.

1939 Notes:
• The first credited film role of Mary Ainslee
• The only film that Lorelei Readoux acted in.

Other trivia: 
• Other titles are “Girls of the Underworld” or “Modern Mothers”
• The credits give acknowledgment to the La Golondrina Cafe of Los Angeles for the orchestra and acts.
• Betty Atkinson, who does a majorette dance number, was the World’s Champion Majorette while with the University of Southern California Marching Band.
• Jitterbug actors Patti Lacey and Ray Hirsch won the National Jitterbug Champion of 1938.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
When people discuss how tame films of the golden era were, they haven’t seen an exploitation film yet.

“Mad Youth” features mothers hiring male escorts, teens playing strip poker, underage drinking and young women being tricked into sex trafficking businesses.

“Mad Youth” (1939) is a cautionary tale for frivolous mothers who are more worried about keeping up their youth than being a good parent to their teenage children. It also warns young women about being too trusting of strangers.

Some sources say “Mad Youth” was released in 1940, but according to 1939 newspaper clippings, the film was released in 1939 and showing in theaters.

Betty Compson, a popular leading lady during the silent film era, plays the selfish, divorcee mother who never wanted her daughter and tries to recapture her youth by going on dates with young escorts. Compson is the most notable actor in this film.

Willy Castello plays Compson’s escort, who was known as the Clark Gable of Europe. Frankly, he looks more like a poor man’s Ricardo Cortez.

The rebellious daughter is played by Mary Ainslee in her first credited role. Ainslee’s acting is nothing to write home about. She was only in a total of 15 films and shorts.

Interestingly, most of the supporting cast are billed simply as “Jitter bugs,” but these supporting jitterbug characters also came with interesting accolades. Betty Atkinson, who does a tap dancing and baton twirling routine at a party, was a majorette at the University of Southern California and was known as one of the country’s best majorettes. Patti Lacey and Ray Hirsch won the National Jitterbug Champion of 1938 and were put under contract at Columbia. They appeared in other films dancing as well. Lacey was also a standin for Ann Blyth and Peggy Ryan.

The plotline of young women, not supported by their parents, being lured into sex-trafficking may sound farfetched. But it’s truthfully not, and is an issue today (particularly in my area near the I-85 corridor to Atlanta).

As far as showing the excellence of 1939, “Mad Youth” wouldn’t be a good example. As with most “exploitation films,” it’s low budget.

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