DVD Review: Teenage Rebel (1956) (Fox Cinema Archives)

Based on the stage play A Roomful of Roses by Edith Sommer, 1956’s Teenage Rebel is harshly titled for a film that is essentially about a very lonely girl. Generally, when we think of a rebel in movies, images of drinking, smoking, sex, and violence come up. None of that is present here. Directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel) from a screenplay by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett the story concerns 15-year old Dodie (Betty Lou Keim) who must spend three weeks with her estranged mother Nancy (Ginger Rogers), whom she hasn’t seen in eight years.

Nancy lost custody of her daughter lost custody of Dodie to her first husband, the wealthy Eric McGowan (John Stephenson), who wanted to punish her. Apparently, it was Nancy who left the very unhappy marriage. Though the court mandated that Dodie spend three weeks a year with her mother, Eric fled to Europe in order to prevent the visits. Now in a happy marriage to architect Jay Fallon (Michael Rennie) and the mother of seven-year-old son, Larry, Nancy is thrilled to learn that Eric is finally sending Dodoe out to visit her in California.

Teenage RebelAloof and affecting an air of superiority, Dodie (who insists on being called Dorothy), is overtly formal with her mother, and snobbish to her step-father and half-brother. Dodie even snubs the good faith efforts of teenagers next door Dick (Warren Berlinger) and Jane Hewitt (Diane Jergens) to make friends. Despite her tough exterior, it soon becomes clear that Dodie is acting in self defense; feeling neglected by her father and abandoned by her mother.

Nancy is finally able to break through to her daughter, by being firm. Clearly, Dodie’s life has been lacking disciple, and for her, having Nancy be firm with her signals to Dodie that her mother cares enough to keep her on the straight and narrow. Dodie’s abandonment issues have made it difficult for her to let people into her life. Desperate to soften Dodie, her stepfather had asked Dick to take her on some outings. The two end up growing close, which is great, until Dick’s girlfriend from Texas shows up. This rejection, on top of the rejection she feels from her father, puts the young girl over the edge. The issue with Dick is never really resolved, and Dodie quickly makes plans to return home.

Before Dodie can go back East, Nancy is forced to tell Dodie that her father has remarried. Becoming more withdrawn, Dodie tells her father she’d like to spend the rest of her summer at boarding school. After a few more dramatic turns, Dodie realizes that she does want to leave with her mother; a woman she now understands didn’t leave her by choice.

Producer/writer Charles Brackett and director Edmund Goulding understood that the heart of the story is the relationship between mother and daughter. As such, the focus remains on them throughout, with the other characters playing secondary roles; there to help move the plot along. The scenes between Ginger Rogers and Betty Lou Keim are rather moving for a film from the era, conveying a real sense of the pain both mother and daughter are feeling. Betty Lou Keim was reprising her role from the Broadway play here, so she was clearly comfortable in the role. Ginger Rogers, in one of her last film roles, does an admirable job as a woman desperate to reconnect with a daughter she loves.

The full screen, 1.37:1 black and white transfer looks surprisingly sharp, with solid blacks and whites. I did notice one or two scratches, but the transfer is very clean. Contrast levels are good.

The Dolby Digital English split mono audio does its job, with little hiss, but with no subtitles or closed captions.

No special features are included.

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