Monday, December 12, 2022

#2,878. The Explosive Generation (1961) - Teen Rebellion in B&W Triple Feature


I went in expecting a modest little made-for-TV black and white movie about teen rebellion. But The Explosive Generation proved much more explosive, and a lot more effective, than I imagined.

Instead of adhering to a lesson plan, high school teacher Peter Gifford (William Shatner) believes in keeping an open dialogue with his students. One day, he asks them all to write an anonymous essay on what it is they are concerned about, - i.e. their future, college, finding a job, etc.

One student, Janet Sommers (Patty McCormack), who the night before was coerced by her longtime boyfriend Dan (Lee Kinsolving) into spending the entire night with him at a party, raises her hand and says the most pressing issue she is facing is sex, specifically, when is it the right time to sleep with a boy? Though understandably reluctant to introduce such a sensitive topic into the discussion, Mr. Gifford relents when a few other students agree with Janet, and also want to write about sex.

What starts as a simple school project soon becomes an all-out scandal when the rumor spreads around town that Mr. Gifford distributed a “sex questionnaire” to his class. The parent / teacher’s association, led by Janet’s mother (Virginia Field), Dan’s father (Phillip Terry), and local businessman Bobby Herman Sr. (Steve Dunne), whose son Danny Jr. (Billy Gray) threw the party that sparked Janet’s query, get together and demand that Mr. Gifford not only apologize, but also turn over the essays written by the kids for “further examination”.

This initiates a showdown, with Mr. Gifford and his students on one side, and school principal Morton (Edward Platt) and the parents on the other.

The Explosive Generation focuses on a number of hot-button topics that are as prevalent today as when it was made 60+ years ago, including teen sexuality, a lack of communication between parents and their children; and an injustice that is often dismissed as being for the “greater good”. First and foremost, this is a well-acted film. Shatner delivers a solid performance as the teacher who has won the respect of his students, and McCormack is also effective as the confused but strong-willed Janet, whose insistence on writing about sex briefly alienates her from her boyfriend Dan (he feared everyone will know why she brought it up in the first place), only to eventually become the rallying cry for her peers, Dan included. Also appearing in a supporting role is a young Beau Bridges, who plays Mark, a friend of Dan’s and Janet’s.

Yet as good as the performances are, it is the subject matter and the inevitable confrontation between teens and adults that will stay with you long after the movie is over. I wouldn’t think a television movie from the 1960s would have dealt with teen sexuality in quite as open a manner, and it’s to the film’s advantage that it tackles it head-on.

While we do occasionally understand the parents and their way of thinking (there is a well-executed scene that features a heart-to-heart between Dan and his dad), I was “Team Kids” every step of the way! Believing they have no choice but to rebel to save Mr. Gifford’s job, they devise a plan, and watching as they put it into action will have you cheering out loud.

Yes, The Explosive Generation surprised me, and because of this it is a movie I recommend without hesitation. It’s not often that a film will catch you as off-guard as this one caught me.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

No comments: