Running Wild (1955)

Running Wild (1955) is an undercover cop teenage-tearaway hot roddin' 1950s crime movie in which a rookie cop goes undercover to infiltrate an auto-theft ring operated by juvenile delinquents.

While the ring itself is operated by juveniles, the man behind it is Ken Ossanger, played by Keenan Wynn, and he is a nasty slice of low-life, and up to more than just sarcasm.

In fact, as well as running the operation which steals strips and resprays vehicles stolen on demand, he is also blackmailing the young and attractive Leta Novak (Kathleen Case) into more than just going on dates with him.

Their dates take them to the hive of local night time action, a roadside joint called The Cove, where all the teens meet, dance, drink and make merry, until a punch up breaks up the fun.

Here at The Cove the music is swinging — Play Razzle Dazzle by Bill Hailey's Comets!  demands Mamie Van Doren's character Irma Bean early on in the first scene in The Cove. To which she adds a sensational and hip dance which in itself indicates that the decade must have been a helluva lot more fun than we could ever imagine.

Mamie Van Doren in Running Wild (1955)

Running Wild (1955) was often paired with Tarantula (1955) as part of a double feature, which is suggestive of a growing teenage audience, interested in motor cars and monsters as a form of entertainment. 

The 1950s were a time of cultural change and the emergence of youth culture. Films often reflected the concerns and interests of teenagers, including science fiction, teenage rebellion, and societal challenges.

Movies provided a sense of escape for teenagers, allowing them to immerse themselves in fictional worlds and stories. The combination of a giant tarantula in Tarantula and the themes of rebellion in Running Wild would have offered a mix of thrills and relatable narratives.

The discovery of the teenage market was a huge moment for Hollywood, and so a huge moment for culture as a whole. Although not immediately obvious, the story of film noir does also take its part in the emergence of the concept of the teenager and the notion that as well as charting a group of people that were a sudden new social group with problems of their own, were also going to prove to be a lucrative demographic.

Kathleen Case in Running Wild (1955)

Lucrative is right insofar as teenagers began to be an important group of movie-goers in the 1950s and so it seemed only fair to represent their culture and even their concerns in the films. At the same time, the teenage demographic was also proving to pose more than a few problems to the adults who likely did not see this trend coming at all.

Comparing the juvenile exploitation movies of the 1950s, such as Running Wild (1955) and the most celebrated of them all Untamed Youth (1957) — both of which star Mamie Van Doren — to an early examination of juvenile delinquency such as Youth Runs Wild (1944) — the emphasis has entirely shifted.

While Youth Runs Wild (1944) does concern itself explicitly with juvenile delinquency, it manages to confuse the notions of both delinquency and being juvenile enough so that a teenager turning to vehicle theft can essentially be grouped with the same set of issues that leads to toddlers running out in front of road traffic.

The notion then in Youth Runs Wild (1944) is so confused because the idea of the teenager had not fully emerged by this point, and there is no specific zone of being between childhood and adulthood — one steps from one into the next with no buffer period of painful examination or criminal temptation.

Indeed, the entire focus on the youth in Youth Runs Wild (1944) is on nurturing all children into safe and conservative living, even though with more than half of the adults being corrupted by either alcohol, sex, cynicism or poverty — or combinations of them all — Youth Runs Wild (1944) does somewhat stand alone, as it seems to suggest that children should be kept childish for as long as possible, 

There were forces turning against Hollywood in the immediate post-war era, and combined they looked set to damage not just the box office receipts, but the entire standing of movies as the favoured medium of the masses. 

In May 1948, in a federal antitrust suit known as the Paramount case brought against the entire Big Five On May 4, 1948, in a federal antitrust suit known as the Paramount case brought against the entire Big Five — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (owned by Loews Incorporated, owner of America's largest theatre chain), Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox and RKO Radio Pictures —  the U.S. Supreme Court specifically outlawed block booking. 

First there was the collapse of the studio system which began to de-centralise power in Hollywood. One of the techniques used to support the studio system was block booking, a system of selling multiple films to a theatre as a unit. Such a unit — five films was the standard practice for most of the 1940s — typically included only one outstanding film, with the rest being a mix of A-budget pictures of lesser quality and B movies.

John Saxon in Running Wild (1955)

Holding that the conglomerates were in violation of antitrust, the justices refrained from making a final decision as to how that fault should be remedied, but the case was sent back to the lower court with language that suggested the answer was the complete separation of exhibition interests from producer-distributor operations.

John Saxon in Running Wild (1955)

Another factor gnawing into the heart of the industry at the time were the actions of HUAC, as well as the growth of a suburban society that preferred television to movies. As the economic basis of the family film declined and as commercial interest were challenged and political attacks increased, Hollywood began to experience uncertainty. The discovery of the teenage market in the midst of this did at least provide a way forward.

It so happened that juvenile delinquency pictures, or the teenage tearaway genre or more generally the social problem feature — great examples of which were The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) — proved very popular with teen audiences who could now see reflected on the screen their issues, their clothes, their desires and their fears.

Keenan Wynn in Running Wild (1955)

The same solvency which allowed this generation to go to the cinema was at the same time providing them with the money to buy clothes which distinguished them from the adult population, as well as the malted chocolate shakes they drank at the diners, the coins for the juke-boxes that played Bill Hailey, and even the cars they dreamed of, aspired to and drove.

The results, some of these birthed directly from the film noir style, were a host of host of rock and roll films  with Rock around the Clock (1956) among the first, juvenile delinquent films, hot rod movies, and teen horror pics. 

Jan Merlin (IMDB) in Running Wild (1955)

While the older folks now perpetually sat at home in the suburbs with their increasingly sanitised form of mass entertainment in the television, the teenagers could witness their own subculture developing in real time on the big screen — often at the drive-in — in what became cinema-as-realisation and an expression of their greatest hopes and fears.

Common themes around both motor-car based pictures and horror pictures were a longing for authentic manhood and whatever the hell that might mean, anyway. Hollywood had never been straight up about that and the 1930s had attempted to shift the emphasis out of themes of crime and punishment into a more morally religious and conservative tone, imposing powerful restrictions on many aspects of storytelling, most powerfully those around relationships, love, sex and crime.  

These are obviously themes which leap to the fore in teenage movies too, which express at the very least a certain confusion and anxiety around what love was, and what it meant to love somebody.

Troubled teen films tell us more however. Why for example do the youngsters of the the type best represented in the 1930s by The Dead End Kids, best known from Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), prove to be a focus with a message being on how is it that kids from poor neighbourhoods at are risk of turning to crime?

By the slow-swinging centre of the 1950s it seems to be that the rebelliousness of middle-class youth is what America is beginning to care more about. 

What explains youthful fascination with delinquency, and what were middle-class parents worried about?

During this period, there began a sexy, deadly, bright, fractious, intractable, and soon to be ungovernable interplay of influences that contributed to a perceived increase in juvenile delinquency, and film noir more than played its part.

The rise of popular culture, including movies, music, and television, played a role in shaping youth culture. Rebel figures and delinquent characters became popular in movies and other media, influencing the perceptions and aspirations of young people.

The emergence of rock and roll music, with its rebellious and energetic sound, became a symbol of youthful independence. Artists like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry personified the rebellious spirit of the era, contributing to a sense of cultural change.

William Campbell and Kathleen Case in Running Wild (1955)

Actor James Dean, through his roles in films like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), became an iconic figure representing teenage rebellion. His untimely death in 1955 further solidified his status as a symbol of youthful defiance.

William Campbell in Running Wild (1955)

The post-war economic boom contributed to increased disposable income among middle-class families. With more money to spend, teenagers had greater access to leisure activities and consumer goods, fostering a sense of independence.

Some middle-class parents were concerned about what they perceived as a decline in moral values. The changing social landscape and the rise of youth subcultures, including greasers and beatniks, were viewed by some as signs of moral decay.

The transition from childhood to adolescence can be a challenging period for both teenagers and their parents. Parental anxiety about the influence of peers, the impact of new cultural trends, and the fear of losing control over their children contributed to concerns about delinquency.

Some teenagers experienced a sense of social alienation or disconnection. The desire to rebel against societal norms and authority figures was, in part, a response to feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction.

Cold War tensions, the fear of communism, and concerns about the influence of subversive ideologies also contributed to a climate of anxiety. Some middle-class parents associated delinquency with a broader breakdown of social order.


Alternate Title:The Girl in the Cage

Release Date:December 1955

Premiere Information:New York opening: 11 Nov 1955

Production Date:early Jun--22 Jun 1955

Copyright Info

Claimant Date Copyright & Number Universal Pictures Co., inc.2 December 1955LP5687

Running Wild (1955) on Wikipedia

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