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Teenage Devil Dolls

a/k/a One Way Ticket to Hell

Part Five of JD's & Rocketbras

     "Addicts have a strange code of ethics."

-- Lt. Jason, a poor man's Joe Friday    

 

     

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Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

They searched and they searched, but the plot was never heard from again.

 

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Sights &
Sounds:
Teenage
Devil Dolls
(1955)
 Dept. of Social Welfare /
 UCLA Film School

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Our film begins with a slow pan of a city; a city like any other city; a city that could be mine, or yours -- or any 1950ís era police drama. Zeroing in on a hospital entrance, a narrator quickly introduces us to the players in our forthcoming melodrama as they are escorted to a waiting police car. First is Cassandra Lee (Barbara Marks). Apparently, Cassie, who has just been through a three-year ordeal of crime and drug-addiction, is in the process of being transferred to a federal hospital for mandated rehabilitation. Accompanied by her mom (Lucile Price) and her most recent step-dad, the girl is herded along by a Lt. Jason (Robert Sherry), who will provide a police escort to the train station -- and who will also serve as the narrator, a vital role as there is almost no dialogue in this whole film. As they leave, Jason spots Cholo Martinez (Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr. -- and we'll be dealing with him in a minute), Cassieís former boyfriend and heroin supplier, following them. A target of several outstanding warrants, Jason secretly calls for some back-up to take the pusher down. Baiting the thug along toward the station, the detective fears that Cassie might tip-off her former lover before help can arrive, and while the dragnet slowly closes in, Jason decides to tell us all about the girl's sad and harrowing journey from normal everyday teen to heroin-addicted thief and drug-pusher.

Uh-oh, flashback:

As we turn back the clock, we see that Cassie didn't have a very happy home life. Taking the Elizabeth Taylor approach to marriage, Mom hasnít set a very good example, and since her life hasnít been fulfilled, she takes these frustrations out on her daughter. Working at Momís Five and Dime, that's close to a motorcycle-repair shop, Cassie quickly falls for a tuff named Packard (William Kendall), who offers her a ride. Unimpressed with the young punk, when Mom wags a forbidding finger, Cassie replies with another finger, hops on the bike, and away they go, down the road to ruin, clutching a one way ticket to hell...

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In making the picture, One Way Ticket to Hell,  the producers felt they were doing a public service by exposing this menace to the people of the nation. All should see One Way Ticket to Hell, for if this picture will save one life from the ravages of this evil then this film was not made in vain. A must for every person in the United States who is interested in their personal health as well as their loved ones.

-- From the Press Material     

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Based on six months of research into the growing problem of juvenile narcotics addiction, Teenage Devil Dolls -- a/k/a One Way Ticket to Hell -- began life as Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr.'s senior documentary thesis as he finished up film school at UCLA. Tapping into America's acute sense of paranoia on such matters, Price's seedy, no-frill's tale of a good girl gone bad has a strange sense of verisimilitude that strikes a chord with the viewer as we wallow around the underbelly of Los Angeles -- but it is a short note that quickly fades as we're rapidly buried under an avalanche of some hilarious prosthelytizing and brow-beating cynicism on the evils of America's rampant youth.

Seriously, the film is nothing but one long narrative by Lt. Jason doing his best Sgt. Joe Friday imitation. Alas, Robert Sherry is no Jack Webb -- though he tries his damndest to match Webb's droll, matter-of-fact cadence and brow-beating cynicism, he can't pull it off. Very straightforward while spouting of his pop-psychology and describing the slang terms used by the junkies, he also ends every sentence with an aside of moralistic indignity about the entire goings on that will leave you chuckling.

An aside of moralistic indignity? Did I just type that? What does that even mean?

As with most films of this type, drugs are only one of the symptoms of a much larger disease -- the impending implosion of the American family unit. And also like most other films of this ilk, hiding the accusations behind the drug use, rabble-rousing, and thrill-killing, the blame falls surreptitiously on the mother, who in this enlightened, post-war age no longer remained at home to mind the children. Price's docu-drama is no different. Essentially rebelling against her mother and the bad example she's set, an emotionally starved Cassie begins running with Packard's crowd in an attempt to fit in at least somewhere. At first, the girl resists the temptation of the reefer, but eventually caves to pressure and tokes up. 

What follows is a typical cinematic marihuana reaction: hysterical giggling followed by a glassy, thousand-yard stare, which is totally unbelievable because not a one of them gets the munchies.

Soon enough, these extracurricular activities have an adverse effect on her schoolwork and in short order, Cassie flunks out and loses all her old friends -- except for Johnny (Robert Norman), who always had a crush on her. Eventually, he sways her back to the straight and narrow. They even get married, but she doesnít adjust well to domesticated life and it isnít long before Cassieís running off with Packard and toking up a storm again. Johnny -- being another kind of dope -- sticks with her. Getting her a psychiatrist, sedatives, and a new puppy, doesn't help, though, and Cassie appears to be headed for a nervous breakdown. As their home life continues to crumble, her outbursts get so bad that Johnny is constantly sent home from work to straighten his wife out. And on one particular occasion he arrives home to discover Cassie has forged her own prescription refills, is addicted to goofballs, and in the middle of a suicide attempt! Another trip home finds her over-medicated again and tripping out in the front yard, and when Johnny heads inside to call for help, Cassie, meanwhile, crawls into their car, cranks it up, and proceeds to wreck it. 

After serving a brief sentence for DUI, Cassie is released into the custody of her parents and her husband -- but none of them appear to be too happy that sheís out. Looking to link up with Packard again, Cassie immediately violates her probation and runs away. It is here where she first meets Lt. Jason, posing as buyer, who's looking for Packard to bust him for pushing. Putting Cassie under surveillance, he watches her work as a car-hop and soon discovers the drive-in restaurant is nothing but a front where the waitresses deliver drugs to customers taped to the bottom of the food trays. And Cassie does such a good job that the big boss promotes her to run an apartment where kids come to get high. (Oh, no. Itís turning into Reefer Madness.) The only problem is, Cassie has a bad habit of using all the drugs for herself! And little does she know, but the apartment has been staked out for a months. But when the place is raided, the evidence is ground up in the garbage disposal before the police can seize it. They still have enough to convict Cassie on another charge, but instead, Jason decides to put her on probation (-- Again? --) and wants to turn her into an informant. He knows sheíll accept the offer because all junkies are born narcs who'll drop a dime on anybody as long as they get their next fix.

While on probation, Cassie rats out a few other pushers but nothing real substantial. And as soon as her probation ends, she disappears off the radar again until stumbling upon Marge Rossi (Elaine Lindenbaum) in a back alley while they're both going through heroin withdrawal. The two eventually dry out, hit it off and soon go into business for themselves pushing reefer. Quickly creating a monopoly (-- Jason says itís because people enjoy the novelty of getting their drugs from two women --), the girls just as quickly piss off the wrong people -- and one man in particular: a Sven Berman a/k/a the drug king of this unnamed city. Rounding the girls up, Sven (Joel Climenhaga) forcefully re-addicts Marge to heroin but Cassie gives herself willingly to the needle. Four months later, sheís found in another alley going through withdrawal. This time, her parents commit her to the psycho-ward to dry out, but this also fails when Marge manages to sneak in a heroin fix whenever Cassie needs it.

Meanwhile, the City Fathers, tired of the growing drug epidemic, prod the police into Operation: Clean Up. A massive round-up of all drug pushers and addicts ensues, but Sven evades capture. Thinking Marge ratted him, he kills her. Time passes, but Cassie still hasnít learned her lesson and has now taken up with Cholo Martinez and his partner, Sanchez. (What happened to Sven? I donít know. I might have dozed off. Sorry everybody.) Together, theyíve formed a car-theft ring that exchanges the stolen autos for heroin down in Mexico to be sold back in the States. Again, they donít realize that they are under the watchful eye of the police and are about to be the victims of a trap about to be sprung. Snatching another car, the trio heads for the border. Jason tails them, hoping to nab the Mexican drug source. At a gas station near the border, they close in and finally make their move ... The cops do nail Sanchez, but Martinez and Cassie manage to escape. Covering all roads into Mexico, the authorities soon discover the couple's abandoned car -- and their stash of heroin -- and it appears they fled into the desert on foot, where Jason almost feels sorry for them out in that heat, stuck without their junk, going through withdrawal.

Shakin' and bakin', Martinez and Cassie manage to find some shade but canít escape the effects of the heroin -- and soon they're both going bonkers, flying into a raging, foaming-at-the-mouth fit. And since the filmís barely broken the 45-minute barrier (-- yep, all a that in under 45 minutes), we get a long, long sequence of the local posse combing the desert looking for them. Fifteen padded minutes later, they find Cassie, barely alive, but Martinez has given them the slip again. (And I think I know why. More on this later.)

...Thus endeth the flashback.

Back at the station, just as the train comes to a stop, the police quickly nab Martinez without incident. (Rather anti-climatically, I might add.) After Cassie and her mother board the train, as it departs, we're on the verge of a happy ending until Jason reminds us that there is no guarantee that Cassie will get better. And judging by her history, you kinda doubt it.

Bummer.

The End

Wow. They didnít even bother to change the names to protect the innocent in this one because everybodyís guilty in this thing! And the moral of the story? (I mean besides the fact that thereís more than one way to pad out a film.) Donít accept motorcycle rides from strangers. Avoid tripped-out vagrants in any back alleyways. And contrary to popular belief, a new puppy will not break someone of their dope-addiction.

Again. Wow.

This caustic, cautionary tale of a clean-cut girl led down the path of addiction and self-destruction, Teenage Devil Dolls was the actual inspiration for this J.D.ís and Rocket-Bras retrospective, and one can only boggle at its origins.

Taking two years to complete at a cost of about $14000, Price's student film quickly gained some notoriety when it received a few national awards, including one from the Producer's Guild of America, and that generated enough buzz that eventually led to a theatrical release. As the '50s gave way to the 1960's, with the loosening-up of the production code's stringent rules on such taboo subjects, Teenage Devil Dolls could also be considered one of the last pictures of its kind as films about drug-use became less stridently docu- and more sympathetic drama. And maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Looking at it today, one can't help but notice that pretty white girl Cassie is given chance after chance to reform while Sven and Martinez -- both dirty foreigners, are deemed a menace and will be locked-up and stamped out for good if ever caught. Sad.

And I do find it a little absurd when it appears every single person in town -- aside from Johnny and the police force -- is addicted to something. This is hilariously punctuated during Operation: Clean Up as the entire town -- deprived of its drugs -- goes through one mass withdrawal. People collapse everywhere: in phone booths, on the streets and in the parks -- and everyone one of them reduced to quivering and foaming idiot. Also note how when we begin the flashback, Jason says Cassie went through a three-year ordeal, but with each step he takes us through, he gives us the dates and places -- and if you add it all up it equals to, oh, about twenty or so years. And check out the stock-soundtrack. If it sounds familiar it should; itís the same incidental music you hear in all those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Space Ghost, The Herculoids and Scooby Doo. Zoinks!

Teenage Devil Dolls appears to be Price's only film -- maybe he was just burned out after writing, directing, producing, editing and starring as the villain in the first one. Looking at the cast list, the credits are littered with other Prices, including his mom, dad and sister. And if you look closely, not only is Price playing Martinez, but I'm pretty sure that's also him playing the eye-patched Sheriff down on the Mexican border. That's right: as we cut from scenes of him wigging out as Martinez, we switch to him as the Sheriff looking for himself as Martinez. Again, this goes on for almost fifteen minutes. (No wonder it took so long.) Still, I wouldn't call his brief career in Hollywood a complete failure. He was married to Honey West star Anne Francis for several years after all, but alas, that ended in divorce right after the completion of the film.

One Way Ticket to Hell a/k/a Teenage Devil Dolls (1955) Dept. of Social Welfare :: UCLA / P: Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr. / D: Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr. / W: Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr. / C: William R. Lieb, S. David Saxon / E: Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr. / M: Robert Drasnin / S: Barbara Marks, Kurt Martell, Robert A. Sherry, Bamlet Lawrence Price Jr.

More J.D.'s & Rocket-Bras!

Originally Posted: 10/28/00 :: Rehashed 04/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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