Jail Bait

Jail Bait (1954): United States – directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild violence and sly, semi-nudity

Jail Bait is one of the movies made by the infamous Ed Wood, whose life was chronicled in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood [review here].  For a director known only by the awful movies he created, Ed Wood certainly deserves the recognition.  Jail Bait is no exception, and possibly even worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space.

One of the primary reasons why this movie is so terrible is the plot.  The title refers to a gun, which is the reason a kid named Don (Clancy Malone) gets thrown in jail.  His sister and father (who’s a respected plastic surgeon) look out for him but he’s a rebel and old enough (21 years old) to mess up things for himself.  So he carries around a gun and gets mixed up with a real gangster.  They rob a theater and Don shoots and kills the night guard.  They run for it, escaping the scene of the crime, but soon Don wants to go to the police to confess.  He’s not a bad kid, he’s just a bit mixed up.

The real gangster, Vic (Timothy Farrell), makes an attempt to get away from the situation entirely, and the first step is shooting Don.  He pretends to hold Don as ransom (though he has already killed him), in order to force Don’s father, Doctor Gregor (Herbert Rawlinson), to perform plastic surgery on his face so that no one can recognize him.  After some ridiculous happenings, the doctor performs the surgery on Vic’s couch.  Two weeks later Vic has to show up at the doctor’s house to get the bandages off, but the doctor tipped off the police because he already saw Don’s dead body at Vic’s place.  So the police arrive at the same time as Vic, and everyone awaits the reveal.  The bandages come off and everyone is shocked.

At this point Vic claims that he is not Vic, and no one can tell because his face is heavily bandaged, and he claims he can prove that he is not Vic because he has a different face.  *Spoiler* It turns out the doctor gave Vic his own son’s face so that now Vic looks like Don and is wanted for the murder of the security guard!  *End Spoiler* And yes, I realize I spoiled the movie, but that scene is the only reason to watch the film in the first place.

The plot sucks and is dreadful and nothing happens that might resemble real life.  But why else does the movie suck so much?  It’s boring, for one thing, but so are many other films.  Yes, the acting seems as though everyone stands still and recites their lines; they very rarely move their bodies in any way or react when speaking.  The dialogue is repetitive and stupid.  And yes, the directing sucks, with many shots poorly framed (ie. people speaking with their faces away from the camera for no reason).

I finally realized what takes this movie to an even deeper level of dreadfulness.  It’s the fact that the small things, the things we take for granted in even the crappiest of horror movies, are executed in Jail Bait with complete ineptitude.  The sets suck.  Seriously, every room and place where action takes place is pretty much barren of any detail.  There’s a couch, a coffee table, and maybe a lamp, all contained within a blank room.  It’s as though they didn’t have any money and didn’t even bother to scrounge or beg for props and set decorations.  This complete lack of attention to detail, from big details like the plot and what people are saying, all the way down to small details like what is appearing in any given shot, is what makes Ed Wood so special.

Unless you’re a fan of absolutely awful movies, there’s no reason to see this.  There’s a sort of strip tease performed at the beginning of the film, and the scene is rather risque for 1954 in case you’re interested in the history of film nudity.  Perhaps the movie was so awful that the censors didn’t care.  Other than that one scene, the film is not exploitative enough to interest exploitation fans, and not violent enough to be shocking.  Viewers interested in searching out the very drecks of cinema should definitely watch Jail Bait, a film that would be as reviled as Plan 9 from Outer Space if more people had seen it.

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