"The Explosive Generation" (1961) is one of 19 new MGM catalog titles that are being released this month in the fourth wave of the MGM Limited Edition Collection, available to fans via manufacturing-on-demand--MOD--which really should stand for "movies on demand," if that label wasn't already taken. You order a movie through your favorite online retailer, then the manufacturer prints a copy and sends it to you. There are gems to be had in this latest wave, which we reported in an earlier news post that included a complete list of titles and descriptions.
While "The Explosive Generation" isn't one of those gems, it's still an interesting black-and-white film because it stars William Shatner (Yes, Capt. Kirk himself!) in his first major role in a feature film after a decade in television playing mostly minor parts. Though the Beatnik drumming of bongos in the background makes you flash-forward to all of those campy Priceline commercials he's done, this was Shatner before he turned into a scene-munching ham. His performance is decent, actually--unlike anything you've probably seen him in before. And look for Billy Gray of "Father Knows Best" fame in a dramatic role as well.
Shatner plays a high school teacher who tries to get his students (Gray, among them) talking about the problems seniors face en route to college. But it turns out that sex is what they really want to talk about--especially since the previous night there was a beer bash after a basketball game, and some of the girls asked to stay later didn't exactly feel comfortable with the old "prove your love" line their boyfriends fed them. They think about sex too, but were a little shocked by what was expected of them.
That theme must have felt just a little dated even as "The Explosive Generation" played in theaters, because the Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill the previous year, in 1960. By 1967, all hell would break loose with a "make love not war" hippie movement that would make this film seem oh so quaint. How jarring it is, then, to have dramatic--edgy even--bongo Beat music for an opening that features a bunch of clean-cut looking kids with short hair and lettermen's sweaters sitting in the stands at a high school basketball game. The real explosive generation would be these kids' younger siblings who would protest the war in Vietnam--not the dismissal of a teacher. The really explosive generation would take on riot police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and later overturn cop cars in Grant Park because Sly and the Family Stone didn't show up for a promised free concert--not quietly move their street party-protest of a dismissed teacher inside, after a single threat to turn the fire hose on them.
But this script from Joseph Landon ("Von Ryan's Express," "Rio Conchos") at least steers clear of "gee whiz" dialogue like people were getting on period TV shows like "Leave It to Beaver." And veteran TV movie director Buzz Kulik--best known for "Brian's Song" (1971), a tearjerker about NFL roommates Gale Sayers and the late Brian Piccolo--has a nice sense of scene. It's heavily dated, but perhaps all the more interesting because of that. "The Lost Generation" is a blast from the past--of interest because of its portrayal of "issues" and attitudes of parents and teens. Lee Kinsolving and Patty McCormack play the main teens, whose "petting" ends up being the focus of a parental witch hunt that's prompted by news of Mr. Gifford's essay assignment. The year after this film played in theaters, the Cuban Missile Crisis would mark America's coming of age, and shortly thereafter hippies, yippies, and just plain rebellious youths would question the government and institutions that continued to make war a standard operating procedure. It's this knowledge that makes "The Lost Generation" a fascinating film document, in retrospect.
For a B movie the production values are also not bad. There's not as much film grain as I'd have expected, and the contrast levels are decent. The film is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Nothing fancy here: just a Dolby Digital Mono in English that at least doesn't have much in the way of noise or distortion.
As with the other movies on demand titles, there are no bonus features. This is a bare-bones release, with the same template used on all the covers (with different artwork laid in) and a plain spine. There aren't even any paper advertisements inside, and the menu screen has just one option (play movie) with the direction that directional arrows can be used to navigate the film at 10-minute intervals.
It's not great cinema, by any stretch of the imagination, but for a B movie "The Explosive Generation" isn't half bad--and it's fun watching Shatner in his first big feature role.