Teenage Mother

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Writer and director Jerry Gross’ infamous exploitation film Teenage Mother (1967) sets out to do three things. Firstly, Gross makes a rather progressive argument in favor of including sex education in the curriculums of American public schools. Secondly, Teenage Mother attempts to be a melodrama about a love triangle and teenage pregnancy. Lastly and most importantly, Gross promotes his earlier drive-in shocker Girl On A Chain Girl (1966) as often as possible.

Teenage Mother is most famous for the footage of an actual birth that functions as the climax of the film. The whole narrative of Teenage Mother is based around misunderstandings and taboos regarding sex that lead to the moment where sex-ed teacher Miss Petersen (Julie Ange) screens a 16mm film of a birth at her unofficial trial during an emergency town meeting. Gross is pretty ham-fisted in equating the small town’s reaction to Petersen’s teachings to the witch trials of some three-hundred years before. Knowledge is forever at odds with American Christian values after all.

However, Teenage Mother is not as compelling as it sounds. The bulk of the movie focuses on the rivalry between Duke (Frederick Riccio) and Tony (Howard Le May) for the affections of Arlene (Arlene Farber). These teenagers dance, argue, wrestle, and rebel with very little agency granted them by Gross’ direction. Arlene’s false claims of pregnancy that bring the town’s feelings regarding Miss Petersen to a head give the film its first true sense of dramatic thrust but it’s resolved so quickly that it never manages to make an impact.

While Duke and Tony fight over Arlene there is another competition going on between the local purveyor of smut and Miss Petersen whose text books make pornography obsolete. This petty gangster, in a desperate attempt to save his business, even brides a janitor with some “grass” to plant pornographic photographs in Miss Petersen’s desk in order to get her fired. It’s a brilliantly bonkers sub plot that’s even more hilarious when one considers that Miss Petersen is entirely unaware of the fact that she’s putting a small town gangster out of business.

Grainy, sweaty, sleazy and nonsensical, Teenage Mother is a classic bit of exploitation filmmaking from the sixties. Today it’s a fetish object or a curio of historical interest to film buffs. As so many others have noted before me, Teenage Mother also features a performance by a very young Fred Willard which I suppose helps keep the film relevant in some small way.