Teen Movie Retrospective: The 1950s

In the 1950s “public attention was focused on teens to an unprecedented degree in American culture” (Rollin Twentieth-Century Teen Culture by the Decades). Society, and cinema, had an interest in youth and the ever-expanding period of life known as adolescence. Gradually, post World War II, “the age between childhood and adulthood came to be codified, debated, celebrated, and perhaps most significantly, elongated” (Shary Generation Multiplex).

It was during this post-war period of the 1950s that teens began staying in school longer and their roles, rights and rites were being closely scrutinised by society. This is evidenced by the fact that the 1950s “has become identified with the teen movie”, with such iconic and influential productions as The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, and Rebel Without A Cause (Rollin). This elongation of adolescence, along with the post-war economic boom that America enjoyed, meant that “young people had more economic power than ever before” (Rollin). This economic power derived from allowances or incomes which were purely disposable and which teens enjoyed spending on entertainment (Gateward Where the Boys Are).

Despite being associated with teen films, the 1950s did not cement teen films as a genre. What the 1950s did was create iconic and influential teen movies, “awash in...archetypal images of teenage angst”, that used teens as subject matter, a subject that was popular at the time due to the fact that teenagedom was practically a new phenomenon (Doherty Teenagers and Teenpics). Whilst some of the most thought-provoking, serious, iconic and influential moments associated with the teen movie genre occurred in the 1950s, such as the blaring ‘Rock Around the Clock’ opening and closing of Blackboard Jungle, Jim Stark’s (James Dean) dysfunctional family in Rebel Without A Cause or the delinquent Johnny’s (Marlon Brando) infamous reply of “Whaddya got?” to Mildred’s (Peggy Maley) question “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?”, many teen films did not take their subject matter so seriously (Johnny and Mildred in The Wild One).

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