Tooting on the old devil's lettuce has long been associated as the gateway to hard drugs, and in the case of Robert C. Dertano's Girl Gang (1954), it supports this sentiment to the fullest. Like many exploitation films from the fifties, Girl Gang purports to serve as a cautionary moral tale, but its true purpose is to titilate and sensationalise. The film follows the three basic fundamentals of vintage juvenile delinquency films: sex, drugs and rock & roll (that's four, innit?).
selling point is in its title, which is about as faithful as its sincerity in social commentary. The film chiefly focuses on Joe
the Big Boss, played by Timothy Farrell; a drug
peddler who turns young teens into drug addicted slaves, with them resorting to
crime inorder to fund their next fix. June and
Jack appear as junkie lieutenants in Joe's criminal empire. They're versitile figures: from
floggin' stolen cars, blackmail scams, to recruiting new blood, they help create drug addled slaves while being addicts themselves. There's also Doc Bradford, played by Buster Keaton's younger brother Harry; a struck-off doctor who
oddly appears ashamed of his actions at times, yet that still doesn't stop him from being a sleazy lowlife and taking advantage of the girls.
Of course, being an unrealistic film, the things young jezebels would do for some wacky baccy is hilarious to see on screen. Any route causes for drug addiction such as poverty, trauma or mental disorder, are wholly ignored and simply conveyed by our juvenile junkies being nothing but complete morons. Take youngsters Wanda and Bill embarking on their first steps into becoming chronic weed heads, by getting caned on Joe's flea ridden sofa and press ganged into a petrol station robbery (it's always a petrol station); on a Sunday, of all days. Requiem for a Dream this ain't, but it's these unrealistic examples of youngsters being led astray which makes Girl Gang so much fun and charming. However, what Girl Gang does offer are surprisingly graphic instances of heroin use, which must have struck audiences back then as very transgressive.
Stand out scenes include a the dingy, shindig, where the teens are caned and a Jerry Lee Lewis wannabe is hammering on the piano in some dank looking garage. Hilariously, they start bustin' moves until they're knackered and want to spark up again. A couple of them wind-up making out on some old piss-stained looking mattress; how ghetto is that? One of the girls forces one poor sod to a back room so she can get "initiated". Once in the room, an occupied light starts flashing.
As one would expect with most films involving a robbery, the heist
doesn't exactly go smoothly, and our poor ruffians become fatal
casualties in Joe's bumbling endeavour. The final moments of the film
consist of a hilarious chase sequence where two armed cops shoot a
fleeing and completely unarmed Doc Bradford in the back. Oddly
reminiscent of Gene Hackman's shot in The French Connection (1971), but with a fraction of the budget and none of William Friedkin's expert direction.
Seen a few of Dertano's films and other than some recurring cast members (e.g. Farrell and Keaton), they tend to follow a familiar template: the awkward ogling over women scenes; a seedy boss pulling the strings from his den; the inevitable double-cross, a heist that goes wrong, and a righteous monologue via an authoritarian / elder to justify its intentions. These are far from honest social commentaries, but then again, neither are some of today's offerrings like Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022), which portrays today's youths in a similarly pathetic and dishonest manner as of those from seventy years ago, but all the more insufferably annoying due to social media culture. Girl Gang is a favourite for being Dertano's most enjoyable film watched so far in his catalogue, which marks this as another notable entry in the canon of juvenile delinquency movies.