Sunday, October 23, 2011

70's Television - Teenage Girls in Trouble

Linda Blair, Born Innocent (1974)

When talking about exploitation movies, we normally are talking about films made on the quick by small production companies for little budgets, with maybe the top of the line material coming out of American International Pictures, at the very best. But in the 1970’s two of the major television networks, ABC and NBC, dived into the exploitation movie business with a gusto, producing a series of films featuring teenage girls in danger from drug addiction, alcoholism, the reformatory, prostitution and occasionally Martin Sheen, that without the advantage of the nudity and language of most B-Movies managed to be some truly amazingly, trashy films.

ABC had started it’s Movie of the Week series in 1970 and found itself with an instant hit soon moving to two nights a week. Steven Spielberg’s first film, Duel was a movie of the week, as was the original, truly scary first appearance of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchack, in The Night Stalker. Plus the series had some excellent dramas, a few comedies that have lived on in cult status, some pilots that went on to become regular series, such as the Six Million Dollar Man, and plenty of science fiction and horror.

ABC Movie of the Week Opening 1970

But along with the standard tv movie fare a series of films came out that all painted a truly scary picture of the dangers teenage girls face when going out into the big bad world of 1970’s America.

Go Ask Alice (1973) was originally presented with much fanfare from the network as both an adaptation of the best selling teen novel, but also a realistic and hard hitting look at the problem of drug abuse in America.

Jamie Smith Jackson - Go Ask Alice (1973)

Jamie Smith-Jackson stars as Alice, a young all American high school student living a quiet life with her parents including her college professor father, played by William Shatner.

After moving to a new city, Alice, an avid diarist, finds herself an outcast until she meets up with an old friend who takes her to a party where the two are served LSD laced sodas, leading poor Alice down the road to harder drugs, eventually running away from home and ending up first as the sexual slave of a scary California couple and then turning tricks in the street.

A bad moment for Alice and friend in Go Ask Alice (1973)

Eventually Alice pulls herself together and with the help of a kindly priest, played by Andy Griffith, returning home to her family and her old life.

Andy  Griffith and  Jamie Smith-Jackson, Go Ask Alice (1973)

That is until she is once again drugged against her will, is seriously injured and finds herself committed to an insane asylum.

Jamie Smith-Jackson, Go Ask Alice (1973)

Still with the love and support of her family Alice eventually recovers from her injuries, gets off of drugs, returns to school and begins dating a nice boy from the local university.

But tragedy strikes yet again as a voice over from Alice’s mother at the very end of the film tells us that shortly after giving up writing her dairy, Alice died of an overdose.

Go Ask Alice (1973)

So remember kids, don’t do drugs.

In the classic 1973 film The Exorcist, Linda Blair stunned audiences with her portrayal of a small girl possessed by Satan. After her success in that film, Blair moved to the small screen where things really didn’t go much better..

In, Sweet Hostage (1975), Linda plays a bored teenage girl living in the middle of the smallest town in the heart of the California desert, who one day gets kidnapped by insane asylum escapee Martin Sheen, and taken to a cabin hidden in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Sweet Hostage, part 1

Luckily for Linda though, Sheen is a friendly psychopath, less Ted Bundy and more Jack Kerouac, who isn’t interested in raping or killing the girl but instead wants to show her the beauty of the world and the wonder of poetry and nature walks.

Martin Sheen being moody in Sweet Hostage (1974)

Of course after some initial resistance on both sides, true love blooms and after a night of serious Ephebophilia on the part of Sheen’s character, a series of convoluted events conspire to “rescue” Blair sending her back to her dull, desert life and Sheen to the morgue.

Martin Sheen and Linda Blair, Sweet Hostage (1974)

A film that simply could not be made today, Sweet Hostage features a 15 year old Linda Blair with a 30+ year old Martin Sheen in a love story that is both very strange and still very sweet, while also being fundamentally wrong on so many levels that in the end all the viewer can hope is that once the Blair character grows up and gets out of her little town that she gets all sorts of therapy, but somehow you are pretty sure that will never happen.

As if being kidnapped by Martin Sheen wasn’t bad enough, the year before Blair starred in one of the most controversial and shocking television movies of all time, the notorious, Born Innocent (1974).

Poster for the DVD release of Born Innocent (1974)

Aired on NBC, Born Innocent is the story of an innocent and abused runaway girl who is arrested and sent to a girls reformatory made up of some of the meanest, most evil girls this side of the Big Bird Cage.

While most of Born Innocent is standard “women in prison” fare, the movie stunned the tv audience with a now infamous, extended scene where Blair is raped in a shower by her fellow inmates with the handle of a plunger.

The infamous rape scene from Born Innocent (1974)

While most of America was willing to watch teenage girls in all sorts of trouble, this was a bit too much and the outrage in the US at both NBC and the films producers led NBC to publicly apologize and promise to cut the scene if the movie was ever broadcast again.

Born Innocent (1974)

Despite the controversy, or maybe because of it, Born Innocent was a huge ratings hit, so soon enough Blair was back, this time as a young teenage girl who discovers the danger of both alcohol abuse and dating MarkHamill, in Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975).

Linda Blair and Mark Hamill, Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975)

Not nearly as shocking as Born Innocent, Sarah T still managed to have Blair sexually assaulted while passed out, showing yet again that Linda Blair either had the most difficult on screen teen years, or maybe the most realistic. Having actually lived in that era, I have my own opinions.

Original trailer for Sarah T, Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic

The next year, giving Linda a break from all the dangers of 70’s teendom, NBC cast former Brady middle child Eve Plumb in the story of a young girl who falls into prostitution, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976).

Eve Plumb and Bo Hopkins, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976)

Dawn is another innocent girl fleeing from a bad home life who falls into the stable of what had to be the only white pimp in 1970’s cinema, long time film badman, Bo Hopkins.

Dawn falls in love with a male prostitute Alexander, played by Leigh McCloskey, who would get his own spinoff the next year, and we follow the two as they fall further and further into the life of LA street whores, until in another convoluted and violent finale, the two are freed from their evil pimp and Dawn returns home to her family knowing at last, much like Dorothy, that there is no place like home.

Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976)

Honestly, Dawn is not that great a film, sleazy but too much of a soap opera for my taste, but there is still something perversely appealing about watching Jan Brady turning tricks.

As television moved into the 80’s there would still be films with young girls in danger, but the stories would begin moving toward more traditional television tropes and leave the real sleaze behind. But as a fan of truly awful movies, the films of the 70’s, both despite and because of their flaws remain both enjoyable exploitation films, but also interesting reflections of the morals of the time.

It was a little hard not to notice that while each and every one of these films took the old approach of warning the American public about the existence of these problems in modern society, they all went to great lengths to be as raw and exploitive as they possible could get away with, and meanwhile the American public were happy to huff and puff about the shocking nature of these movies, but they still got great ratings.

And as Network long since showed us all, ratings are what really matter.


  1. Hi:

    Interesting (and shocking!) blog...
    I found it after looking for one of the movies shown here; BORN INNOCENT - known in my country as INOCÊNCIA ULTRAJADA. I used to watch it when I was a teenager/same age as CHRISTINE PARKER was _ and had some problems like she faced (bullying, didn´t want to stay in a school where I used to study). A hard phase.
    Sometimes I watch it in youtube in some languages. Still scaring. But what it concerns is teh REAL LIFE. People there acted so well. Some artists disappeared.
    I was wondering WHEN IT WAS FILMED (I read, minutes ago: she was 14 and 15 when was released). But she fat. I read she used to drink GIM. Two bottles in a day.
    Other films have the year wrong; SWEET HOSTAGE - in 1975. I saw too. Very sad.
    And in these times, the things shown there were a taboo: sometimes still are.

    Rodrigo (Brazil0

  2. ... pq tal vídeos dos anos 70?