The grind house / exploitation film sub genre known as the biker film or teenage juvenile delinquent picture are fondly looked at today through a different lens. What seems to be cheap, simple and visceral entertainment capitalizing on trends or headlines has become a retro art form; often vaulting these films to cult status today. The function was to launch directors, actors , writers and crew to make quick money. The delinquent was often a male with great hair, leading man looks and clothes who rebelled against his school, family, friends and authority figures. There was a trial by vehicle to gain the love of a local girl. The other side of this was the female prison pictures. THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957)is one such example.
Warner Brothers produced this picture in its customary gritty house style . The film was directed by Bernard Girard, who went on to a massive career as a writer and director of segments of Playhouse 90, Alfred Hitchcock television series and many others. The writing was credited to Sally Stubblefield – blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. This picture marks the on camera debut of Susan Oliver: the green eyed blonde.
The story is set in a women’s reform school for wayward girls and unwed mothers near Los Angeles. Betsy Abel (Linda Plowman) has had a two month old baby and refuses to reveal the father and is being admitted to the school. Betsy hates her mother and has no problem expressing it openly much, to the shock of all concerned. The strict Mrs. Nichols (Jean Inness) tries to reason with everyone, without success. Betsy is taken into the school for an undetermined length of time to be befriended eventually by her roommates Trixie Budlong (Tommie Moore), Joyce (Carla Merey), Ousie (Beverly Long), and of course Phyllis ‘Greeneyes’ (Susan Oliver). Phyllis is about to be released in two months but cannot wait as she arranges a meeting down by the fence with her recovering addict boyfriend . The two meet away from prying eyes to smooch though the wire fence, and profess their love for each other.
Betsy’s mother and her boyfriend come to the school and threaten to put the baby up for adoption unless Betsy reveals who the father is. One of the girls in the reform school, Cuckoo (Norma Jean Neilson) steals the baby from the back seat of their car and hides it in the dormitory.
The girls work together to take care of the child by stealing milk, making diapers, and playing with the child while it sleeps in a box in the side room. Things are going well till the baby is discovered when a new worker at the school, Margaret Wilson (Sally Brophy), hears crying. The film becomes a race against discovery of the child by others and a surprise resolution to the identity of the father.
Susan Oliver does well in the role of Phyllis, even if she is not onscreen as much as others. Oliver slinks about, being sensual, yet at the same time being a little girl who packs away her favorite stuffed animal when leaving. The sensuality of Oliver is shown best in her moments with her boy friend at the fence.
The two literally make love to the wire fence in their desperation to be together. Oliver is blessed with “hooded bedroom eyes” that show quite well in black and white and later when their blueness is revealed in color productions. This picture was clearly meant to be her launch as she is featured on the poster and the title.
Susan Oliver had a varied career. She is mostly known today for being Vina, the Earth girl enslaved by the Talosian people of Talos IV, who crash lands and was not “put together right after the crash as they had no guide” in Star Trek’s original pilot film THE CAGE. The pilot film was later re edited into the two part episode THE MENAGERIE. Oliver also turned to directing and was an accomplished aircraft pilot. She was the fourth female pilot to cross the Atlantic solo in a single engine plane. She also had a commercial pilot’s license, and was contracted by Lear Jets to see if she would be interested in setting record times for them. Oliver raced aircraft, and was co pilot in a Piper Commanche in the 2760-mile transcontinental race known as the ‘Powder Puff Derby. ” It resulted in her being named ‘Pilot of the Year’ in 1970.
THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957) has strong performances by black male and female actors. Tommie Moore, as Trixie Budlong, lights up the screen with her smile and energy. Moore gives a heartfelt performance as she is reunited with her Father, played by Roy Glenn. Glen would go on to play (among other roles) Sidney Poitier’s father in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967) .
Juanita Moore takes a bow in an uncredited role as Miss Randall. Moore later plays Anne Johnson opposite Lana Turner in the 1959 version of IMITATION OF LIFE.
THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957) moves well, considering it uses a small amount of sets and exteriors. The story is a Dalton Trumbo one with hard hitting dialogue, risky for the time moments, such as same sex implications in scenes with the girls. It has a double edged ending with moments of strong emotions for all the actors.