Shamedown #8: Underworld Scandal

Big_Town_Scandal_poster
Wikipedia

We’re back with another Shamedown, people, and the titles just keep getting more generic (Heh. Just wait until next month.). If anyone is coming in late and is therefore fuzzy on what a Shamedown is, the details can be found here.

Juvenile delinquency rose hugely all over the world both during and after the Second World War. Experts tried blaming comic books for the trend, but the more immediate issue was that children were left unsupervised for hours a day while the adults were off at work. Robbery and hooliganism were the most common crimes committed by kids and teens, and in Britain, for instance, public air raid shelters were especial hotspots. After the war the rates continued to rise, and the popularity of JD literature and movies probably didn’t help.

Kids street gambling in New York, 1937. (The Guardian)

Like musicals had been during the early talkie days, JD films and books were cranked out at an incredible rate. Some of the films, like Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without A Cause, were slick, big-budget features, but many of them fell inescapably into B- or C-picture status, possibly even lower. 1948’s Underworld Scandal, also known as Big Town Scandal, was one such teeny-budget film, albeit with a respectable cast.

The movie opens with a gang robbing a sporting goods store. They almost get away, but then one of them drops something through a skylight and they get caught. None of them have parents; they either live alone or with neglectful relatives.

Instead of doing the then-obvious thing and sending the boys to reform school, the judge releases them into the custody of Steve Wilson (Phillip Reed), editor of the Illustrated Press, after more than a little wheedling from his star reporter, Lorelei Kilbourne (Hillary Brooke). Steve figures the paper can give all the boys jobs and they’ll set up a gym for them so they can play basketball.

It works pretty well, with one exception: Tommy Malone (Stanley Clements) falls in with an underground crime ring, driving stolen furs to wherever the gang needs them delivered to. He also throws his team’s basketball games so his bosses can win bets, a move which baffles his teammates because everyone knows he’s the best player on the team.

Tommy makes tons of money from his illicit activities, which allows him to shower his girlfriend, Marion (Donna Martell) with presents, but everything has a way of coming to light. Steve and Lorelei aren’t going to let any of their charges fall back into their JD ways and they start doing a little investigating. Put it this way: While Tommy may have slipped up, he’s not irredeemable, and in the end, the criminals make some monumentally stupid mistakes.

Big Town Scandal clocks in at just over an hour, and while it gets the job done in that it’s not boring, it’s not exactly interesting, either. A lot of the actors playing the toughs are absurdly too old for their roles; with the exception of Darryl Hickman, who was seventeen at the time, most of them were in their early twenties.

The other problem is that all the characters are underutilized; for the most part, the boys’ collective path to reformation looks way too easy. We don’t see any real mentoring going on or anything that would show progress besides the fact that these kids endlessly play basketball, and anyone who’s seen the Challenger Club episodes of MacGyver knows that there’s room for teaching moments despite a short running time.

Scandal was based on a popular radio show, Big Town, about a newspaper editor who works to root out corruption in his town. It’s a little like The Green Hornet, only with glamorous reporter Lorelei instead of a masked-up Kato. The film was the last in a series of four and never released in theaters, as its studio, Pine-Thomas shelved the series in 1948, leaving the films to languish.

Who knows why this was the case; maybe Pine-Thomas didn’t see the series as profitable enough to keep going on with; the first two movies weren’t received all that well, and in the case of Big Town Scandal, the few industry reviews definitely weren’t great. Adjectives like “perfunctory,” “routine,” and “staple” were bandied around by the Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, which also pointed out, “Incidentally, no one seems to do any work on {the Illustrated Press}; they are always mixed up in some crime-fighting shenanigans.”

Big Town‘s time on the shelf was brief, though, as the series came to television in 1950, garnering six successful seasons. The series included the four original movies, the titles of which were changed for legal reasons; hence Big Town Scandal became Underworld Scandal. Today, unfortunately, the series is a lesser-known relic of a time when juvenile delinquency was as fashionable as it is problematic. The acting is good, but it fills time and not much else.

All right, people, we have a couple of business thingies to attend to before we wrap up. First of all, we have this month’s Pick My Movie Tag winner, who just so happens to be (drum roll, please)…

Beth Ann from Spellbound With Beth Ann!

Congrats, Beth Ann! The mission, if she chooses to accept it, is to review something from her watchlist, and the longer it’s been there, the better. The rules can be found here, and if anyone else feels like jumping on this tag, feel free!

Now, here’s what’s coming up, blogathon-wise, in September (besides Broadway Bound, of course). Click on the images for more information:

9thAnnualRuleBritanniaBlogathonCatchUsclassicfilmblogathon2022silentmovieday2-5

All right, that’ll do it. Thanks for reading, all, and I’ll see you in about a week with a new “Stage To Screen”…


Underworld Scandal is available on DVD from Amazon and is free to stream for Prime customers.

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If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.


Bibliography

Erickson, Hal. From Radio To the Big Screen: Hollywood Films Featuring Broadcast Personalities and Programs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2014.

8 thoughts on “Shamedown #8: Underworld Scandal

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