If you’ve only ever seen director Robert Altman’s post-MASH (1970) films, then his first solo-directed feature, The Delinquents (1957), will surely come as a surprise. It’s precisely the sort of alarmist, juvenile delinquency picture you’d see so much of in the 1950s. It’s all hot-rodding, barroom brawls and illicit parties, foregrounded with a warning that the events depicted herein are a bane on the American way of life. This, dear American, is what your children are up to when you’re not looking, becoming “the hoods of tomorrow! The gun-molls of the future!”
Yessir, it’s good, old-fashioned fear-mongering of a sort that looks positively tame by comparison to today’s teens-gone-wild pictures. Here, it’s all necking, dancing, smoking, and (would you believe it?) underage drinking! And it all starts so innocently too, as these things always do. Young Scotty gets mixed up with the wrong crowd after he and his 16-year-old, would-be fiancé Janice are forced to split up by her parents, being simply too young and too devoted to one another. In the end, the titular delinquents with whom Scotty becomes involved end up killing a gas station attendant during a robbery, kidnap Scotty’s girl so he won’t rat on them, and the whole thing ends in a knife fight.
The details may be a bit different, but basically the film does the exact same thing Rebel Without a Cause did two years before it, attributing delinquency to bad parenting and the like. Only, The Delinquents does those things somewhat less effectively and with little of the nuance that makes Rebel such a classic. But matching or even surpassing Rebel wasn’t really the point. Altman knew when he made it that a by-the-numbers genre picture like this was exactly what he needed to prove himself to producers and break into the industry, and he did just that.
Though this was his first solo picture, the first feature Altman worked on was the popcorn-themed musical Corn’s-a-Poppin (1955), on which he served as co-director. Unfortunately, Corn’s-a-Poppin wasn’t the hit Altman likely hoped for, but The Delinquents certainly was in its own way. After all, it caught the eye of Alfred Hitchcock! After seeing The Delinquents, Hitchcock hired Altman as a director for the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and thus, the film jump-started the director’s television career that in turn led to his feature film career.
Altman would go back and forth on his opinion of The Delinquents throughout the rest of his life, alternating between extreme embarrassment and fondness. Given that it’s the film that jump-started Robert Altman’s legendary career in film and television, I for one can’t help but look back on it with great fondness, especially since I’m something of an Altman obsessive, having once taught a class on his work. As such, I was positively thrilled to learn that Olive Films was bringing it to Blu-ray.
Olive’s Blu-ray release of The Delinquents, available on March 21, 2017 alongside their release of the film on DVD, features a stunning HD visual transfer, as the film’s rich grain structure is beautifully maintained. To see it so beautifully presented, it’s like watching a different picture entirely from the poor quality streaming versions of the film I was forced to settle for in the past. Apart from the inclusion of the film’s trailer, Olive’s Blu-ray of The Delinquents is released without special features. That said, it’s such an important part of film history as Robert Altman’s big break into the industry that that hardly matters. I’m just thrilled to see it on a quality Blu-ray at all.
So if you’re an Altman fan like me, show some support for Olive Films and pick up their Blu-ray of The Delinquents ASAP. And with any luck then, Olive will be inspired to somehow secure the rights to release Corn’s-a-Poppin someday too. Weirder things have happened; Corn’s-a-Poppin was made, after all!