The Cool and the Crazy (1958)

Scott Marlowe is Benny, the new boy in school, and he’s all attitude, which ticks off the local gang of toughs, led by Stu and Jackie (Dickie Jones and Richard Bakalyan). Benny’s got a little secret, though: he’s a pusher who’s come to town to infect the kids with marijuana and, inevitably, heroin (since we all know that mary jane leads to the hard stuff). When one of the “nice guys” in school gets the marijuana habit (“I gotta have some ‘smoke’ – I’m DYIN’ for it!”) and gets shot robbing a gas station for drug money, events begin to spiral out of Benny’s control.

THE COOL AND THE CRAZY was filmed on location in Kansas City, giving the picture a rough, realistic edge missing from the similarly-themed HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL. The cast is terrific, and there’s genuine tension between the three leads. Best of all is Richard Bakalyan as Jackie; the gang’s clown prince, he resists the lure of drugs and meets a nice girl (former child star Gigi Perreau), but his efforts to help his pals leads to tragedy. Yeah, the film’s anti-drug message is blatant (and inaccurate; one puff does not a nutcase make, in most cases) but that’s going to be a given in the films of that era. Also, if you’re looking for a film that lives up to its lurid exploitation (“Seven savage punks on a weekend binge of violence!”) you’re going to be surprised, as I was, to find, not a seedy little cult thriller, but a taut, well-done drama that ranks very close to the top of 1950s J.D. pictures.

In the late 1950s, famed serial and B-Western director William Witney had found a comfortable niche in television (ZORRO, FRONTIER DOCTOR, BONANZA), but he turned out a series of exploitation pictures that are all outstanding bits of low-budget cult pop; besides this one, he gave us THE BONNIE PARKER STORY, JUVENILE JUNGLE, and YOUNG AND WILD. If it weren’t for his earlier reputation director of such classic serials as THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL and MYSTERIOUS DR. Satan, he’d still be well remembered for his ’50s cult films.