In “Jail Bait”, Ed Wood applies his boundless enthusiasm and limited talent to the crime movie genre. From a technical viewpoint, it’s actually one of his less unsound features, although that cuts down somewhat on the unintentional laughs that it provides. The story is actually pretty solid, and could have served as the basis for a pretty good film-noir. Most of its weaknesses are in the acting, pacing, and dialogue, plus the occasional zany out-of-place detail.
The story uses a basically familiar setup, but adds a couple of extra components to it. Lyle Talbot and Steve Reeves play a pair of policemen investigating the misdeeds of a young man whose father is a highly respected doctor. The doctor and his daughter, meanwhile, try to protect the son both from the police and from the career criminal who has led him astray. For the most part, the story is conventional but believable, with a rather clever ending.
Most of the rest of the production does not come up to the level of the story. The ever-loyal Talbot gives his typically earnest performance, trying to make the dialogue sound as good as possible, while enduring some amusingly awkward interactions with the stilted Reeves. The rest of the cast is generally nondescript, and sometimes noticeably out of their depth.
The dialogue contains some of the expected unintentional laughs, and the characters often overexert themselves on unnecessary exposition or on pointing out details that were already completely obvious. The pacing, likewise, is inconsistent from scene to scene, although with fewer of the kinds of direction and editing slip-ups that generally characterize Wood’s features.
No one could ever deny that Wood loved making movies, and he made sincere efforts to make them as well as he could, which is what has kept his movies so watchable despite their shortcomings. “Jail Bait” attempts to emulate the classics of its genre, but it is severely limited by the lack of talent and other resources.