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THE RESTLESS ONES (1965).

As I write this review, Mel Gibson's PASSION OF THE CHRIST is still topping the box-office, but 40 years ago, inspirational cinema was a hell of a lot goofier. This b&w teen melodrama was a huge hit on the Christian cinema circuit, where it was force-fed to church youth groups who were already too brainwashed to care that it has all the subtlety of a Chick Publication. In fact, the filmmakers pull the old bait-'n'-switch on its audience, beginning the film like any then-popular j.d. flick. But since this feature was made by Billy Graham's World Wide Pictures, the Bible is bound to come out of the closet before long, accompanied by heavyhanded preaching and unintentional hilarity. Ex-Mouseketeer Johnny Crawford (who had a 1962 Billboard hit entitled "Cindy's Birthday") stars as David Winton, a 16-year-old who's never been in any trouble, until some sinful friends lure him into drinking, vandalizing a church, reckless driving, and a night in the juvenile lock-up. Will David clean up his act? Will his parents (who work as TV-writers) put family before their jobs? At first, neither. David's folks cash in on their personal turmoil by making a program about today's teens, and (of course) their first stop is a Billy Graham Crusade and a stadium full of glassy-eyed, eerily-cleancut adolescents. But the path to David's salvation is an uphill battle, thanks to a high school tease who enjoys tempting the horny kid. In one of her earliest roles, 17-year-old Kim Darby (TRUE GRIT) plays April, who disrespects her besotted mom, uses a fake ID to buy liquor (trivia tidbit: her fake ID name is "Alice Cooper"), ridicules David because his parents "won't let him off the leash," and has a middle-aged sugar-daddy. Darby is surprisingly good at playing bad, and David desperately wants "a tumble," even if it results in eternal damnation. Meanwhile, his folks attend a Christian beach party, where they sing folksy Jesus tunes and the girls never remove their long-sleeved sweatshirts. David's mom (Georgia Lee) and dad (Robert Sampson, who later appeared in RE-ANIMATOR as Dean Halsey!) are shrill assholes, even after they're filled with Jesus' love. And knowing now what American culture would be like by the Nixon era, it's amusing to watch characters wringing their hands at the promiscuous mid-'60s. Directed by Dick Ross (who later produced THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE), it has marginally better production values than most Christploitation of that era, probably due to longtime cinematographer Ernest Haller (THE DAWN PATROL, EMPEROR JONES) in his final gig, and although the Billy Graham snippets are mercifully brief, they contain so much sledgehammer malarkey that any reasonably-intelligent kid will feel like vomiting (preferably onto Graham's expensive, church-bought shoes).

© 2004 by Steven Puchalski.