Mad Youth (1940): Shyer’s B-Movie about Gigolo, Bad Mothers, and Bordello

Melville Shyer directed this women’s melodrama, produced and scripted by Willis Kent, about a male escort (called explicitly gigolo, which is unusual), caught between an aging mother and her young daughter.

Betty Compson plays a divorcee of a certain age, Lucy Morgan wh0 hires a male escort, who bills himself as “Count” DeHoven (Willy Castello), but he has an affair with her teenage daughter, Mary (Ainslee).

After her wild parties, with jitterbugs and strip poker, Helen’s grandmother (Margaret Fealy), locks her out of the house, and she runs away to marry a man she met through correspondence.

Fed up with her daughter and her friends, Lucy laments her past, that she had never got to be “young and free.”  To that extent, she sends her daughter to live with her father.

The “Count” is furious with Lucy for letting her daughter traipse across the country.  He warns that mail-order marriage scams can be one of the worst traps there is.

Together they track down an address, and he hurries to try to save Marian and Helen (Betty Atkinson).

The girls, it turns out, are imprisoned in a big mansion in Pittsburgh in a prostitution and white slavery ring.  Helen, beaten until she gave in, is renamed “Maisie” in the bordello, and when Marian comes for her, the madam tries to recruit her too.

The movie tries to be many things, but is truly exploitational kitsch, as midway there’s a long scene in a night club, in which the “Count” introduces a group of dancers and a bullfighter, and then dances with and gets the girl drunk.

Even so, the dialogue is tough and cruel. In a confrontation scene, Marian tells her mother that she is too old for such a lifestyle, and the mother admits that she had never wanted her.

The “Count,” now claimed to be reformed, lectures Lucy about the responsibilities of being a good mother.

Will the “Count” save Marian and marry her? Or would she stay in the underworld.  (The film is also known as Girls of the Underworld)

Mad Youth is a sampler of a B-picture, from start to finish.

Running time: 80 Minutes

End Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing this rarely-seen picture on March 18, 2019.