The issue of juvenile delinquency hits Kansas City one night when a local nightclub is invaded by a gang of teenagers who after elbowing other customers away from the bar ask the bartender for a round of drinks. He is reluctant to serve them, rightly suspecting they are underage and unimpressed by their leader Cholly (Peter Miller) with his fake I.D., so orders them out. But things turn nasty when Cholly starts acting up and the bouncer has to intervene, which stops the trouble going any further, though as a parting shot the teens throw a bus stop sign through the window. But not every teenager is a delinquent: take that nice Scotty (Tom Laughlin)...
Although for debuting director Robert Altman that nice Scotty might as well have been a J.D. after the antics he pulled in what they both hoped would be their ticket to success. Laughlin's problem, according to those who were around him during filming, was that James Dean had just died and so influential was the cult star that many were seeking to follow in his thespian footsteps, and if that meant messing around with method acting without actually getting a handle on how to do it properly, so be it. Thus the future Billy Jack was forvever causing friction on the set by insisting on elaborate preparation that Altman didn't think necessary.
Running about to the point of exhaustion to play his big drunk scene, that sort of thing. Anyway, as for the director - who subsequently disowned this film - he was influenced by Dean as well what with his second effort after this one a documentary on the then-recently deceased star, and this film was very much influenced by the troubled teen movies ushered in by the likes of Dean's Rebel Without a Cause. Not that its final effect was anywhere near as impressive, it was too obviously recreating a style of drama that you could see at any drive-in in the United States of that time (though not so much in the United Kingdom seeing as how these things were often banned or at least heavily edited so as not to inflame the passions of the local Teddy Boys).
But if there was a definite template most untamed youth pictures were applying in the hope of hitting big with the box office, did that mean there was a "seen one, seen 'em all" feeling about too many of them? In a way, the short answer was, well, yes, and The Delinquents had an actor in the cast who made a living playing upstarts, Richard Bakalyan also at the start of his career and with his flattened nose ideal for the tough guy roles, though as he grew older he'd exercise his comedic talents in the same manner. Here he was one of Cholly's gang, a thorn in the side of Scotty who is a decent boy really, it's just that society's expectations that he is a criminal in waiting have set up a collection of prejudices about him that he has difficulty living down.
It all starts when Scotty is informed by the father of his girlfriend Janice (Rosemary Howard) that he will not be permitted to see her anymore since he is three years older than her and she is only sixteen. He promptly goes off in a sulk as she is left behind in tears, and to get his head straight he visits the local drive-in whereupon in a case of mistaken identity engineered by Cholly's gang he is beaten up. There's no hard feelings, however, as he sees a friend in the miscreant, his biggest mistake as the rest of the film plays out with Scotty getting force fed a bottle of whisky, framed for the assault of a gas station attendant, and threatened with prison unless he can work out a way to clear his name. Oh, and Rosemary gets threatened too, though the soul-searching conversations between the lovers are sure to test the patience of all but the most devoted Altman fan. Still, it wasn't all bad as it set the director to television and finally the movies he wished to create, and Laughlin became a counterculture hero with his hit Billy Jack series, both finding cult adulation in their own way.
Maverick director responsible for some of the most distinctive American films of the last 35 years. After serving in the military during the 1940s, Altman learnt his filmmaking craft by making advertisements and training films before breaking into TV, where he worked throughout the sixties. Altman's breakthrough feature was MASH in 1970, an acerbic Oscar-winning Korean war comedy that introduced his chaotic, overlapping narrative style. Throughout the seventies, Altman turned in a series of acclaimed films including Images, Brewster McCloud, California Split, The Long Goodbye, the western McCabe & Mrs Miller and the brilliant musical drama Nashville. The 1980s proved to be less successful, as Altman struggled in a decade of slick blockbusters to raise funds for his idiosyncratic movies; nevertheless, the likes of Popeye, Fool for Love and Vincent & Theo were all flawed but interesting work.
Altman returned to the A-list of directors with 1992's cameo-laden Hollywood satire The Player, which was followed by the superb ensemble drama Short Cuts, based on the stories of Raymond Carver. Since then until his death Altman turned in almost a film a year, which ranged from the great (Gosford Park, The Company) to the less impressive (Dr T & The Women, The Gingerbread Man), but always intelligent and unusual. At over 80, Altman remained an outspoken anti-Hollywood figure who showed no sign of slowing down right until the end, with his last film A Prairie Home Companion released in 2006.