Do not be alarmed! The loud thud you are getting ready to hear is merely the sound of your jaw dropping to the floor while watching Child Bride (1938). And before the credits roll, you will know that you have truly entered a twilight zone from the gutter cinema of yesteryear.
Of course, in 1938 movies were deep in the law of the Hays Code, and the only films which managed to subvert Will Hays’ dos-and-don’ts-list were the exploitation features. That is because they contained an “educational, moral message” for the masses.
Child Bride was a government funded film which begins it’s sermon with: “These child marriages must be stopped!” Predictably, the film then wallows in its own tawdry agenda. Written and directed by the rightfully forgotten hack, Harry Reiver, Child Bride is a ripe candidate for one to the most disturbing examples of unintentional weirdness.
“Here is a page from the Book of Life… in Thunderhead Mountain. We do not aim to ridicule the back yonder folk, but if our story abolishes their child marriages, then it will have served its purpose.” If the music from Deliverance (1972) starts coming to mind, then take it as a warning: Be afraid. Be very afraid. The only thing missing is the horror horn and fear flasher from Chamber of Horrors (1966).
Ma and Pa Colton (Dorothy Carroll & George Humphreys) don’t like no child marriage. They even have a book lying on their front porch saying it’s a crime, which is a tad ironic since their eleven year-old Jennie (Shirley Mills) does lotsa provocative stretching and shows plenty o’ leg in her homemade miniskirt, cut up to her crotch (the ‘dress’ looks like it was cut with lopsided scissors), while doing her early morning chores before trotting off to school.
Jennie’s sort-of mountain boyfriend Freddie (Bobby Bolinger) stops by to accompany her to school, but not before they engage in adolescent hijinks and argue like an old married couple after Jennie takes a tumble in the hog den.
The school marm, Miss Carol (Diana Durrell) is on a mission to stop all the child marriages taking place on Thunderhead Mountain. “Miss Carol’s sayin’ dangerous stuff to our women folk,” says one mountain fellar as he spits out a wad of Beech-nut. “Isn’t it better to have a woman for 30 years than a child for 15?” asks Miss Carol. “Child marriages must go!” (This line is spoken directly to the camera, just in case you missed it). This position earns Miss Carol the enmity of Jake (Warner Richmond) who has it in mind to take little Jennie for his… Child Bride!
Miss Carol has a Yankee lawyer, named Charles (Frank Martin, the poor man’s square-jawed leading man) for a fiancee. Charles is trying to stick his nose where it don’t belong when he tries to put an end to child brides. What is Jake and his henchmen gonna do? Well, they’re gonna put on some black robes, light their torches, and show us what the Amerikkka al-Qaeda looked like in 1938.
Jake and his henchmen abduct poor, well-meaning Miss Carol (in a silk nightie, strategically ripped to show off thighs and collar bone) and, just when it looks like the scene’s developing into a precursor to Catherine Deneuve taking a lashing against a tree, Angelo (dwarf Angelo Rossitto from Freaks) shows up to save the day, with Pa Colton bringing up the flank!
Next, throw in a skinny dipping scene with the eleven year-old leading lady baring it in the buff, as Jake salivates from afar (nope, not kidding). Pa Colton is a considerable roadblock to Jake’s pedo ambitions. Naturally, with Pa being the hero, one would think he’s a paragon of virtue. You’ll realize differently when he whallops his mouthy ma (who always seems to be on the verge of a major wardrobe malfunction).
You may have to flip a coin to determine what’s more disturbing: the protagonist beatin’ on his wife or the camera’s leering close-up of Jennie’s cleavage (which boggles the mind since, at eleven, she has no cleavage).
A hillbilly wedding ceremony between Jake and Jennie indicates a descent into yester-Hell, but it is essentially a late thirties exploitation oater, so a happy ending is in store. Of course, that depends on your interpretation of “happy” because before the never-thought-it-would-end ending, Jennie and Freddie engage in some lip to lip contact, strongly indicating a child bride to child groom consummation to come!
Strongly advised to be seen with nothing less than an entire case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Cheap beer is the only way to endure this one.