Here's a review in standard format. I have also prepared a number of still frames and two short video excerpts from it if this happens to qualify as an official reader review on here.
Child Bride, a.k.a. Child Bride of the Ozarks, Child Brides, Dust to Dust.
Rated: Not Rated
Copyright Company and Date: Public Domain (originally released in 1938 by Cox and Underwood), written and directed by Harry Revier, produced by Kroger Babb
Submitted by Inyarear
Jennie Colton - She's the title character herself, Shirley Mills at just 12 years old!
Freddie Nulty - Jennie's classmate and boyfriend; tends to shirk his learnin' and he's not too bright, but he is a rather handsome and likable young'un.
Ira Colton - Jennie's father; a farmer who evidently makes most of his meager income from running an illegal still; apparently stabbed to death.
Flora Colton - Jennie's mother and Ira's wife; although Ira mistreats her when he's drunk and riled up by malicious gossip, she stands by him all the same.
Jake Bolby - Bandit, murderer, pervert, and all-around slimeball who also happens to be Ira's business partner; contracts an instantly fatal case of lead poisoning.
Mike Nulty - Freddie's father, and apparently one of Ira's regular customers; unlike Jake, he survives being shot.
Angelo the Dwarf - Angelo Rossitto ("Don Barrett")! A mostly on-the-level (so to speak) business associate of Ira's, he has a few scores to settle.
Happy - Another business associate of Ira's, this rather forgettable character may be some relative of Angelo's, since he lives in a shack with him.
Miss Carol - The school marm, a local woman who somehow got herself an education; she goes around crusading against child marriage, much to Jake's chagrin.
Charles - Assistant district attorney and Miss Carol's long-time boyfriend; he's getting impatient waiting for her to marry him, but he helps her in her crusade anyway.
Jake's "gang" - Bad'uns and no'counts much like Jake; when they're not out to tar and feather Miss Carol, they're mostly busy sharing idle gossip.
School kids - Coming in all ages and sexes, these extras appear to be actual mountain kids. They give very credible performances for the five minutes or so they're on-screen.
A book entitled "Child Marriage is a Crime" makes a good bedtime story.
A gavel makes a handy teaching instrument.
Public domain music in 1938 was very slim pickings indeed.
Backwoods children in one-room schoolhouses were better spellers than today's wired-up kids.
Today's kids really don't know how good they've got it; your grandparents weren't kidding about that.
You can't go wrong hiring a dwarf to help you run your illegal still.
Nobody in mountain country ever investigates a murder.
A doll is an acceptable engagement gift when courting a preteen.
No one in the mountains has any objection to marrying off an 11-year-old girl.
Properly applied, a bullet makes an excellent contraceptive.
Backwoods justice comes out of the barrel of a shotgun.
Killing a pedophile is a sure-fire way to win a girl's heart.
STUFF TO WATCH FOR
1 min - See? See? This has socially redeeming importance. It isn't kiddy porn.
1.5 mins - That's some nice light reading she's got on that headboard there.
2 mins - As if her dress weren't short enough already.
8 mins - A certain Monty Python sketch comes to mind.
10 mins - I would say RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE, but those pigeons kinda had it coming...
12 mins - If he were spelling that today, he could claim he'd just made a typo.
13 mins - Watch your mouth, Charlie boy! They lynch people like you, you know.
18 mins - Hick fight! Hick fight!
19 mins - Ira seems to be enjoying this a little too much.
30 mins - RANDOM GRATUITOUS... um... BARELY-ROUNDED CHEST SHOT!
31 mins - Yes, Jake is enjoying this way too much. Pervert!
32 mins - I concede she does look a bit... bumpier when seen through the water's distortion.
33 mins - Granny knows the score.
35 mins - The best lightning effects that very small amounts of money can buy.
36 mins - No breast shots here, but we sure do get to see a lot of Mrs. Colton's cleavage.
37 mins - "It's only a flesh wound!"
50 mins - This little conversation is how we know Jennie is 11 years old. Pervert! Bloody pervert!
52 mins - Boy, aren't you glad they cut that little bit out?
56 mins - They made it quick, but they didn't cut it this time. Ewww!
57 mins - Yikes! There hadn't been any nasty language in this film at all until just now.
58 mins - Yes, you are expected to be able to read the bill that fast.
60 mins - If she knew what Jake had in mind for her, I don't think her prayer would have been that short.
62 mins - And since no one ever investigates murders in Thunderhead, they all lived happily ever after.
Jennie: "Naw, we're the same. Only you can't see me without my clothes on."
Freddie: "How come? I know how you look without your clothes on. I've seen you lots of times, haven't I?"
Jennie: "Yes I know. But now we're growin' up. And barin'... Teacher says it might put bad ideas into your head."
Freddie: "Aw, shucks! Now I can't kiss you no more."
Jennie: "Of course you can, silly! Only, with my clothes on."
If you're looking to live on the edge a little, but you don't want to feel like some kind of pervert for watching something sleazy, you could probably do worse for yourself than to watch old exploitation films. As with the "spicy" pulps of that era, the sex in a lot of those films is very tame indeed by today's standards--mostly it involves a lot of innuendo with just the slightest bit of nudity thrown in for good measure. That Child Bride happens to have reached the very limits of legality in showing a bit of underage nudity and that the motives of its makers were highly questionable at best does not change the fact that by today's standards, it seems quite innocent and almost positively wholesome!
Indeed, while the claim that this film was "educational" may very well have been merely a ploy to get it past the censors, the story's stated purpose--to exhort people to pass laws against child marriage in their own states--also reveals the legal logic that may very well have gotten it past the censors: if none of the activities portrayed in the movie were illegal in the states where it was being shown, why should it be illegal to portray them? In any case, one of the most memorable results of these huckster's efforts is Child Bride. Given the heavy-handed moralistically immoral stuff Hollywood serves up these days, I can't help thinking we might all be better off if contemporary movie makers would go back to being greedy capitalist hucksters looking to turn a quick buck.
The story is quite simple, and clocks in at just over an hour. After a brief screen-crawler reinforcing the film's claim to be educational and declaring that if it convinces the audience to outlaw child marriages, it will have served its purpose, we cut to the Colton residence, where 11-year-old Jennie Colton is just waking up. Being from a poor farming family in the Ozarks, Jennie has chores to do, and for this purpose she quickly doffs her night gown and throws on a shabby old undersized dress with a square cut out of one corner of the skirt. (How they used that square of cloth the film never tells us; probably to patch something.) Needless to say, this changing of clothes all takes place off-camera; as a rule, old exploitation films never dish up the gratuitous stuff until the second act. On the other hand, her dress does reveal an awful lot of leg, and that square hole in the back isn't helping matters!
What plot there is quickly makes itself known. Her father Ira is going up to his still, where he evidently has a long day's work ahead of him. Jennie's going to school, which is a derelict old one-room shack with pigeons roosting in its rafters; there, the well-dressed young school marm Miss Carol attempts to teach children of all ages a few basic subjects, such as spelling. Joining Jennie on the way to school is her childhood friend and quasi-boyfriend (whose innocent behavior coupled with hers makes clear that this relationship has been strictly platonic thus far) Freddie Nulty. All through the movie they do, in fact, argue like a married couple.
Miss Carol, the school marm, is on a crusade to put a stop to child marriage in addition to trying to drum a little basic education into the heads of her students. Unfortunately for her, Ira's business partner Jake is on a jihad to get rid of the uppity teacher so he can make Jennie his child bride, and he has several other mountain men on his side. Meanwhile, Jake has had a falling-out with Ira over the distribution of the profits from the still, so there's enough ill will on all sides to go around. Miss Carol also has a handsome and remarkably patient city slicker boyfriend named Charles pushing the Governor to pass a bill banning child marriage.
Jake and his men proceed to kidnap Miss Carol and are getting ready to tar and feather her when Ira's men Angelo and Happy catch wind of the plot and alert Ira to it. With shotguns in hand, he and Angelo quickly put a stop to the gang's activities and give Jake another thrashing for his trouble. Never the kind to give up easily, Jake continues to plot against Ira.
Meanwhile, the infamous scene in which Jennie goes skinny-dipping takes place. Freddie is understandably rather miffed when Jennie tells him that they can no longer go skinny-dipping together because of the "bad ideas" the teacher says seeing her naked will inspire in him. Being a bit behind the curve in his education anyway, Freddie is having a hard time understanding why this should be the case and makes clear that he wishes the teacher would mind her own business. Nevertheless, he agrees to serve as the look-out while Jennie goes for a swim. Moreover, decent kid that he is, he even keeps his promise not to look at her. (See how many guys you can get to keep that promise these days!)
We, on the other hand, get to see what little there is to see, as Jenny gives the camera an ever-so-brief close-up view of her underdeveloped bust and a more distant view of her running stark naked through the trees and diving into the pool. After that, we see her bare flesh mostly from the back, and then dimly through the distortion of the water ripples and hidden behind her dog as he joins her for a swim. It doesn't hurt, either, that the film quality makes the picture anything but clear. Meanwhile, Jake happens to be coming up along the ridge on the other side of the pool, and we get to watch the dirty old sod leering at her as she swims. When an old woman turns up and startles Jake out of his voyeurism, Freddie sees the disturbance up on the ridge and raises the alarm. Continuing to keep his promise, he holds Jennie's clothes out to her on a stick, and she puts them back on before getting out of the water.
That afternoon, Ira is coming home a bit tipsy, evidently from consuming a bit too much of his own product, when he overhears two men gossiping about an affair his wife Flora has supposedly been having with Jake. Arriving home in a drunken rage, he proceeds to repeat their accusations to her and slap her around a bit, and as the argument heats up in tandem with a thunder storm that's raging outside, she picks up a knife and pricks him in the chest with it. Throwing her off, he stumbles off to his bed while she lies there in a faint trying to recover from the beating. Jake, ever the one to turn up at just the wrong moment, sees this whole incident, and takes advantage of the situation by slipping in and finishing off Ira with the knife. Then he slips out again just before Jennie gets home.
When Jennie gets home to find her mother beaten and her father murdered, she naturally goes into hysterics, and then Jake makes his entrance to announce that he's seen everything that happened and that Flora had better do as he says. Picking up Ira's corpse, he takes it out through the pouring rain and dumps it over a cliff to make it seem that Ira got waylaid on his way home. The next day, two mountain men out on the trail hear the Colton family dog howling over his dead master's corpse, and bring him back into town for burial. The preacher, reading the standard sermon for the funeral, adds on a dire warning that the murderer will pay for his evil deeds, citing the old Genesis text from Noah's time that "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."
Now that Ira's out of the way, Jake blackmails Flora into giving him Jennie's hand in marriage. In one of the vilest scenes in the whole movie, he then brings Jennie a doll for an engagement gift, blackmailing her into marrying him the same way he did her mother, and giving her a big sloppy kiss in the bargain. (At this point, I'm sure many in the film's original audiences proceeded to wipe their mouths in sympathy as Jennie did the same.) Jennie then has to inform Freddie through her sorrow and tears that her fiancee won't allow her to see him anymore or go to school with him.
Distraught, Freddie turns to Miss Carol for help, but there's nothing she can do. That night, the wedding proceeds according to plan while Freddie skulks around outside with his shotgun in hand, weeping over Jennie's cruel fate and contemplating murder. Meanwhile, Charles (remember him?) pulls up with two men in his car at Miss Carol's house, gets out, and proceeds to post bills announcing that no one under eighteen years of age shall be permitted to marry without a license from obtained the Warranty Clerk. Since this bill was actually passed three days ago, Jake and Jennie's marriage is illegal. But will it come in time to save Jennie from Jake's lewd intents for her?
The question turns out to be a moot point. With the wedding ceremony at an end, Jake takes Jennie home with him, while Freddie follows at a distance. Jake orders her to undress and get into bed while he goes out to blow out the lamp. She stalls him by asking him to let her say her prayers. "Make'em short," he grumbles, and innocent little girl that she is, she does. Before Jake can get back inside and get busy violating his young bride, however, a shot rings out and he dies. Jennie lets out a scream when she hears the shot, but not too surprisingly, she gets over her new husband's death quickly enough.
Perhaps more surprisingly, considering what a goody-two-shoes she's been throughout this film so far, Jennie doesn't bother questioning Freddie at all about whether he shot Jake and whether that was really the right thing for him to do. I mean, he comes up with a shotgun in hand and is practically gloating over Jake's death as if he'd caused it. (Not to give all spoilers away: if you see the film for yourself, you'll realize that he didn't kill Jake, but there's no way Jennie could know that he didn't.) Granted, she has as little reason as anyone to be sorry that Jake's dead, but am I to believe it doesn't bother her at all that her boyfriend may have just broken the law? I guess not. Freddie tells Jennie she doesn't have to be Jake's wife anymore, and when they both get a little bit older, she can marry him instead. She gets all lovey-dovey and kisses him. The end.
I mean, that's it: there's no story about the feds coming to get Freddie, no putting him on trial for murder only to discover that the ammunition doesn't match his shotgun, no nothing. Maybe that's not so unrealistic for their part of the country, considering that nobody ever bothered to investigate Ira's death either, but still, that's a very abrupt ending.