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Bad Boys

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James Dean: The First American Teenager
Car Theft
Going Places
Rag Doll
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
Meditate and Destroy
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They’re the ones your mother warned you about: the bad seeds, the rotten apples, the troublemakers and the misfits. Since time immemorial, bad boys have made it their raison d'être, their unofficial job (since they invariably manage to dodge any honest employment) to subvert authority, go against the grain and raise hell.

Not surprisingly, rebellious young men are a staple of the youth-driven movie industry. Some are simply born to be bad, and there are certainly a few such examples in this collection. But others—outsiders, mistreated and misunderstood, frequently by-products of a lousy upbringing—are more often than not a relatable archetype, someone audiences can root for, fall in love with, or, at the very least, pity. Look beyond the tough exterior and you may just find a good boy beneath all those cuts and bruises.

James Dean: The First American Teenager

(1976) directed by Ray Connolly, 77 minutes

No one is more closely identified with the rebellious American teenager-persona than James Dean, thanks in part to a series of juvenile delinquent roles on television in the 1950s and his iconic turn in Rebel Without a Cause. But Dean’s enigmatic personal life, culminating in his premature death in a high-speed roadside accident at the age of 24, contributed just as much to his bad boy image. A Hollywood outsider and staunch individualist, he had a reputation for being self-willed, but it’s the brooding, sensitive Dean, he of thoughtful eyes and troubled soul, that we remember today.

Car Theft

(1956) directed by Frederick Keller, 14 minutes

It all comes down to choices, so implies this overwrought educational short produced by the zealous Buffalo Youth Board (with an assist from the New York State Youth Commission). Usually shown at schools, PSA-type films like this one were a dime a dozen in the 1950s and '60s, used as a scare tactic to convince the youth of America to be “good.” Make the right decision and all will be well, they advised, but stray to the dark side and may God have mercy on you. In this particularly macabre specimen (featuring an unintentionally hilarious Rod Serling-esque voice-over and ominous drum beat), a pair of amateur car thieves make off with a '55 Pontiac convertible and, in the subsequent car chase, run over a little blond girl named Shirley. Presumably, a lengthy prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter awaits our two joyriders.

Going Places

(1974) directed by Bertrand Blier, 118 minutes

Jean-Claude (Gérard Depardieu) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere), the horny, oafish anti-heroes who terrorize the French countryside in Going Places, would be utterly repulsive if they weren’t so adorably pathetic. They’re lovable clowns, like Beavis and Butthead if Beavis and Butthead were French and wore bell-bottoms. For better or for worse, they live life in the moment, acting on impulse to satisfy their urge du jour (which is invariably sexual in nature). If only all hooligans could be so charmingly goofy and entertaining.

Rag Doll

(1961) directed by Lance Comfort, 63 minutes

Alternately titled Young, Willing and Eager, this juicy little British production is teen melodrama at its finest. Deciding she’s had enough of being groped by the patrons of her father’s bar, Carol high-tails it to the big city and, despite her better judgement, falls head over heels in love with suave young crooner Jo Shane (coolly played by pop star Jess Conrad). But Jo isn’t the nice young man he appears to be; it just so happens he’s trouble with a capital “T.” Like the best teen romances, this one can only end tragically (and does).

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

(2010) directed by Florin Serban, 93 minutes

Often it’s a teenager’s inability to keep his emotions under control that lands him in trouble. Abandoned by his mother and hardened by years spent in a brutal youth penitentiary, Romanian teen Silviu has anger issues and who can blame him? A blow up is inevitable, but with just two weeks left of his sentence can he keep his rage in check long enough to taste freedom? With a simmering intensity, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle captures the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness experienced by disenfranchised youth and the debilitating effect oppressive social institutions have on the young psyche.

Meditate and Destroy

(2007) directed by Sarah Fisher, 82 minutes

With a rap sheet a mile long (assault and battery, strong arm robbery, drug possession—and those are just the highlights), it would have been easy to write off volatile punk rocker Noah Levine as a lost cause. In and out of juvenile detention centers throughout his youth, he even attempted suicide while locked up in the late 1980s. But with a newfound spirituality, he turned his life around and now draws on his past experiences to help others. Noah is proof that no matter how far you fall, it’s never too late to change. Bad boys take note.