In the early days of sound, a “Production Code” was imposed by Hollywood on itself in order to stem the rising threat of government censorship. Film not abiding by the code would not have access to the mainstream cinemas nor be able to buy advertisement in major national newspapers. They also opened themselves up to local censor’s scrutiny.
On the other hand, independent producers could tackle the tasteless and often outrageous subjects considered too risqué or controversial for mainstream America. They would bypass the mainstream, publicize the films themselves and distribute them directly to Main Street theatres across the U.S. of A. educating the great unwashed and separating the suckers from their sheckles in the process.
Showing the sin in order to preach against it was a huge part of Exploitation cinema’s ability to weasel their way around both the production code and local censors. And nowhere is this most obvious than in the genuinely creepy 1938 offering Child Bride, a vile little film which purports to preach against the Hillbilly tradition of marrying underage girls.
Set in the Appalachians, the film begins with a typical (for exploitation films)”square-up” crawling title to reassure you of the film’s intent “not to exploit but to educate”.
As the film opens, we are introduced to little Jennie (Shirley Mills) who lives in a shack with her mom and pa. What is genuinely disturbing right off the bat is the “glamour” photographic style which is equivalent to slathering layers of makeup on her – Jon Benet Ramsey style.
Later Jennie and her friend Freddie sneak off to a pond in a secluded part of the woods. Jennie informs Freddie they can no longer skinny dip together as they are “not what they used to be” and turns to reveal her underage budding breasts. She then pops into the pond and starts paddling about.
Her swimming is spied upon by Jake (Warner Richmond), a sleazy old Hillbilly with designs on Jennie. Perhaps this justifies the photographic style but I seriously doubt the filmmaker was thinking about that nuance.
Jake, we get to learn, is a wicked two timing sumbitch who thinks nothing of mercilessly killing a man in cold blood or worse, tossing the local dwarf around (Angelo Rossito of Freaks fame). (That’s right, folks. This movie also features the evil of “dwarf tossing” but, to be fair, they justified it in the script.)
Jake cooks up a plan to blackmail Jennie’s mom into granting permission to marry the child. He threatens to bear witness to her killing her man while she was drunk, offering instead to keep quiet in exchange for shady nuptials.
Without spoiling it, I can assure you that Jake will meet his comeuppance. Exploitation films, after all, may be bypassing censors but they still needed to see sins punished if they were to make their preachy point. How the story sorts itself out, however, I will leave you to discover for yourself. Make sure your water heater is full up- you’re going to spend a lot of time under that nozzle once you’re done screening this.
Pain Level: 9/10
Quality of pain: Scalding! The shower you’ll take after this film won’t be a cold one to cool you down but the hottest possible in a feeble attempt to wash off the ickiness of this durn thing.