The movie opens cold on a date between teenagers Mary Lee Morgan and Chip Gardner. Chip attempts to force himself on the girl and in the process of defending herself, she pushes him off a cliff to his death. Chip's body is found by his best friend Fred Alger (Mel Tormé). Fred knows Chip was supposed to be with Mary Lee's sister Silver Morgan (Mamie Van Doren) and when he finds Silver's lipstick at the scene he reports her as the killer. Silver has an alibi, but she's currently on probation and so the police give her a choice: go to jail or enroll in the Catholic church-run Girls Town, a home for young women in trouble with the law. She reluctantly chooses the latter.
At Girls Town Silver meets Serafina Garcia, an orphan who's been sent to Girls Town for obsessively stalking Idol Singer Jimmy Parlow (Paul Anka). The two become friends (or "henchmen") and spend the middle act of the movie bonding and trying to decide what to do next as Serafina continues to struggle with her obsessions and Silver tries to escape and to deal with the machinations of Chip's father who is bent on revenge against her.
Eventually Fred figures out that it was Mary Lee, not Silver, who was there when Chip died. Still refusing to accept that it was an accident, he decides to take revenge by blackmailing her into a dangerous hands-free Game of Chicken. When (surprise, surprise) the other driver crashes and dies, Fred plots to ship Mary Lee off to Tijuana, Mexico so that she can't tell anyone he was at the scene.
Silver catches wind of Fred's plans and knows she needs to save her sister, but can't convince the other girls to let her go do it. Serafina, meanwhile, finally has had enough of Jimmy not loving her and overdoses on pills in the hopes of killing herself. Jimmy sings a heartfelt rendition of Ave Maria for the two of them and inspires Silver to get religion, earning the respect of the other girls. They then join the nuns and Jimmy and go beat up Fred with a baseball bat.
Fred is sent to jail and Silver exonerated. The movie closes with Silver seeing another newcomer sporting the same bad attitude she had when she first went there, and Silver wryly commenting that "[She'll] learn."
For tropes associated specifically with the MST3K version, check out the episode recap page.
Girls Town has examples of:
- Asshole Victim: Chip, whose Karmic Death kicks off the plot. He was killed by accident while attempting to rape his date.
- Attempted Rape:
- By Chip against Mary Lee at the beginning of the movie, before he slips and falls to his death.
- Later in the movie, Fred tries it too, again on Mary Lee, and is stopped by the arrival of Silver and friends.
- Batter Up!: Jimmy uses a baseball bat against Fred in the climax.
- Cat Fight: Between Silver and two of the other girls, on Silver's first day at Girls Town. Silver loses, only to cheap-shot her opponent and shut her in a locker.
- Clueless Aesop:
- The movie tries to be a straight-up morality tale about religion and friendship turning around the life of an angsty juvenile delinquent. The problem is, though she'd previously hit a teacher and violated parole, the event that got Silver sent to to Girls Town is something that she didn't even have anything to do with. It makes it seem like the message is "getting punished for things you didn't do is the best way to better yourself."
- The handling of Serafina's obsession is another one. So, being friends with your stalker is supposed to make them not crazy? To its credit, the movie did show that that was a stupid idea and yet Jimmy still keeps trying that same tactic even after her suicide attempt, and the movie seems to be implying that he's doing the right thing after all!
- Cold Open: The scene with Chip getting killed and his body being found takes place before the title card and the opening credits.
- Delinquents: A whole boarding house full of female delinquents. Silver herself is also said to run with a gang called the Dragons.
- Disney Villain Death: Chip. While chasing his date with the intent to rape her he slips and falls off a cliff.
- Game of Chicken: Played by Fred, and he forces Mary Lee to take part in it too. Taken Up to Eleven by making it hands-free too.
- Honey Trap: The "smoldering deliveryman" who takes Mamie on a date is actually trying to get her to incriminate herself in Chip's murder.
- Hypocrite: Fred. He hates the Morgan sisters because one of them was present when his friend Chip died, even though it was an accident (which he knows, although he won't admit it), and he's willing to go so far as to Blackmail them to get revenge. Later, his own actions lead to the accidental death of another of his friends, during a Game of Chicken, but now all of a sudden it's okay, and he's willing to ship a teenage girl off to Mexico to escape punishment.
- Idol Singer: Jimmy Parlow is a famous teenage singing sensation, just like his actor, Paul Anka.
- It's All About Me: After the fatal Game of Chicken, Fred seems far less concerned with the fact that one of his friends is dead and far more concerned that his Dad is going to find out he was hot rodding again and take his car.
- Jive Turkey: Basically everyone speaks in the closest Hollywood approximation of 1950's teenage slang, except the nuns and The Platters.
- Jerkass: Fred, who is willing to force an underaged girl out of the country so his Dad won't take his car.
- Knight Templar: Fred, again. All of his villainy is done in the name of getting justice for his dead friend, Chip. That said, his definition of justice is profoundly twisted and by the end even he admits it's just an excuse to torment a girl for his own selfish reasons.Fred: If I say he slipped, he slipped. If I say you pushed him, you pushed him.
- Knight Templar Parent: Chip's father. You can give him credit for being absolutely vicious with the girl he thinks killed his son, but he loses that credit for jumping to conclusions and basically admitting he doesn't care if she's guilty or not, he just wants revenge on someone.
- Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Serafina. Aside from her obsession with Jimmy, she also seems to become obsessed with anyone who shows her even the slightest bit of affection, resulting in her getting fairly clingy with Silver too.
- Male Gaze: Silver Morgan wears a dress that accentuates her large bosom, which she also likes to aim directly at the camera.Mike: A subtle evening gown that says LOOK AT THIS!
- Meaningful Echo: Upon arriving at Girls Town, Silver requests the right to call the Mother Superior something else, saying "mother is a dirty word to me." Another girl says the exact same thing when she arrives at the end of the movie, with Silver smiling knowingly and saying "You'll learn."
- Messianic Archetype: Jimmy is actually a pure-hearted guy who honestly wants to help others. He refuses to press charges against Serafina no matter what crazy things she does, and honestly believes that he can help her. He also manages to help Silver get religion and earn the other girls' trust.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Only Serafina believes it when Silver says her sister has been kidnapped and that's why she's trying to leave. The other girls restrain her and won't even listen when she begs them for help. But then she starts praying in front of the saint she earlier mocked, and that ultimately convinces the others she's serious.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: After discovering Serafina's obsession with him, Jimmy tries to be friends with her on a platonic level, hoping he can help her out. All this really accomplishes is to convince her that he really does love her, leading to yet another psychotic episode and her attempting suicide. Even Jimmy recognizes this is his fault, even though he still thinks he can save her.
- Non-Actor Vehicle: The movie was an attempt at turning Paul Anka and Mel Tormé into actors.
- Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Silver and Serafina become very close during their time together at Girls Town.
- Stalker with a Crush: Serafina, to the extent that she counterfeits a love letter to herself from Jimmy (Paul Anka's character) and tries to use it to blackmail him into dating her.
- Too Dumb to Live: Playing Chicken is already dumb enough, but in the movie they up the ante by making it hands-free. Each driver has his girlfriend with him and it's up to her to pull the wheel or not. The fact that only one of the four people involved dies is amazing in and of itself.
- There Are No Therapists: As caring as the sisters are, didn't anyone think a mental health professional might do Serafina more good?
- You Keep Using That Word: "Henchman." Silver probably does mean henchman, but the way she defines it ("buddy-buddy, pal") Serafina understandably takes it as "BFF." At the end of the movie the nuns use it the same way.