James "Jimmy" Wilson (Lowell) is an all-American
25 year old man teenage boy living in typical 1940's suburbia. He's a nice kid and even won the big essay contest at school... oh, and his parents like to drink, party, and gamble.
This being a pseudo-propaganda film in the 40's, this pretty much ensures Jimmy will fall into a pit of debauchery and crime, and indeed he does in short order. Almost immediately upon meeting a pretty lounge singer named Kitty Reed (Hughes), Jimmy gets hired by her boyfriend, mobster kingpin Charlie Blake. After running a few errands for Blake, stupidly never suspecting that his boss — a "money man" who asks him to deliver vaguely defined "packages" at odd hours while insisting that he doesn't tell anyone else about it — is a criminal (or that he's even Kitty's boyfriend, as Jimmy starts dating her) Jimmy eventually figures out the truth and goes on the run, then later accidentally kills Blake in a scuffle.
Eventually, Jimmy is put on trial for manslaughter, but it all works out because the judge lightens Jimmy's sentence after the kid places the blame on his oblivious folks... Yeah, we're not sure how that worked, either.
Kitty's three songs, written by the future Oscar-winning team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, are surprisingly catchy. One suspects that the film was more of a vehicle for the music than the Aesop.
- Abusive Parents: Unintentionally downplayed. Jimmy's mother drinks, his father gambles and also drinks, and they're both constantly fighting in front of their son. And they are also neglectful to Jimmy most of the time due to rarely being home. But when they actually are around to interact with Jimmy, they are always unfailingly nice to him. They never hit him or yell at him, and they make sure he's provided for, even if they do tend to ignore him a lot. Even their worst fights with each other never manage to go beyond harsh words. It's certainly not an ideal family but there's still plenty of real life victims of parental abuse who would gladly trade their parents for Jimmy's.
- Alcoholic Parent: Jimmy's parents, especially his mom.
- Artistic License Law: The ending seemingly implies that Jimmy is ruled innocent of manslaughter on the grounds that his parents weren't very nice to him. Presumably this is just the result of sloppy writing, and the actual intention was that Jimmy's account gave the judge enough evidence to conclude that Blake's death was an act of justifiable self-defense... although even that's shaky at best, considering the fight would never have happened to begin with if Jimmy hadn't needlessly confronted him.
- Big Fancy House: Jimmy's house.
- Blatant Lies: Perhaps not to the other characters, but Jimmy's description of his home life to other people certainly comes across as this to the viewer.
- Break His Heart to Save Him: Kitty cruelly breaks up with Jimmy to try and protect him from Blake... who is hiding in the closet in the same room, and told her outright that he would murder Jimmy if she didn't.
- Clueless Aesop:
- Teaching parents to pay more attention to their kids than their booze? Not a bad idea. Teaching them to do so by showing a young man time and again making completely stupid decisions to the point where he goes on the run from the mob and gets charged for manslaughter... despite none of that having anything to do with his drunk parents? Sure, maybe if they'd paid more attention to him, he might not have gotten away with all those choices, but Jimmy makes so many stupid decisions that it's hard to believe bad parenting alone was the problem.
- The dedication at the end says that the movie was made to entertain the Yanks with Tanks overseas (it was 1944). Let's see: a film where a kid goes completely off the rails due to his parent's absence is shown to a large group of young forced-to-be-absent fathers, some of whom might never come home. Brilliant!
- Drop-In Character: Shirley. She just occasionally shows up at the Wilsons' house, with no explanation for who she is and why she's there, to the point of walking in the front door without knocking. She flirts with Jimmy's father, giving the impression she might be a mistress, but even the full version of the movie leaves her role largely unexplained.
- Faux Affably Evil: Blake. Even if it's pretty obvious from the beginning that he's a criminal taking advantage of Jimmy's naivety to induct him into the world of organized crime, he does seem legitimately friendly and jocular in his dealing with the boy... until later on when he straight up threatens to Murder the Hypotenuse when Jimmy gets too close to Kitty (and this after him specifically ordering Kitty to get close to Jimmy), puts out a hit on Jimmy after a job goes bad (and after promising he'd protect Jimmy), and then tries to kill Jimmy himself in the finale which leads to him accidentally shooting himself.
- Felony Misdemeanor: Jimmy gets a lot of money from his Dad. His mother's public drunkenness is actually kind of mild.
- The Freelance Shame Squad: Jimmy's classmates after his mother shows up drunk to his school's parents day."Hee hee hee, she's drunk!"
- Food Porn: The cafe owner lays his description of his juicy hamburger sandwich on pretty thick to the obviously hungry Jimmy.
- Freudian Excuse: The whole thrust of Jimmy's defense.
- Idiot Ball: Jimmy runs with it for most of the story.
- It takes Jimmy a worryingly long time to realize that the guy paying him an unusually high salary to deliver unspecified "packages", mostly late at night, while insisting he keeps these courier activities a secret, might be up to something illegal. The penny first drops once Blake makes Jimmy the getaway driver for a robbery, and then it is only because the robbery ends up going wrong and Jimmy happens to hear the shootout between Blake's goons and the watchman.
- The last act of the film wouldn't have happened if Jimmy had just gone to the police earlier, as they'd likely be glad to trade immunity for a low-grade courier in exchange for testimony to put two high-level mob members who'd just committed murder away and possibly get their boss as well. Also, the fight in which Jimmy accidentally killed Blake wouldn't have happened if he'd just stayed away and let the police do their jobs instead of confronting him personally. Most of Jimmy's mistakes are the result of being oblivious to what's actually going on, these are just simple stupidity.
- Informed Ability: We only ever hear one sentence of Jimmy's supposedly brilliant essay.
- It's All My Fault: A scene cut from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode has Kitty blaming herself for Jimmy's problems, as she foolishly introduced him to Blake.
- Lady Drunk: Jimmy's mother
- Lyrical Shoehorn: Happens once or twice in Kitty's songs."We were going this way, that way, this way
Then love took us by the hand
Helped us right along, showed us the kiss-way
To the promised land..."
- Meet Cute: Of the most obvious sort in a shoe store between Jimmy and Kitty, complete with amused bystander.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Jimmy winning the essay contest seems to be a pretty big deal. To be fair, it's implied to be a regional or statewide contest.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Blake straight up tells Kitty that he will do this to Jimmy, and hides in the closet with a weapon while she breaks up with the boy.
- Nice Guy: Al the diner cook. Even though he knew from the start that Jimmy was armed and intended to rob him, he gives the boy free food, takes him in, gives him a paying job, and helps him get his life back on track, all without expecting anything in return.
- Only Sane Man: Again Al the diner cook, who convinces Jimmy to turn himself in and talk with Kitty.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Third time's the charm for the diner cook. He's perfectly willing to give Jimmy food, lodging, and a job on the sole condition that Jimmy attend church with him on Sundays.
- Resignations Not Accepted: Invoked by Blake when Jimmy threatens to quit.
- Shockingly Expensive Bill: Jimmy gets served one when he's at the restaurant (equal to three week's salary at his day job). Luckily for him, Blake agrees to let Jimmy pay him back while he works for him.
- Society Marches On: Remember when all checks were completely blank, and you had to put in your own name and information, not just the recipient?
- Stay in the Kitchen: Jimmy's idealized descriptions of his home life (especially in his winning essay) certainly seem to imply that he'd prefer his drunk mom to do this.
- Title Drop: Very early in the film, when explaining his actions to the court, Jimmy uses the title.
- Travel Montage: When Jimmy runs away.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Both of Jimmy's parents barely pay any attention to him, but his father especially. Jimmy's father does congratulate him for winning the essay contest... but in a way that's so casual it comes across as more dismissive than congratulatory. Notably, Jimmy's dad doesn't even give his son time to explain what he's being congratulated for before simply telling him "that's swell", giving him some money, and taking off.
- Who's Watching the Store?: Jimmy and the Cafe owner - the entire known staff of the cafe - drop everything to take Jimmy back home. If the Travel Montage is to be trusted it's quite a ways, too.