So Young, So Bad is a 1950 drama film, directed by Bernard Vorhaus, about a barbaric reform school for girls. The film is actually not a straight example of Girls Behind Bars, and could almost be seen as a deconstruction of the genre before it even became popular. It also has some striking similarities with the film Caged, which was released one day before it.
The main character is Dr. John Jason (Paul Henreid), a Polish-American psychiatrist who has taken a job at the Elmview Corrective School for Girls. He arrives there at the same time as four new attendees. They are:
- Loretta (Anne Francis), an implied former prostitute who had a baby out of wedlock and put it up for adoption.
- Dolores (Rita Moreno, billed as "Rosita Moreno"), a runaway who faced racial discrimination when she was younger and is now emotionally unbalanced.
- Jane (Enid Pulver), a girl who never knew her father and has a history of being abused.
- Jackie (Anne Jackson), a surrogate big sister to Jane who pretty much does all her decision-making for her.
Dr. Jason arrives at the school, hoping to help these girls and many others. A social worker, Ruth Levering (Catherine McLeod), is also sympathetic to the girls, but they face difficulties from Mr. Riggs (Cecil Clovelly), who runs the school and sees the girls as little more than criminals and animals, and Mrs. Beuhler (Grace Coppin), the sadistic matron who carries out punishment.
Film debut for Rita Moreno and Anne Jackson.
This film provides examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: Jackie's attachment to Jane comes across as less like a Big Sister thing and more like a romantic devotion. Notably at a dance the girls have, Jackie rebuffs any boys that ask her to dance. Jane's likely not gay though.
- Babies Ever After: Loretta decides to keep her baby after leaving the school.
- Betty and Veronica: Subverted. Loretta tries to be the Veronica to Ruth's Betty and seduce Dr Jason. He sees through her Fille Fatale act straight away and has no part in it.
- Big Damn Heroes: Loretta and Jackie arrive in the nick of time to expose Riggs and Beuhler.
- Bittersweet Ending: Riggs and Beuhler have been thrown in jail and Loretta and Jane leave the school fully reformed. However Dolores is dead and Jason and Ruth will likely have their hands full with the next batch of troublesome girls.
- Break the Cutie: The raison d'etre of Mrs. Beuhler. She succeeds with Dolores.
- Cerebus Call-Back: Inverted. Dolores tells a traumatic story from her childhood about her parents not speaking English. When her parents visit, Dr. Jason can't understand Spanish. However he and Dolores both laugh and Dolores translates for him.
- Cool Big Sister: Jackie for Jane, though they're not related.
- Crapsaccharine World: The school looks nice and pleasant from the outside, inside not so much.
- Cruella to Animals: Beuhler catches the rabbit Jane had been keeping as a pet and is seen squashing it with a Gory Discretion Shot.
- Deconstruction: Of Girls Behind Bars. The blonde sexpot is underage and has had to use sex as a means of survival and as a weapon for most of her life. The innocent has faced racism in the past and her innocence borders on mental illness. As for the two "lesbians" their relationship is more like a caring and devoted one rather than exploitative, plus the "butch" doesn't end up dead.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Mrs. Beuhler, the cruel matron. Riggs is more of a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, while she's up front about her nastiness.
- Disappeared Dad: Jane never knew her birth father. She is eventually reunited with him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Beuhler cuts off Dolores's hair when she won't snitch on who took a perfume bottle from her room.
- The Dog Bites Back: When Beuhler confiscates all the girls' personal items and throws them in the furnace, the girls all set their dormitory on fire.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: When the new girls arrive at the school they are forced to strip out of their own clothes and wear identical drab uniforms with all belongings confiscated. The intended effect was clearly to mirror concentration camps.
- Driven to Suicide: Dolores hangs herself towards the end.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: It's no coincidence that flirty and promiscuous Loretta is a blonde.
- Fille Fatale: Deconstructed with Loretta, who attempts to be a seductress. The psychologists on staff are able to reach her and convince her to stop using sex as a weapon.
- Foreshadowing: When Dr. Jason tells Dolores she has pretty hair, Mrs. Beuhler is shown reacting to that...
- Four-Girl Ensemble: Vampy, seductive Loretta is the pretty one. Tough, Ambiguously Gay Jackie is the mannish one. Sweet, delicate Jane is the childish one. Caring social worker Ruth is the Team Mom.
- Gilded Cage: The school becomes this under Dr Jason and Ruth's supervision.
- Happily Married: Ruth and Dr Jason at the end.
- High-School Dance: The staff decide to organize one to give the girls something to look forward to.
- Hot for Teacher: Loretta for Dr. Jason.
- How We Got Here: The film opens with Jackie, Loretta and Jane running out of the school and we then get a flashback/narration by Dr Jason about the events of the previous months.
- Karma Houdini: The girls that actually did take the perfume bottle from Beuhler's room don't get punished.
- Mood Whiplash: The tragic scene of Dolores getting her hair cut off switches quite suddenly to the bouncy music of the dance downstairs. This goes the other way around when the girls go upstairs to find Dolores has hung herself.
- Parental Abandonment: A case where the parent is persuaded to abandon the child since she's unmarried.
- Sexy Soaked Shirt: Not played straight and completely Fetish Retardant as, while Loretta is soaking wet in her uniform she's also barely conscious from having been sprayed repeatedly with a fire hose.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: All the girls when they get a dance thrown for them.
- Token Minority: Subverted with Dolores. She is the only non-white girl of the four, but is given plenty of character that doesn't revolve around her race. In fact, the story from her childhood about her parents not being able to speak English isn't really related to her race, per se, as Dr. Jason is able to relay a similar story about his Polish father.
- Traumatic Haircut: Mrs. Beuhler cruelly cuts off Dolores's hair when she won't snitch on the other girls.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Inverted. The tyrants are in charge at the start but the kind and benevolent people take over.
- Unusual Euphemism: They say "meditation room", they mean "solitary confinement". They say "occupational therapy", they mean "hard labor".
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Whichever girl left scissors in plain sight in the dormitory ended up getting Beuhler to cut Dolores's hair off, the girl hanging herself and nearly getting Ruth and Dr. Jason fired.