Retro Television Reviews: Born Innocent (dir by Donald Wyre)


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1974’s Born Innocent!  It  can be viewed on Tubi!

Fresh off of her Oscar-nominated role in 1973’s The Exorcist, 15 year-old Linda Blair starred as Christine “Chris” Parker in Born Innocent.

Chris is a 14 year-old who has frequently been caught running away from home.  When you consider her home life, it’s easy to understand why she keeps running away.  Her father (Richard Jaeckel) is quick to lose his temper and obviously has no clue how to relate to a teenage daughter.  When he gets angry at Chris, he beats her.  Chris’s mother (Kim Hunter) spends all of her time smoking cigarettes, watching TV, and refusing to acknowledge what Chris is going through.  Chris’s older brother (Mitch Vogel) has escaped from their abusive home but he’s now got a family of his own and there’s no room for Chris.  With no other options available to her, Chris resorts to frequently running away from home.  In the eyes of the system, this makes her both a delinquent and a repeat offender.  However, as quickly becomes apparent, Chris is very naïve and hardly a criminal.  Instead, she’s just someone trying to escape a terrible situation.

After getting caught once again, Chris is sent to a juvenile detention center.  Unfortunately, because of overcrowding, Chris is sent to one of the toughest centers, one where she is surrounded by people who have done a lot more than just run away from home.  Everyone knows that Chris doesn’t belong at the center but there’s no where else to send her.  With the exception of one teacher (played by Joanna Miles), the staff is too overwhelmed to look after Chris.  Meanwhile, the other inmates see Chris as being an easy victim and they start to bully her.  Eventually, Chris loses her innocence and becomes just as ruthless and angry as her former victimizers.

Born Innocent is often described as being an exploitation film and, indeed, one can just look at the artwork at the top of this review and see how the film was advertised when it was eventually released on video.  That said, the film itself may be undeniably melodramatic but there’s also a sincerity and a sensitivity to it that sets it apart from other women in prison films.  Born Innocent is all about how the System creates criminals.  From the start of the film, it’s obvious that being locked up is the last thing that Chris needs.  Instead, Chris just needs someone to be willing to listen to her but the System would rather just toss her in juvenile hall and then forget about her.  Only Chris’s teacher cares about her but, by the time they actually meet, it’s already too late for Chris.  She’s already been tossed into a situation where the only thing that matters is survival.  Born Innocent is controversial for a scene in which Chris is attacked by several other inmates and sexually assaulted with with a plunger.  It’s a shocking scene and I can only imagine have television audiences in 1974 reacted to it.  In this scene and the scenes that immediately follow, Linda Blair gives a harrowing performance that captures the emotional trauma of what Chris has been put through.  It’s not easy to watch and that’s the point.

Unfortunately, Blair is a bit less convincing during the second half of the film, in which Chris becomes progressively more and more cold-hearted.  The idea is that Chris, in order to protect herself, becomes just as intimidating as the girls who attacked her.  Unfortunately, the vulnerability that made Linda Blair ideal for The Exorcist and the first half of this film also make it difficult to take her seriously as cold-hearted sociopath.  During the second half of the film, Blair tries so hard to come across as being tough that she never convinces us.  Later, in films like Savage Streets, Blair would become one of the toughest badasses around but, in this film, she still come across as being essentially born innocent.

One response to “Retro Television Reviews: Born Innocent (dir by Donald Wyre)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 12/5/22 — 12/11/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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