I have to admit that, as someone who watches a lot of movies that were made before she was even born and who is just fascinated by history in general, I have often wondered what the 60s and the 70s were really like. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know what everyone says they were like — hippies, disco, cocaine, Watergate, Jimmy Carter, Viet Nam, and all the rest. But people’s memories usually fade with the passage of time and it’s always hard not to feel that whatever I’m hearing is either an idealization or an exaggeration. That’s one reason why I like watching the often critically reviled, low-budget films of that period. Since these films were usually made by people who didn’t really care what judgmental viewers like me would think 20 years in the future, they are usually far more accurate when it comes to portraying the world from which they came than a film that was by a big studio whose main concern was to present an idealized portrait of existence that would not alienate any potential ticket buyers. Crown International Pictures may never have been an acclaimed film studio but, as one of the more prolific producers of 70s exploitation fare, their films now serve as a valuable historical record of the time in which they were made.
If I want to know what it was like to be young and perhaps stupid in the 70s, I go to Crown International Pictures.
Take The Young Graduates for example. First released all the way back in 1971, The Young Graduates was advertised as being “a report card on the love generation.” The Young Graduates gives us a clue as to what it was like to be a teenager in 1971. Judging from the film, it really sucked.
The Young Graduates tells the story of Mindy (Patricia Wymar), who is on the verge of graduating from high school. She has a boyfriend named Bill (Gary Rist) but wow, is he boring! All he wants to do is compete in drag races and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s incapable of expressing his emotions. (Assuming that he has any. The film is a bit ambiguous on this point.) So, Mindy gets bored and has an affair with one of her teachers, the very married Jack Thompson (Steven Stewart). Soon after realizing that Mr. Thompson will never leave his wife for her, Mindy suspects that she might be pregnant. So, she and her friend Sandy (Marly Holliday) decided to take a road trip to Big Sur. Along the way, they meet a sweet hippie (Dennis Christopher), a bunch of bad hippies, and some really bad bikers. During their entire journey, they are pursued by Bill, Mr. Thompson, and Sandy’s boyfriend, Les (Bruno Kirby).
Though you wouldn’t know it from the film’s peppy soundtrack or Wymar’s cheerful performance as the continually put upon Mindy, The Young Graduates is actually a pretty dark movie. With the exception of Pan, everyone that Mindy meets outside of high school is not to be trusted. Essentially, she’s exploited by everyone that she meets and what makes it all the more disturbing is that Mindy smiles throughout the whole ordeal, almost as if Candide had been reincarnated in the form of a teenage girl.
So, The Young Graduates is really not much of a film. Subsequent Crown International films would revisit high school and almost all of them would feature better acting and a far more interesting plot than the The Young Graduates. No, the film does not work as a drama. But as a documentary and as a time capsule, there’s a lot to enjoy about The Young Graduates. The fashion, the haircuts, the music, and just the film’s general attitude are such relics of the late 60s and early 70s that the film is the next best thing to owning a working time machine.
That said, if The Young Graduates was an accurate picture of that time — well, I might not be asking for a time machine this Christmas after all!