This post and the one to follow it will focus on out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which I promise is pure coincidence. I happened to watch two films in a row that dealt with the subject — one that I always find interesting when it comes to older movies.
Pregnancy in general seemed to be a touchy subject for film studios for many years and I’m not quite sure when Production Code restrictions were loosened to the point of allowing the subject to be explored freely. These Wilder Years is one case that caught me by surprise. It includes a 16-year-old girl (Betty Lou Keim) who is staying at an orphanage until she can have her baby, which would be given away. Now, the topic of pre-marital pregnancy, although a delicate one, has been breached plenty of times before 1956, but what caught me off guard was a scene when we actually see the proverbial “baby bump.”
Up to this point, all films I have seen from this era conceal a woman’s enlarged abdomen even when the subject is married. Either the character simply is not seen while with child or loose shirts or dresses are worn to give the impression of maternity without actually showing any bulge. In These Wilder Years, however, Keim has one scene — in a courtroom — when she wears a dress tight to her big burden. In all other instances she is depicted in the aforementioned loose shirt.
These Wilder Years deals with illegitimate pregnancy in additional means outside of Keim’s character. The main plotline follows James Cagney as he seeks to locate a son he fathered out of wedlock and who was given up for adoption at the same orphanage. Barbara Stanwyck, in a surprisingly un-seductive turn, runs the orphanage. Although the relationship between Cagney and Stanwyck stinks of the classic enemy-then-lover vogue, the ending offers no onset of a relationship. In fact, the close of the picture was considerably unpredictable yet refreshingly realistic. It is both heartwarming and satisfying, even if Stanwyck is left alone. As far as the title goes, you tell me. Although it might make sense as a reference to the years of Cagney’s life when he is busy getting chicks pregnant, I think a better title is needed to embody the story.