ROBERT ALTMAN–1950s EDITION

Here’s the trailer for Robert Altman’s first film, the independently produced 1955 teen hoodlum flick ‘The Delinquents’ (released in 1957). It was shot in Kansas City where Altman was then based, making industrial films and directing semi-amateur theatrical productions. The film apparently starred Tom ‘Billy Jack’ Laughlin (he’s not credited in the trailer), who Altman later called ‘an incredible pain in the ass’. This hoodlum/teen stuff loomed large in the decade following the war and the savvy youngish director wasn’t shy about capitalizing on it. The film features crisp black and white photography, loose Altman-esque performances, a bold opening pre-credit sequence and the only footage known of the legendary Kansas blues singer Julia Lee, singing ‘A Porter’s Love Song To A Chambermaid’–which I’ve only ever heard performed by Fats Waller. Altman made no great claims for the movie but it’s hardly anything for a young filmmaker of that era to have felt ashamed of. As a piece of work it bares curious comparisons with Altman’s later interests–counter-cultural figures, pop music, a general anti-establishment bias etc. But now I sound like one of those film profs whose classes I sat in the back of, elaborately rolling my eyes at just such blather. Sigh. I guess we do become our parents…

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