Teenage Mother is one of a small handful of what could be called “quintessential” or even canonical, if you prefer, sexploitation films of the 1960s. Which is not to say it’s all that “good,” either, but it does have a rather full quota of exploitation staples such as sleazy drug dealers, disapproving parents, gang violence, and of course, a lying slut! (Film School Rejects called Teenage Mother a “grindhouse Juno”—I’m not sure how true that is, but it sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?)
It’s also a peculiar cultural marker of pre-“sexual revolution” American history. Beyond the scare tactics and corny drama, the film’s pièce de résistance (and the real reason for this otherwise merely “okay” movie becoming so notorious) was, of course, its full color live birth reel complete with speculum and very close close-ups. You have to marvel at the business genius of director Jerry Gross. His company Cinemation Industries—which would later release Fritz The Cat, The Cheerleaders, The Black Godfather and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song—pioneered an unusual traveling roadshow presentation with this film that included a sex education lecture at each screening. Why? Because it would make it defensible in court. It wasn’t “obscene” it was educational! In a pre-porn era, this stuff was box office boffo. Gross just wanted to show an extreme close up of woman’s vagina on-screen, but the only way he was going to be able to do it legally back then was in the guise of a “sex education” film with a ham-fisted moral message —as if he gave a damn about anything other than collecting the box office receipts—and… medical footage.
The existence of Teenage Mother is a reminder, not of a more innocent age, in my opinion, but an era just more ignorant of sex in general (not all that long ago, either). The film jumps through several very odd hoops at once, but If you know the backstory, it makes it an even more interesting cinematic curio… I guess! Incidentally according to IMDB, Gross paid a hospital just $50 for the birth footage.
The hottie in the lead role is actress Arlene Sue Farber—undoubtedly a grandmother by now—who a few years later starred (as “Arlene Tyger”) in Gross’s fake Italian sexploitation flick Female Animal (which God help me, I own the soundtrack for). Teenage Mother also has an unexpected cameo from a baby-faced Fred Willard as the gym teacher.