“You have to understand something,” says 14-year-old John Robinson. “I really liked Fran. I mean, I wanted her to be my girlfriend!” Instead, Francesca Bailey is found dead – strangled with her own panties on Friday the 13th no less. And since she was last seen walking through the Canadian countryside with angelic-faced John (beautifully played by ANDREW SKIDD), he’s arrested for murder as the police, forensic experts and, eventually, the courts try to determine if young Mr. Robinson is really an innocent, rather decent boy-next-door… or a Teenage Psycho Killer.
Unfolding a few days before the murder, John and his friends – a group of ordinary kids (nerdy fat boy, a nasty thug-in-the-making, a couple of horny girls, etc.) – spend the summer flirting with masturbation, making out at the movies, wrestling on the ground, and talking about “doing it” before riding home on their bicycles. (One of the film’s many strengths is its honest attitude toward young teens and their sexuality.) But when Fran’s body is found, the whole world turns upside down. Though the evidence against John is slim to nonexistent – and a more obvious suspect is glaringly overlooked – he is nevertheless held without bail and, in a mad rush to judgment, tried as an adult, sold out by his friends, paraded before an angry mob who’d love to lynch him, and even humiliated with open-court testimony about his sperm-stained underwear and red swollen penis. Unfortunately, things only get worse….
In a film that’s meant to upset, perhaps what’s most upsetting is that it’s based on fact. In 1959, 14 year-old Stephen Truscott, of Clinton, Ontario, was arrested for the murder of 12 year-old classmate Lynn Harper. As in the film, Truscott was tried as an adult, and convicted on evidence that was dubious at best or badly mishandled – especially the medical testimony supplied by the coroner who, in real-life, was named Dr. Peniston (swear to God). Nevertheless, Truscott became the youngest person ever to be sentenced to hang in Canada. While awaiting execution, then Prime-Minister John Diefenbaker – who was as disturbed by the trial and death penalty as most of the Canadian public – had Truscott’s sentence commuted to life in prison. After serving ten years behind bars, Truscott was paroled and disappeared from public view. However, in 2000, 55-year-old Truscott went public. Backed by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, he applied to have his case reexamined and his conviction set aside.
Originally released in the U.S. as Teenage Passion, this is an excellent little obscurity and not the typical Something Weird schlockfest. In fact, Truscott’s even seen it. According to a crawl at the film’s conclusion, “the controversial case remains a glaring testament to the potential fallibility of the civilized world’s judicial system. When shown this film, Truscott remarked that he ‘liked it’ and added that ‘it gave a good insight into what it was like at that time.’” From a 35mm “brave-little-Johnny-boy” print.
-- Watson Pritchard
Color: Color Canada Widescreen
Starring: Andrew Skidd
Co-starring: Robb Judd
Other cast: Mike Upmalis, Karen Martin, Michelle Fansett
Directed by: Murray Markowitz