Street Corner (1948)
Directed by Albert H. Kelley
Wilshire Pictures Corp.
Street Corner is one of several “sex hygiene” films that followed in the wake of Kroger Babb’s notorious roadshow presentation Mom and Dad (1945) and attempted to copy its phenomenal success.
Like all exploitation movies from the 1940s, Street Corner had to demonstrate some kind of legitimate educational value in order to show lurid footage that could never make it into mainstream Hollywood entertainment, like syphilitic penises and close-up footage of babies being born.
Street Corner does a much better job of walking this line than a trashy picture like Test Tube Babies (1948). Its call for facts-based sex education for young people is a noble one, although the film is in every way a product of its time.
Dr. James Fenton (played by Joseph Crehan) narrates the film, telling the sad tale of his friends Mr. and Mrs. Marsh (Don Brodie and Jean Fenwick), who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to prepare their daughter Lois (Marcia Mae Jones) for the realities of grown-up life. Clara Marsh tells Dr. Fenton that Lois is a very sensitive girl and that she’d be shocked. She’ll learn about the birds and the bees “somehow.” Somehow is right, says the doctor, who warns Mr. and Mrs. Marsh that if children aren’t given proper sex education they’ll learn about it on “the street corner” or in “the alley.”
Lois Marsh is 17 years old when she ambivalently loses her virginity to her 19-year-old boyfriend Bob Mason (John Treul) on prom night. He gets her with the old “I’m going to college and this’ll be our last date in a long, long time” routine. The director of Street Corner, Albert H. Kelley, shows that he knows how to wield symbolism as a blunt object by depicting Lois having sex for the first time with a close-up shot of her hand slowly crushing her corsage. (Wink wink.)
Naturally, since this is a sex hygiene film, one night of knocking boots knocks up poor Lois. Her clueless parents offer no help. Her boyfriend rushes back from college to marry her, but he winds up a smear on the highway, and Lois winds up in the hands of the local abortionist (Gretl Dupont).
Lois’s visit to the abortionist is shot and scored like a horror movie. Unlike Vera Drake, this abortionist takes payment and doesn’t seem to care very much about the young women in her care.
Dr. Fenton’s voice-over drives home the horror: “Fear and ignorance have combined to add another victim to the ever-mounting toll. Another human life has been destroyed by one of the most malignant practices of a civilized society; abortion.”
People who bought tickets to Street Corner had to wait nearly an hour to see Dr. Fenton’s “clinical demonstration,” his regular weekly clinic of sex education that features explicit short films. The first is The Miracle of Birth, which begins with an animation of an egg being released into the female organs of reproduction, then being fertilized by a lone sperm. Eventually this leads to what Dr. Fenton calls “the ultimate and crowning glory of womanhood, the miracle of birth,” which takes place while the mother is asleep under a light anesthetic. We get to see a baby boy coaxed out of a vagina and then see his umbilical cord cut.
The next film is Birth by Caesarean Section, which I’m sure satisfied any budding gore-hounds in the audience while sickening everyone else.
Then we get Human Wreckage, a film about venereal disease that explains the importance of blood tests before marriage, followed by a series of graphic close-ups of male and female genitals infected with syphilis and gonorrhea, which are meant to caution viewers against neglect, self-treatment, and quack medicine.
Street Corner was made long before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in America. Dr. Fenton makes no bones about calling abortion “murder.” And of course there is no mention of any kind of birth control in the film. Apparently just knowing that it isn’t the stork that brings babies will be enough to stop girls from getting green-gowned and knocked up after the prom.