American Autonomy and Identity Crisis in I Was A Teenage Werewolf: Exploitation Cinema as Subversive Communist Text

landon.jpgIn the middle of the last century, the United States of America was in full swing at the Communist Threat Within. McCarthyism was rife and Hollywood was in thrall to the bullyboy tactics of blacklisting. The rampant success of I Was A Teenage Werewolf [1957] in this time period is surprising given its quite obvious denigration of American individualism in the face of authoritarian control.

Michael Landon is a ‘troubled’ teenager who has a problem with subjugation of any kind. He has a problem with being touched, with being criticized, with being surprised. Mostly he does not like being told what to do. People “bug” him. At first blush this could be taken as a normal pubescent teenpic where these typical bouts of teen angst are visible in the guise of the werewolf; and while this is a valid analysis, it does not preclude all other analyses.

Michael Landon is enraged because he has learned that American idealism is a fraud. The individualism he was raised with as his lifeblood turns to bitter gall when faced with the harsh reality that he must kowtow to those in power and accept that others have their own opinions. The rage of this realization coupled with the abilities of the evil hypnotherapist result in a manifestation of liminal uncertainty: the werewolf. Only as the werewolf can Michael Landon truly be considered autonomous and his crisis of identity be resolved. He is one of a kind, and instinct beats reason leaving all questions without need of being answered.

Yet Michael Landon cannot handle autonomy either. He destroys all that is around him and is eventually destroyed by the police. While the plot itself might seem rather straightforward in promoting conformity, it remains an Communist allegorical construction of victory over the West.

A recap; Michael Landon [as Dynamic Post-​War America] cannot cope with the inherent contradictions between American Idealism and Practice [manifested in the werewolf] and is destroyed by the reasonable and orderly implacability of Authority [the Police and just about every other adult in the film]. The fact that it was so hugely successful is evidence enough that McCarthyism was right on the money and that America was full of commie pinko bastards in the 1950s.

I report, you decide.