Showtime’s current determination to remake a clutch of drive-in flicks from the golden age of Grade-Z cinema (1955 or thereabouts) — 10 in all, under the umbrella title “Rebel Highway”– contains the implicit notion that a scrupulous retread of a bygone movie can somehow stand up to its vintage archetype. Thanks to some observant re-creations of past folkways and the keen awareness (above all by director Joe Dante and writer Charlie Haas) that great cliches never die, “Runaway Daughters” handsomely and delightfully affirms that point.
High on a windy hill, highschoolers Bob (Chris Young) and Mary (Holly Fields) have, as the expression has it, “gone too far.”
In the time-honored movieland way, she becomes instantly pregnant, or so she believes. He, sharing the national obsession over the Soviets’ having launched their first Sputnik satellite, flees marital responsibility and enlists in the Navy.
The jilted Mary enlists her two pals (Julie Bowen, Jenny Lewis); in a stolen car they take off in hot pursuit, planning to head off the errant Bob at his duty report.
On the road, the girls elude horny cops, commie-baiters and game hunters, three sets of pursuing parents, boyfriends, siblings and a Columbo-style private detective. By exquisite timing, everyone manages to arrive simultaneously at the recruitment station, where matters get sorted out.
Based on same-named American International not-quite-epic, the remake manages to preserve the innocent goofiness of the genre while also perpetrating a good-humored sendup.
Dialogue by Haas (with the story credited to him and the scripter of the original, Lou Rusoff) is all sweet innocence and tearful sincerity; as in his “Gremlins” pix, director Dante fits his action perfectly against the poster-paint suburbia of designers Brian Karsch and Kathleen McKernin.
A further dollop of authenticity is afforded by delicious cameo appearances, as Bob’s patriotic parents, by B-picture pioneer Roger Corman and his wife Julie.
They don’t make movies like this anymore. It’s enough to make you want to rebuild the drive-ins.