I think that I have lost count of how many times I have watched this movie. Just to be clear, it isn’t because I like it. This is one of those movies that is so boring and forgettable that I keep forgetting about major aspects of the movie, so I wind up watching parts of it again. As I write this, I watched the movie most recently within the last week. However, I don’t recall a pretty important aspect of the ending. Still, I’ll do what I can to lay this one out for you all.
“I Accuse My Parents” is framed around a court case, in which a young man is on trial for a murder. We open with the judge prompting the accused to give testimony in his own defense, to which he dramatically claims, well, “I accuse my parents”. Then he poorly defends the claim through recollections, and that is our movie.
First off, the setting has the potential to be interesting. There are some great movies out there that use the progress of a court case to tell the story, and they often go to interesting places where they play with unreliable narrators as they are put on the stand. This movie missed a brilliant opportunity to play with the unreliable narrator concept in particular, because it is established relatively early on that the accused is accustomed to lying on a regular basis (he blames his parents for making him pick up that habit, more or less). Despite that, there is no reason given for the audience to be skeptical of any of his testimony, and no one speaks to counter his recollection of events. Basically, the entire courtroom takes the testimony of the accused, a self-admitted grandiose liar, as gospel recollection of all events. Admittedly, this is a simple message movie that isn’t going to delve too deep into anything, but this is one of the most ridiculous courtrooms I’ve seen in a film.
The characters are all very one-dimensional and flat, which contributes greatly to the difficultly of sitting through the movie. The lead character is the only one who really changes in any way, and even his developments are shallow. He goes from being an ace student to a charlatan quasi-gangster and back again over the course of what I believe was only a handful of days, and there is only one scene where we actually see him reconsider his actions. All of that said, the accessory cast are all similarly dull. It is possible that the poor portrayals should be a criticism aimed at the script and the director, because it almost seems like they were instructed and boxed in to acting like they were in a cheesy PSA (this was the 40s, I assume they didn’t know any better). Regardless of where the fault lies, the characters come off as very uninteresting and unconvincing. The only exceptions to this are the parents (the ones he “accuses”, if you recall). The mother character is an alcoholic party animal, who is played up to the maximum. I really wish she had more screen time, because the scene where she drunkenly crashes a PTA meeting is one of the only thoroughly watchable bits of the movie. There is also a great segment early in the movie where the mother and father bicker after coming home in the evening. The father character is a biting, sniping, sexist, miserable suit of some kind. He fires a few verbal darts at the mother, but he generally just blends into the background with the rest of the accessory cast outside of a select scene or two. In his case, the character is supposed to be generally absentee, so I can kind of understand him not standing out or getting a ton of time on screen. Still, I doubt it was a creative decision to make him particularly dull.
So, here comes the bit I don’t remember. As the plot progresses, the lead character gains a love interest while in the midst of one of his lying binges. She is connected to the owner(?) of the club where she performs (yeah, we get a musical number in this) semi-romantically, who also is into organized crime in one way or another. This mob dude recruits the protagonist into doing some sort of menial criminal work (you can tell how well I am remembering all of this, I’m sure). Mob dude connects that there is romantic shenanigans a-brewing between protagonist and the club singer, and decides to remove our “hero” from the equation. At this point, something happens. The love interest breaks off from the lead at the behest of the mobster, and other things happen. Protagonist-liar-pants runs away, and unsuccessfully attempts to rob a diner in one of the worst attempts at a criminal act ever played out on screen. The cook manages to talk him down (and subsequently hires him as an assistant) over the course of the attempted robbery. Good work there, ace.
After hanging around in the diner for some unclear amount of time, he returns home. Things happen, and he ultimately faces off against the mobster character. If I recall correctly, the mobster is killed over the course of the altercation, which is the reason for the trial.
That is the best I can recollect of this movie without looking anything up, and I have probably watched this 6 times, and 3 for sure within the last couple of months. This movie is painfully boring to watch, and the MST3k helps less than you would hope it would. It isn’t as bad of a film as “The Starfighters”, I could compare it more to “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies”, but without the cheesy effects and hammy acting that provided the few saving graces for it. “I Accuse My Parents” is really just a prime example of the message movies that were popular way back when. They weren’t deep, they weren’t artsy, and there was never much thought put into the acting or the plots in them. Like “The Starfighters” this movie is more like a historical tome than anything: it is an artifact of cinema, which I think would otherwise have been completely forgotten if not for the attention brought to it by MST3k. If watching this sort of cheesy message movie appeals to you ironically, or you enjoy cackling at the outdatedness of these sorts of films in general, then “Reefer Madness” is a much more famous and much more entertaining movie to check out. There are even some more recent edits of it that colorize the weed smoke to be a toxic green (IIRC), which makes the whole thing much more hilarious. That is a fun movie to sit through, “I Accuse My Parents” is not. However, if you are a MSTie, then this is a riff worth checking out. I think it is one of Joel’s best, but I am also firmly on Team Mike.
Oh, and here’s the musical number: