Don Gregor (Clancy Malone), the son of a famous and well-loved plastic surgeon (Herbert Rawlinson) is working hard on becoming the black sheep of his family. Despite (or because of?) the incessant motherly preaching of his sister (Dolores Fuller), Don's running with a bad crowd, namely a gangster named Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell).
Just after Don's first real run-in with the police (as played by Lyle Talbot and a very young Steve Reeves) for illegal gun possession, he and Vic decide that now's the ideal time to rob some money from a nightclub. Not surprisingly, given the level of intellect the duo demonstrate, things go very wrong indeed. Don shoots the club's watchman (or a cop? or the film just pretends it's the same thing?) dead. He and Vic think they've also gotten rid of a witness in form of a nightclub dancer, but she's up and about soon enough, willing and able to identify Don to the police.
Afterwards, Don shows he isn't a completely hopeless cause. On Vic's insistence, the young man goes on the run from the police, but a stern talking-to from his dad convinces him that it would be best to give himself up to the police.
Alas, Vic has other plans.
Ah, dear Ed Wood, or rather, dear Edward D. Wood Jr. Supposedly the worst director in the history of cinema (as if there weren't many much better candidates for that title), he still managed to make a handful of highly entertaining films out of random assortments of actors and non-actors, cardboard, library footage, and the power of sheer enthusiasm.
Jail Bait surely is no exception. As should be obvious from its plot, the film is Wood's attempt at making a film noir (depending on your definition of what a film noir is - if Phil Karlson's hard-boiled crime movies don't belong under that description for you, Jail Bait won't either), though one of the often quite flatly lit variation. Wood's idea of plotting being what it is, the film's third act suddenly turns it into something of a horror movie, but that's the sort of randomness that makes Wood's movies so much more interesting than - say - those of Larry Buchanan.
On a technical level, I never found Wood to be all that bad. He's obviously conscious of the concept of camera movement, actually uses editing to set up dramatic scenes and so on and so forth. Sure, Wood has the strange proclivity to concentrate on people's backs instead of their faces during dialogue scenes, and the characters tend to stand around as stiffly positioned as if they were action figures, but honestly, when you've seen some of the stuff I've seen by now, Wood's a pretty great director.
It certainly helps that all of the film's technical flaws aren't just bad in a boring way, but of the slightly loopy sort that tend to make a film just more entertaining to watch.
More or less the same goes for the acting: Fuller, Rawlinson and Reeves (who, by the way, has a short beefcake moment for the ladies and gents looking forward to that sort of thing) are all dreadful, but they are all dreadful in various perfectly interesting ways. Farrell's surprisingly enough even quite good as a pulp gangster.
My favourite parts of Jail Bait, though, are the weird contortions of its script. It's not just the film's bizarre and random turn into an unexpected direction in its final act, there's also Wood's brilliant talent for writing highly peculiar dialogue lines - in this case hidden away between some pretty nice hard-boiled one-liners, actually - that make less sense the more you think about them.