Monday, May 18, 2009

Latino Images in Film ~ The Young Savages (1961)

The Young Savages (1961) stars Burt Lancaster as Hank Bell an assistant D.A. put on the case of three teenage Wops (Italians) that stabbed a blind teenage 'Spic (Puerto Rican) to death. At first the case seems really clear, this innocent blind kid out of nowhere gets brutally murdered by rageful strangers. However, the story unfolds and things are more complicated than they seemed. District Attorney is lusting after the governor's position and wants Bell to get the death penalty. Bell, who grew up in the slums with his fellow Wops, at first wants the same but starts to sympathize with old fiancee Mary DiPace (Shelley Winters) whose son was one of the three boys involved in the crime. Bell gets caught between two violent gangs Thunderbirds (Italians) and the Horsemen (Puerto Ricans), blood thirsty newspapermen, incapable cops, the loves of his life, and the list goes on and on. The film ends with riveting court scenes as the three Italian boys face their sentencing.

This is director John Frankenheimer second film and first with legendary actor Burt Lancaster. The cinematography is gorgeous. Many shots are layered and the mise-en-scene is dramatic with objects and faces frozen in the foreground and action happening in the background. The film deals with social issues in a way that only a '60s movie can do. The decade really opened filmmakers up to explore human nature more freely and with less restriction as the Code's reign was nearing it's demise. I place The Young Savages at the upper-echelon of superb dramatic movies! (Please read the excellent article on TCM's website about the film. Lots of great trivia and facts to be found there!)

I'm a bit torn about how the Puerto Ricans are represented in this film and find myself more ambivalent than offended. At first, the blind Puerto Rican boy is the epitome of innocence. His family, friends and neighbors all seem angelic in their mourning. However, as the story progresses the separation balance of evil on both sides changes with the Italians looking better and the Puerto Ricans looking worse and worse. We initially hate those three Italian boys but then we pity them. I'm not sure if this story would have worked in reverse with three Puerto Rican teens killing a blind Italian boy or if Bell would have been Puerto Rican, and in that case we wouldn't have had the wonderful Burt Lancaster in the starring role. This is such a great film than I really don't want to think to think ill of it but really in the end the representation of Latinos in this film can be considered poor at best. If you have any thoughts on these, please share!

Level of Brown Face ~ 0 out of 5 shades. 100% real Hispanic actors. Woot!

TCM Latino Images in Film Line-Up for Tuesday May 19th

The Lawless (1950)
Trial (1955)
Cry Tough (1959)
The Young Savages (1961)
Blackboard Jungle (1955)


  1. This sounds like a keeper. As a Frankenheimer fan I must rent it. The shots remind me of The Train, another film of his. Remember, back then wops were only a little better than spics, see From Here to Eternity. It's too bad Trini Lopez never got a role like Sinatra had in that one.

  2. I concur with the esteemed Mr. Salami re: his being a fan of John Frankenheimer. I've the Toshiba already set to record this one, a movie I've been wanting to see for some time now.

  3. I've been enjoying your posts on the Latino Images on film! Did you happen to catch Borderline with Bette Davis and Paul Muni? I would love to read your thoughts on that film.

  4. I was already looking forward to this film because it was Burt Lancaster, and now with your rave review, it's getting even more exciting! It sounds totally worth staying up to see, but I have class tomorrow morning, so I can't do that. :( I'll let you know what I think, though.

  5. Hi! You're tagged again!
    This time I created the tag, and for what seems like the first time ever, it's actually a movie themed tag!

  6. Tommy - Good point about spics, although they are technically caucasian, even if they are considered lower level and latinos can be anything from caucasian to black. But then again, I'm also seeing it with 21st century eyes.

    Ivan - Let me know what you think when you see it!

    Jennchez - Everyone keeps asking me about that one. I still have it taped in a stack of tapes next to my tv. Gotta get on it!

    Casey - It's on DVD too. :-)

    Kate - Thanks for the tag!


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