20 April 2013 | blanche-2
west side angst
Post-World War II, there was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and this was mirrored in films such as "Blackboard Jungle," "Rebel without a Cause," "High School Confidential," and "Knock on Any Door." Antiheroes like James Dean and Marlon Brando became popular, and sexual threats like Elvis Presley invaded music. To adults, the kids were out of control.
"The Young Savages" from 1961 is another film looking at the rise in delinquency, this one starring Burt Lancaster, Shelley Winters, Dina Merrill, and Telly Savalas (in his film debut). Directed by John Frankenheimer, the film is an attempt to get at the psychological reasons behind the murder of a Puerto Rican boy in Harlem.
Lancaster plays DA Hank Bell aka Bellini before his father changed it. He grew up in the neighborhood depicted. Now there is an ethnic division, the Italians versus the Puerto Ricans, with gang activity on both sides - West Side Story sans music.
Hank Bell is to prosecute the juveniles accused of the stabbing, and one of them is the son of a woman (Winters) whom he once dated. She tells him her son could not have been involved in any murder and begs him to look into it. In real life I think he would have had to give the case to someone else, but here, he tries to find out what really happened. Along the way, he learns some things about himself.
Like "Knock on Any Door," "The Young Savages" endeavors to show what's behind the tragedy. Merrill is Karin, Hank's suburban life, with the liberal philosophy of one who doesn't actually deal with juveniles. She's a far cry from Hank's old girlfriend from the neighborhood - Hank has reinvented himself and has a debutante type for a wife. Partly from guilt, partly from "there but for the grace of God," Hank throws himself into the case, endeavoring to see both sides, to the complete annoyance of his superiors.
Good movie with an intense performance by Lancaster. The film is notable also for being Telly Savalas' first film, playing a police detective with shades of Kojak. The juveniles - Stanley Kristien, Neil Nephew, Luis Arroyo, Jose Perez, and Richard Velez, are all excellent.
Though somewhat derivative, this is a good film -- Burt Lancaster's production company was associated with quality films, and this is one of them.