i have mixed feelings abt rupaul and drag race bc like… on the one hand its rly cool that drag is kinda becoming a little more mainstream bc its always been a part of queer pop culture and its really fun and important but also ….the show gives…. such a narrow view of what drag could be and seems to give fans these super high expectations like… all the recent drag race stars are so blatantly stinkin rich with all their custom designer clothes and all that and they have to be like… Flawless otherwise they get ripped a new one and its like…. i wish people who like the show would go to their local drag shows if they dont already bc a drag show that doesnt have like…. picture perfect queens w flawless tucks and all these crazy acrobatics can still be such a good time….
not to mention how heavily scripted the show seems to be… ive heard a couple reports of rupaul having what would be a genuine moment reshot bc it doesnt fit his narrative… even the finale episodes n stuff like… idk i love a lot of the queens from drag race and i dont think its a bad show but i hope people…. branch out their drag consumption beyond rupaul
John Frankenheimer had made a feature film before THE YOUNG SAVAGES in 1961 (THE YOUNG STRANGER [’57]), but after years of television work, this was his first A list movie, with mega-star and recent Oscar winner Burt Lancaster. It’s always a crapshoot when Hollywood decides to take on juvenile delinquency and this story, about an Italian gang, The Thunderbirds, attacking and killing a member of a Puerto Rican gang, The Horsemen, was clearly greenlighted in anticipation of the big-budget adaptation of WEST SIDE STORY that everyone knew was coming a couple of months later. And, inevitably, reviewers of the film now tend to make the lazy critique that it’s WEST SIDE STORY without the singing and dancing. No, it’s not. It is a film running so thematically counter to WEST SIDE STORY that such an observation is not only pointless but grounded in the worst kind of foolish consistency.
In truth, THE YOUNG SAVAGES is two things primarily: One, it is a procedural in which Assistant District Attorney Hank Bell (Lancaster) slowly pieces together the story of how a blind harmonica player in Spanish Harlem came to be stabbed to death by three Thunderbirds. Two, it is an examination of the hopeless culture of New York in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when the highways destroyed the neighborhoods, red-lining meant no one could get a break and all the tax money had fled to the suburbs. It succeeds on the first count, and does its best on the second, not getting too preachy but also pulling too many punches. Let’s call it a draw on number two.
John Frankenheimer always had a good eye and right from the start of his career, his movies had a sharpness to them that many others lacked. The opening credits play over shots of three gang members walking defiantly towards what we can only assume is a hit judging from their utter determination. The shots are all on location and as they walk through crowded neighborhoods and desolate abandoned buildings, Frankenheimer’s camera keeps moving with them, giving the opening a real pulsating energy. It’s only when they reach their target, Roberto Escalante (Jose Perez), a blind boy playing harmonica on a stoop, that Frankenheimer gets needlessly flashy, showing us most of the stabbing and aftermath through the reflection in Escalante’s sunglasses. In the next scene, when we see Bell walk into the police station, Frankenheimer gives us another skewed perspective, this time looking up through the hands of a couple of card players. Fortunately, after this, the clever shots stop and the movie begins.
Bell meets with the lead detective, Gunderson (Telly Savalas), and they question the three youths who have all been caught. One is clearly a violent bully, Arthur Reardon (the distinctive John Davis Chandler), one is clearly not all there, Anthony “Batman” Aposto (Neil Burstyn) and one seems like he’s just going along, Danny diPace (Stanley Kristien). That last one happens to be the son of Bell’s former lover, Mary diPace (Shelley Winters). Complicating matters further, Bell is going for Murder One and the death penalty for all three. And to make matters even worse for Bell, his own wife, Karin (Dina Merrill), thinks the death penalty is a moral disgrace and is disgusted that he’s pursuing it.
THE YOUNG SAVAGES came at a time when American cinema was freeing up, just a bit, from the restrictions of the infamous Production Code, and contains some mild language and violence. But that stuff no longer shocks or offends. No, what sets THE YOUNG SAVAGES apart is the relationship between Bell and Zorro (Luis Arroyo), the leader of The Horsemen. We find out in the movie that they’re called The Horsemen because they take and distribute heroin but the movie makes Zorro into a fully examined character, arguing solid points with Bell and winning his respect, despite being a gangster. We see his apartment, where an entire family lives in one room, and get a sense that controlling his turf has less to do with terrorizing and more to do with having some semblance of control in his life. And he has one of the best moments in the movie, when Bell informs him that he found out some incriminating details about Escalante, implying that he wasn’t a saintly blind boy after all. Zorro isn’t defeated for a second. He fires back stating that there’s a law against murder, and the law doesn’t say it only applies if the guy you killed was a good guy.
THE YOUNG SAVAGES took a chance. Social message movies always do. Sometimes, they explode onto the scene, like THE DEFIANT ONES (’58), and sometimes they fizzle. Like I said, it’s a crapshoot. But this movie is busting with talent. Obviously, there’s Lancaster but there’s also Telly Savalas, in his first movie role, doing a spectacular job. Savalas remains, in my opinion, one of the most criminally underused actors of his generation. And, of course, Shelley Winters, Dina Merrill and the great Edward Andrews as District Attorney R. Daniel Cole. So, even if the message isn’t your bag, the talent and the procedural should keep you going.
Oh, and one final note, having nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the movie but concerning an amazing event that happened behind the scenes. It just so happens that Frankenheimer had called on his friend Sydney Pollack to work with the young actors on the set as their coach. Pollack had been working with Sanford Meisner and was already getting a reputation for his skills as an acting coach. Lancaster was so impressed with Pollack’s work with the talent that he told Pollack to follow him to the phone where Lancaster promptly called the then head of Universal, Lew Wasserman. “Lew,” he said, “you need to hire this guy Sydney Pollack as a director. He’s never directed anything but he’s got to be better than the bums you have over there.” Pollack’s goal was to become a stage and screen actor but had enough sense to see the opportunity being handed to him. Wasserman hired him, Pollack became a director and Lancaster went on to work with Frankenheimer four more times, and Pollack three.