“We’re not talking about wild animals — we’re talking about tough, angry kids.”
After a gangland rumble between the Hornets and the the Dukes, a neighbor (Malcolm Atterbury) reports a member of the Hornets (Jimmy Ogg) to the police, and he’s sent to jail. The Hornets’ leader, Frankie (John Cassavetes), plots to get back at Atterbury with fatal finality, and enlists the help of two willing gang members — “Baby” (Sal Mineo), whose father (Will Kuluva) and sister (Denise Alexander) are concerned about him, and grinning psychopath Lou (Mark Rydell) — in carrying out a pre-meditated murder. Meanwhile, a caring social worker (James Whitmore) tries to reach out to Frankie, his younger brother (Peter Votrian), and Frankie’s overworked single mother (Virginia Gregg) to prevent the tragedy from occurring.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Don Siegel Films
- John Cassavetes Films
- Juvenile Delinquents
- Sal Mineo Films
Shortly after directing Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Don Siegel helmed this “social drama” — based on an Elgin Hour television play directed by Sidney Lumet — which is notable for featuring Cassavetes as the tough-as-nails lead; for the sympathetic presence of Sal Mineo a year after his breakthrough role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955); and for fine supporting performances all around (much of the cast starred in the original television production). Taking place within a confined set, the film effectively conveys the claustrophobic sensation of Cassavates as a literal ticking time bomb; while his only hope seems to be the sincere ministrations of Whitmore, another character ultimately emerges as a surprising lever for his hardened heart. It’s interesting early on to watch which of Cassavetes’ fellow gang members will join his plans, or not (enough bow out to clearly indicate that peer pressure alone isn’t enough to convince delinquents to turn to murder). An especially intriguing unexplored character is Rydell, playing a sociopathic teen seemingly in it for the kicks; along with impressionable Mineo (“Papa, let me grow up!”) and vengeful Cassavetes, these three kids represent a trio of diverse delinquency challenges to be reckoned with.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Cassavetes as Frankie
- Fine supporting performances
- Stark cinematography
No, but it’s recommended.