Young Savages, The (1961)

Young Savages, The (1961)

“You think being blind made that kid an angel or somethin’?”

When a D.A. (Burt Lancaster) in New York City investigates the fatal stabbing of a blind Puerto Rican gang member by three white gangsters — Danny (Stanley Kristien), Arthur (John Davis Chandler), and ‘Batman’ (Neil Burstyn) — he is quickly reminded how many factors contribute to juvenile delinquency and crime.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Gangs
  • John Frankenheimer Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Telly Savalas Films

The same year West Side Story (1961) was released, John Frankenheimer directed this adaptation of a novel by Evan Hunter, which was similarly focused on Anglo/Puerto Rican gang tensions in New York City. The storyline of The Young Savages is complicated by the fact that the central protagonist (Lancaster) grew up in the same neighborhoods as the boys he’s defending, and even dated the mother (Shelley Winters) of one of them (Kristien).

Meanwhile, Lancaster’s wife (Dana Merrill) is openly cynical about his motivations:

… especially given that he’s being pressured by an ambitious local politician (Edward Andrews) to get a conviction. (Evans’ original novel was called A Matter of Conviction.)

Fortunately, there is a refreshing focus on the perspectives of at least a few impacted Puerto Rican family members:

… and the casting of Chandler — who made his cinematic debut as the title gangster in Mad Dog Coll (1961) — effectively showcases the menace on the streets posed by ongoing jockeying for territorial control.

However, the movie ultimately comes across as too much of an earnest “message flick”, making it primarily worth a look simply for Frankenheimer’s direction, aided by DP Lionel Linden.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Creative cinematography by Linden
  • Solid use of location shooting

Must See?
No, though Lancaster fans will surely want to give it a look.


One thought on “Young Savages, The (1961)

  1. First viewing (5/31/22). Not must-see.

    Lancaster’s generally subdued performance (which he occasionally gives us) is a plus in this racial-tension tale originally conceived by Evan Hunter (who also wrote the thematically related ‘The Blackboard Jungle’). As noted. the film opened the same year as ‘West Side Story’ and one can see similarities.

    What’s fairly compelling in the earlier half becomes less so as the film slowly moves into being a (not always convincing) courtroom drama. Certain narrative bullet points appear fuzzy here-and-there but the overall film remains of interest today considering American society’s current preoccupation with sorting out minorities.

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