On a city's mean streets, the boys join gangs at 15. Frankie leads the Hornets: he's 18, seething, coiled. When a neighbor goes to the cops after seeing one of the Hornets with a zip gun, Frankie vows to kill the old guy, hatching a plan using Lou, who smiles and smokes, and "Baby," the 15-year-old son of an immigrant shopkeeper. Ben Wagner, the social worker at a neighborhood settlement house, gets wind of the plan and tries to break through to Frankie. Frankie's brother Richie, who's about 12, worships and fears Frankie; he also figures out what his brother is up to. Is Frankie doomed to crash and burn at 18? Written by
The film reminds me of one of those powerhouse Studio One TV plays of the early '50's. And that's a key problem. The movie comes across as a filmed stage play as though the format hasn't changed at all. I expect TV playwrite Reginald Rose had a lot to do with that approach, while ace action director Don Siegel simply followed out the script in uninvolved fashion.
In short, the screenplay is way too talky, under-produced, and poorly staged. Never once, for example, did I forget that the street scene was mounted on a sound stage, with all kinds of traffic noises at the same time cars seldom pass on the roadway. Also, the few sets are so unrelentingly dreary and without a shred of adornment, you might think the deficiency is in the people rather than the conditions. After all, a shred or two would be more realistic, even in a slum. So, why rub our nose in it.
Then too, the screenplay repeats about every delinquency cliché of the dayalienation, no father, poverty, to cite a few. Now, there is some truth in these clichés, as there is in most clichés. The trouble is the script simply parades them in unoriginal fashion leaving the impression of having seen it all before. Worse, that intense actor John Cassavetes is given little to do but brood and posture and look 27 instead of the supposed 18. And what's with dressing him in a yuppie v-neck sweater that looks like it belongs on a Harvard freshman.
Nonetheless, it is an accomplished cast with some colorful characterizations. Mineo's excellent as the reluctant delinquent, Gregg fairly oozes bread-winner exhaustion, and little Votrian can look pathetic on cue. At the same time, Rydell's sadistic grin suggests needed malevolence, while Whitmore's social worker is happily no miracle man. Clearly, this is an earnest effort whose heart is in the right place. Still and all, the positives are too few to outweigh the stagy negatives. In short, there're good reasons this obscurity is not included among the delinquency classics of the day.
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