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A district attorney investigates the racially charged case of three teenagers accused of the murder of a blind Puerto Rican boy. He begins to discover that the facts in the case aren't exactly as they seem to be. Written by
During the commentary she did for the DVD of Sunday Showcase: What Makes Sammy Run?: Part 1 (1959) Dina Merrill said that the treatment she received from director John Frankenheimer on this picture nearly drove her out of the business. He literally told her at the end of a days' filming that she was the worst actress he'd ever worked with. She said she went home in tears. It got so bad that her co-star Burt Lancaster came to her defense one morning by ridiculing the directors' "good mood" as evidenced by the fact that he hadn't insulted Dina yet. See more »
When Hank Bell goes to Zorro's apartment, when he walks down the narrow hallway the shadow of the hand-held camera is clearly visible on the front of Bell. See more »
For The Young Savages Burt Lancaster went back to his roots. The actor was born and raised in the East Harlem section of Manhattan. At that time it had not become a Latino neighborhood, it was predominantly Italian where he grew up. To this day there are still a few Italian families in the area in and around Pleasant Avenue and neighboring streets. His had to be the only WASP family in the area at the time.
In 1961 just as you see in West Side Story the neighborhood was divided with racial and ethnic tensions. But these kids don't sing and dance between rumbles. They are a hard bitten bunch of punks on both sides.
In fact that's where our story begins as three Italian kids leave their turf and go and stab a blind Hispanic youth. It's a crime that shocks the city. Ambitious District Attorney Edward Andrews sees this as a case when successfully prosecuted could make him governor. He relies on one of his best men, ADA Burt Lancaster to bring home a victory and a trip to old Sparky as they called the electric chair in Sing Sing.
Of course there's a lot more to the case than meets the eye both in the crime and in Lancaster's conflicted loyalties. He's happily married to pretty Dina Merrill from the suburbs. She's what you call a limousine liberal, one who's ideas are shaped by books instead of living the poverty she's studied in school about.
I've met many like that and it really is true many conservatives are liberals who've been mugged. When one of the gangs gives her a bad experience, she sings a different tune.
But where The Young Savages falls apart for me is the fact that Lancaster was once involved with Shelley Winters, the mother of one of the three defendants. I'm sorry, but right then and there Lancaster in real life would have recused himself from this case. Of course Winters appeals to him for old time's sake and Lancaster starts doing his own investigation and prods the police to do more on their end.
In the film also Lancaster is from that neighborhood. His character's family name of Bell was once Bellini. Many families with ethnic names of all types anglicized them or had them anglicized by immigration officials.
The film which according to a recent biography of Burt Lancaster was shot in 35 days on location in New York City. It was a project Lancaster did while waiting to do Birdman of Alcatraz. The Young Savages is notable for being Telly Savalas's big screen debut and for Lancaster using TV director John Frankenheimer on his first big assignment. Purportedly Lancaster was pretty rough on Frankenheimer, but in the end he impressed the star so that he did four more films with him including Birdman of Alcatraz. And Telly Savalas was in that one too.
Though the film is based on one horribly bad premise, the acting and directing are not bad. I had the same criticism of 12 Angry Men in which another young talented director, Sidney Lumet got his first break. The Young Savages remains a graphic look at a seamier side of New York City during the Kennedy years.
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