Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Young Savages (1961) East Harlem Gang Noir

"A lot of people killed your son, Mrs. Escalante."
East Harlem 1961, a time of genuine upheaval. The demise of the 3rd Avenue el and its demolition 1955-56 opened up Yorkville and East Harlem to real estate redevelopment. A roadway reconstruction project widened 3rd Avenue to 70 feet and rows upon rows of tenements on either side were raised for the new highrises to come. This is the tableau vivant, frozen in time, that director John Frankenheimer presents in The Young Savages. The story is based on Evan Hunter's novel "A Matter of Conviction." Evan Hunter was the legally adopted name of Salvatore Albert Lombino who also wrote under the name Ed Mcbain among others. He was born in East Harlem in 1926 and his early life on the streets obviously informed the tale. The screenplay was written by Edward Anhalt and J.P. Miller.

East Harlem

Arthur Reardon (John Davis Chandler), Danny DiPace (Stanley Kristien), and  Anthony "Batman" Aposto (Neil Nephew)

The excellent cinematography was by Lionel Lindon (The Blue Dahlia (1946), Alias Nick Beal (1949), The Turning Point (1952), Hell's Island (1955), The Big Caper (1957) I Want to Live! (1958), The Manchurian Candidate (1962)). The nice jazz and bongo score was by David Amram (Splendor in the Grass (1961), The Manchurian Candidate (1962)).

It looks like a war zone. Wrecking balls are battering brick flophouses and tenements to rubble. Walls left standing are occasionally seen with rectangles of wallpaper or paint denoting the outlines of recently vanished rooms. Piles of salvage, wood, bricks, lead, copper festoon the cityscape.

Three street hoods, Danny DiPace (Stanley Kristien), Arthur Reardon (John Davis Chandler) and Anthony "Batman" Aposto (Neil Nephew) phalanx through the destruction on a mission. They are part of the Thunderbirds gang. They are warring over turf with a gang of Puerto Ricans called the Horsemen who control three blocks.

Roberto Escalante (uncredited) Louisa Escalante (Pilar Seurat)

Danny, Arthur, and "Batman", in broad daylight walk right up to Roberto Escalante a blind member of the Horsemen and stab him to death with switchblades. They run but are cornered by NYPD and caught. They are questioned by assistant district attorney Hank Bell (Burt Lancaster) who discovers that Danny is the son of his old neighborhood flame Mary diPace (Shelley Winters).

Hank Bell (Burt Lancaster)

Detective Gunderson (Telly Savalas), center

They separate out DiPace because he's under sixteen. When Hank tries to question Reardon he gets wiseass bullshit. From "Batman" he gets a song.

"Batman"(sung to my Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean): My mother sells snow to the snowbirds. My father makes barber shop gin, my sister sells (her ass) gas for a livin', and that's why the money rolls in.

When he discusses the case with district attorney Dan Cole (Edward Andrews), Hank tells him he knows DiPace's mother and that he is actually from the same neighborhood. Hank's father changed the family surname from Bellini, to fit in better in whatever he was pursuing. Hank went to law school and married Karin (Dina Merrill) a Vassar girl. Karin isn't impressed with Hanks zealotry.

Karin: Oh, by the way, your old girlfriend Mary DiPace called today... twice. I referred her to your office, did you talk to her?
Hank: I don't know what to say to her.
Karin: Oh why don't you just tell her that you're going to burn her son for old times sake.

"tell her that you're going to burn her son for old times sake."
When Hank meets Mary, she tells him that Danny promised he'd never join a gang. Digging into the facts Bell visits the hangouts, the tenements, the families and all that were involved. He gets attacked on a subway, and his wife gets threatened in an elevator.

Fulton Street Fish Market

Angela Rugiello (Jody Fair)

The film through Hank's investigations, interactions and trial evolves into an indictment of society as a whole. The broken homes, the ethnic discrimination, the high levels of poverty, the squalid conditions, the instability, the lack of education, the low I.Q.s, the gangs and the local political machines are all to blame. Society as a whole is going to Noirsville.


 Karin (Dina Merrill)

Louisa Escalante (Pilar Seurat), Mrs. Escalante (Vivian Nathan)

Pretty Boy Savarese (Chris Robinson)

Hank and Mary DiPace (Shelley Winters)

District Attorney R. Daniel Cole  (Edward Andrews)

The film also features Larry Gates as Randolph, Telly Savalas as Detective Gunderson, Pilar Seurat as Louisa Escalante, Roberta Shore as Jenny Bell, Milton Selzer as Dr. Walsh, David J. Stewart as Barton.

All the performances are top notch the film doesn't disappoint.

The Young Savages is a message picture, the old establishment forces marshalled towards capital punishment, against the new science of criminology and sociopathic behavioral studies with their treatments. Basically the law and its technicalities against damaged humanity, and both exposed under by the microscope by news cycle of the times. On the personal level it's Hank the by the book prosecutor vs. Karin the third generation progressive against the political circus of his boss's run for gubernatorial nomination.

Entertaining time capsule of NYC. Screencaps from Youtube 7/10.