The Young Savages
Three teenage punk gangsters of the wop persuasion attack, knife, ands kill a young spic standing peacefully on his doorstep with his saintly mother and sister. (I used those offensive terms here because that is what they call each other.) Their idiotic claim: it was self-defense. Tough enough to believe when it’s three against one, but the kicker is, the young Puerto Rican was blind. District Attorney Hank Bell (formerly Bellini) figures he has a slam dunk on first-degree murder and the electric chair for at least two of them. But things are not entirely what they seem. This sets the stage for an uncommonly thoughtful and well-written (by Evan Hunter, AKA Ed McBain, born Salvatore Lambino) consideration of what to do with young punks like that. Should we take into account the harsh circumstances of their upbringing, or does that make us stupid bleeding hearts? What if one of them is clearly insane? (One of the scenes reminded me strongly of the great number “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story.) What if the blind boy is not quite what he seems? It’s a cracking good story, shot on the streets of New York by John Frankenheimer, until the last ten minutes or so in the courtroom where it gets a bit histrionic, but even that brings home its points powerfully. There are no easy moral certainties here.
Stories like this and The Blackboard Jungle—and West Side Story, for that matter—evoke a strange sort of nostalgia in this age of Crips and Bloods and even worse street gangs. These pathetic little mopes with their switchblades and zip guns scared us back then? Today they would be eaten alive.