Young Savages With A Chance


Deuteronomy28,12-14: "You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head and not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top never the bottom."

1Peter1,18: "For you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver and gold, 19 but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ." JB

2Corinthians6,7-10: "We wield the weapons of righteousness in right hand and left. Honor and dishonor, priase and blame, are alike our lot: we are the imposters who speak the truth, the unknown men whom all men know; dying we still live on, disciplined by suffering, we are not done to death; in our sorrows we have always cause for joy; poor ourselves we bring wealth to many; penniless, we own the world." NEB

When a movie tells a story too well or says too much, the skeptic says "It's just a movie."

This might have been said about the 1961 film The Young Savages, a slice of life about a few members of a Puerto Rican youth street gang "the Horsemen" and their more established rivals in East Harlem New York City in the 1950s, "the Thunderbirds." 

The film, which raises more questions than it answers, is directed by John Frankenheimer and is adapted from A Matter Of Conviction by author Evan Hunter (who wrote the screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Strangers  When We Met).

The original NYT review makes the point that the story line was like those in the local New York newspapers of the era. While it lauds the realistic depiction of the gangs, this review concludes that it soft soaps juvenile delinquincy.

The plot centers on Burt Lancaster's character, Assistant DA Hank Bell, who Americanized his name, found a Ratcliffe girl, and got out of the neighborhood. But as a former denizen, he knew that when a innocent blind boy gets allegedly killed by three Thunderbirds, there might be more to the story.

As soon as he begins his investigation, he realizes that in his own youth he dated the ever-loving and still honorable mother of one of the accused, Mary Di Pace, superbly played by Shelley Winters. This old flame, who pushed him away, is still saintly to all in the old neighborhood. She attracts him to the case even more than the politics to be gained. Hank learns what Danny's mother knew all along. He is a good-hearted son trapped in a lifestyle passed down from all that he knew. 

In fact, Danny once saved a young Puerto Rican boy from bullying at the local pool. Mrs. DiPace's still virtuous love for Danny and Hank pushes Hank to get the real story, like Detective Gunderson would, played by the smiling Telly Savalas, who began in this film knowing more than everybody else.

As he learns the facts of the case, Hank also learns about himself, particularly after he is attacked on the subway, and he turns the tables and has to be pulled off his attacker.

Only DA Hank Bell from East Harlem could orchestrate the courtroom testimonies to tell the story in such a way that both Danny and the "Batman" would get a chance at rehabilitation.

There's an operatic finale of cinematic and courtroom justice. There Hank proves that Danny only feigned violence against the blind boy, who was done in by the two other Thunderbirds, namely Anthony "Batman" Aposto, who didn't excel at anything in school but comic books, and Arthur Reardon, who revelled in violence. 

But what about the mother of the blind boy killed, who is left without her son, and asking where is her justice?

This is a good question. It seems that she and her family have lost a lot while the film makes no pretense of promising they will soon get relief from the realities of their lower social position.   

And Hank answers, apparently indirectly, but not without some human wisdom:

"Many people killed your son."   

As if to say that there's a little savagery at every level of society, and admitting the plain fact that people at the lowest level, whoever they happen to be, suffer the most.

But the word of God at 1Peter1,18 says that the futile conduct passed down can be broken by faith, and the merciful blood of Jesus, which frees us up like Mrs. DiPace (Mrs. Peace! ) to be human and love all God's people, despite any pecking order.

Yes, following Jesus Christ and his word can clean up all dysfunction, and set everyone on the right path, a path of renewed hope and blessed relationships. Jesus came to bring the fullness of life and healing into every neighborhood and situation, praise his holy NAME.  










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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.