The Young One [1960]

7/10 | 25.Apr.12
The Young One

DIRECTOR: Luis Buñuel | WRITERS: Luis Buñuel, Hugo Butler | CAST: Zachary Scott, Bernie Hamilton, Key Meersman, Crahan Denton, Claudio Brook | Mexico

I wish I thought more highly of Luis Buñuel’s actual filmmaking skills than I do, but too often his spare aesthetic betrays the fact that he just wasn’t able to turn tiny budgets to his advantage. This is a pity since his was a particularly interesting voice, both wildly entertaining and subversive. So taking into consideration everything that comes with a ridiculously small budget, crummy sets, lousy acting, and a rough draft of a screenplay, it’s pretty amazing that The Young One is as good as it is.

A black jazz clarinetist flees a lynch mob spurred on by false accusations that he’d raped a white woman and winds up on an island game reserve off the Carolina coast. The isolated island is inhabited by a white game warden and the very recently orphaned white teenaged girl who is his charge and forced bed partner. The girl (think Miranda in The Tempest, only slow-witted and unattractive) has been brought up on the island with very little contact with the outside world and she’s intrigued by the jazz player: not only is he a new (and handsome) face, he’s intelligent and friendly and he brings music and laughter to the island. The game warden, on the other hand, is rough, brutish, hostile, reflexively racist…and jealous. Does the game warden turn the fugitive over to the lynch mob? Does the girl help him escape? In all of this Buñuel’s sympathies are clear and quite explicit: the word “nigger”, which is constantly on the lips of the white characters, is seen to be a degrading insult that is used out of racist impulse; when Traver, the falsely accused black man, turns tables and spits out the epithet “white trash”, on the other hand, you want to cheer. The movie was apparently released with the title White Trash, a more accurate if shocking title than the sexier The Young One by which it has become known.

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