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John 'Bud' Cardos
Lon Chaney Jr.,
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As this story unfolded in front of me on TCM a couple of days ago, I seemed to recall seeing this film decades ago. WHY does TCM play some classics so routinely that you groan when they are aired while films like this languish for, perhaps, years between airings? TCM is a maddeningly incompetent steward of the film treasury in its possession. But about this film...
Another commentator notes that it was marketed to children. I have no reason to argue the point; I don't know. I do, however, find it difficult to imagine that this film was intended for a juvenile audience. But I also find it difficult to imagine how this story ever made it into production in the first place. I find this film astonishing. Do not misunderstand - I love this movie, and moreover, I respect everything and everybody associated with its production. I am simply amazed that anybody in Hollywood thought this was a good commercial venture in the '60's! Why, you ask? First, it is not merely a story about Latinos, but a story about Latino kids in the streets of Tijuana. Moreover, as another commentator notes, the characters are portrayed primarily by Latino actors! How marvelous and unusual is that - in and of itself?
But the story is equally marvelous and unusual. It portrays a milieu that has seldom been portrayed, and never more accurately and vividly. The streets of Tijuana, the dressing room at the strip club, the automotive "graveyard" - in fact, all of the scenes are captured with rare authenticity. But more than that, it is a film about faith, and realizing that contentment and happiness are not dependent upon external circumstances (even wealth) but on the heart. This message is in total conflict with most of Hollywood's productions.
The POINT of the story, or moral, if you will, is obviously a very good one for young people. The paradox is that the STORY, itself, is set in an environment to which most people do not want young children exposed. There are many adult situations, even though these are handled with restraint. Moreover, there really is not enough action to sustain the interest of many young people.
The acting is uniformly good, occasionally outstanding. Barbara Luna is beautiful and delivers a great, nuanced performance. However, this movie stands or falls on the strength of the child actors. I think the film stands TALL! I have never seen a film with more good performances by juvenile actors. They are outstanding!
The B/W filming works hand-in-glove with the bleak settings and the story. I don't know what the budget of this film was, but the production values are much higher than you'd expect.
I highly recommend this little gem for those of you interested in a "little film" centered on the dilemmas of youth portrayed by an excellent young cast.
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