Frankie is trapped in his life like a cockroach in a matchbox, released by the love of his little brother. An early effort from Don Siegel, who directed the classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS the same year, adapts a stage play into a claustrophobic drama where the dirty streets are strewn with human refuse. But one social worker believes that some trash can be recycled.
Obviously staged on a barely populated back lot, it diminishes much of the chaotic frisson that would have resulted if the film had moved into the real streets where sidewalks are choked with human traffic, and trucks belch their stinking fumes into the lungs of the protagonists, where pollution becomes a malignant tumor growing inside of Frankie. Relegated to a staged performance, Siegel’s film becomes to melodramatic and verbose, relying on telling us instead of showing us, his cinematography composed of too many close-ups, establishing shots utilizing only a drab apartment, a soda shop, and a back alley that is rather well lighted. Siegel fails to use lighting to great effect and the final result is a made for television serial, more appropriate for Playhouse 90 than the silver screen.
John Cassevetes as the troubled youth Frankie steals the film, his quick temper repressed behind smoldering eyes; both intelligent and murderous. His every move is a ballet of brutality; his swagger, hunched shoulder, piercing gaze, commanding voice, while his hawkish visage is topped with a shock of black hair: he is every inch the avatar of a generation, representing a violent youth that transcends even James Dean: Cassevetes is a rebel with a murderous cause. Though much of the supporting cast is superfluous and bursting with almost laughable caricature (this seems like WEST SIDE STORY without Brillcream), Sal Mineo as the young follower hoping to earn his Christian name, and the psychotically effeminate Mark Rydell keep the story interesting. James Whitmore as the social worker is boilerplate, never letting the audience forget this is a “message movie” about disenfranchised youth. If this had been made a few years earlier, I suppose they would have blamed William Gaines and his popular EC Comics for juvenile delinquency too.
Final Grade: (B-)