In a brilliant credit sequence, three leather-jacketed hoodlums stride across a scarred slum until, just after director Frankenheimer's name crosses the screen, they arrive at the front steps of a brownstone where a group of Puerto Rican youths sit chatting. The three pull out switchblades
and stab one of the youths, a boy wearing dark glasses. They take off running back across the slum area but are quickly captured by police. The victim of this vicious gang murder was blind, and the arrested gang members, Chandler, Nephew, and Kristien, refuse to talk to police, even to explain how
their victim was selected; the politically ambitious district attorney, Andrews, wants to go after the death penalty for the lads. Andrews assigns his assistant, Lancaster, to the case, and Lancaster tries to learn the boys' motives. Lancaster is from the same Italian ghetto as the boys, and
Winters, the mother of Kristien, is an old flame of his. He interrogates various members of Italian and Puerto Rican gangs and eventually learns that the slain boy, although blind, was an active gang member with whom the other gang members would deposit their weapons whenever the police came
around, as well as a pimp for his own sister. He was hardly the innocent, helpless victim police thought, and his murder was far from the random act they supposed. A Puerto Rican gang leader tells Lancaster that it's a war out there and that no one is exempt from fighting for his people. Later
Merrill is threatened by gang members as a warning to her husband, and Lancaster is beaten up on the subway. Angry, he wants revenge against the gangs, then realizes his anger is the same thing that motivates these slum youths. In court he manages to get Kristien to admit he didn't do any of the
actual stabbing and proves that Nephew is retarded and not responsible for his actions. Chandler gets 20 years, Nephew is sent to a mental hospital, and Kristien is acquitted. Lancaster has ruined his boss's political ambitions (and consequently his own), but his principles are intact.
Frankenheimer's second feature and first of five associations with Lancaster (including THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, 1962, and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, 1964) shows a great deal of influence from the television dramas in which the director first made his name in the late 1950s, especially in the
attention-grabbing opening sequence. Audiences are hooked after that heart-pounding assassination, although nothing in the rest of the film lives up to that promise. Lancaster gives a strong performance, and the gang members, especially the sleepy-eyed Chandler, ring frighteningly true, but the
rest of the cast members seem only to be devices to state various points of view on juvenile delinquency. Technically the film is quite competent; the look and feel of the mean streets of New York comes through well (the film was largely shot on location), and the music of Amram is discordant and
perfectly suited to the action.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: In a brilliant credit sequence, three leather-jacketed hoodlums stride across a scarred slum until, just after director Frankenheimer's name crosses the screen, they arrive at the front steps of a brownstone where a group of Puerto Rican youths sit chattin… (more)