The Lawless (1950)
Dated though this Joseph Losey title may be, there is still a timeliness to it’s topic of racial tensions and an irresponsible media blowing things out of proportion that resonates when it comes to a young Latin American boy who finds himself on the lam following a run in with the law that gets out of hand.
Macdonald Carey takes the lead role as a small town newspaper editor who gets more than he bargained for when he takes the side of a young teenage boy played by Lalo Rios who is of Mexican descent despite his pointing out, “I’m an American too.”
Carey who is new to the small border town takes in a local dance where he’ll meet Gail Russell who may have been born in Chicago in real life but for the purpose of the film is playing a Latin lady who has quickly caught Carey’s eye. Gail runs a small newspaper herself and is familiar with Carey’s crusading work when he was employed in the big cities. When a fight between teenage boys breaks out at the Saturday night dance pitting whites versus Latinos, things quickly escalate when Rios strikes an officer and flees the scene in a stolen car. Due to racism on the police force he’s about to be treated harshly when finally captured by a trio of officers. One in particular violently strikes the boy and when the officers argue amongst themselves over the boys treatment, their patrol car crashes killing the driver and sending the boy running towards the bushes when the officer who is guilty of causing the crash turns on him.
Cue the media frenzy that descends upon the town as if we were watching Billy Wilder’s sensational drama Ace In the Hole where the media inappropriately builds up a false story to sell newspapers and television broadcasting.
“They all look alike to me.”
This from one of the reporters who have rushed in to cover the story that is too easily being slanted against the teenage boy on the run turning him into a modern day Baby Face Nelson. The boy’s problems only increase when he encounters a young girl in a barn and a pitchfork wielding farmer. Miss Russell wants the boy to receive fair treatment and for the media to stop it’s gutter level brand of reporting. She’ll of course turn to Carey to set the record straight by reporting the truth as both she and he saw it first hand the night of the dance and how the gang of white boys were as equally to blame as the others.
Good work here as well from Johnny Sands as the privileged son of town elder John Hoyt. Sands has a chip on his block racially and I was both surprised and happy to see Hoyt play against type as a man of compassion when it comes to the treatment of the Latino boys who looks to do good for everyone concerned in the fracas.
Carey who sees the light is going to find he has few who are sympathetic to his views to the point of vigilante justice taking over while he and Gail attempt to stand their ground in both reporting the facts and by seeing to it that the now captured Rios is given the rights he deserves from the legal system.
It’s very easy to see how this film could be considered anti-communism during the days of the HUAC hearings when films and filmmakers were attacked for movies that didn’t seem to follow the traditions of coke, mothers and apple pie plots. Over simplified comment I know but you get the point …. I hope. Losey apparently refused to cooperate and self exiled himself to Great Britain turning out winning films with the likes Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker.
In his autobiography The Days of My Life, Macdonald Carey briefly covers the film pointing out he was happy to be the leading man in two pictures directed by Losey, This one and These Are the Damned, an odd outing for Hammer Films. He also talks briefly of Gail Russell and the tragic fate that awaited her in 1961 dying at the age of just 36 due to alcoholism. She’s probably best remembered for appearing opposite John Wayne in Angel and the Badman in 1948.
Don’t blink too fast or get up for a drink before pressing the pause button if you intend to see a young Martha Hyer and a debuting Tab Hunter turning up briefly. A couple other “faces” you’re bound to recognize include Lee Patrick, Frank Ferguson and Paul Harvey.
Best line in the film? I couldn’t help but chuckle when Carey tells Russell, “There’s a gun in my desk. It’s in my bottom drawer under a bottle of gin.” Don’t think that would go over too well if I said that aloud to someone at my office.
The Lawless was a new to me title that I picked up on DVD thanks to Olive Films putting it out for public consumption. Up to this point it was unknown to me and worth a look if you haven’t seen it or like me were unfamiliar with it untill now.