Backlog #20a: The Young One (1960)

I’d completely forgotten about this one when I was compiling the list of films that I’d watched. It was included in the Bunuel box set – if followed chronologically, by the time you get to the end, this film is a very distant memory. It’s a rural American south kitchen-sink affair with race and sex as its primary themes: on a remote reserve, we find a hard-bitten game-warden with guardianship of a pubescent girl (intent on taking advantage of her). Into this scene a black musician on the run enters looking for sanctuary away from the lynch mob. The two men vie for dominance via the girl affections and loyalty.

The villain Miller is presented as a man whose soul has almost completed deserted him: he’s coarse, bigoted and openly racist and abuses the girl in his care. We can sense a trace of humanity in there and we follow his course with interest. The musician Traver is a dignified intelligent characterisation and we fully appreciate the injustice in his miserable situation.

The Young One was a gripping film. Its dynamic reminded me a bit of Polanski’s Knife in the Water: tense, claustrophobic, psychological. Bunuel is as unobtrusive and economical as in his other films. Melodramas aren’t my thing though and it’s very much a period piece. In summary, not a major film but more than a worthwhile one.

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