The Young One
Directed by Luis Buñuel. Starring Zachary Scott, Bernie Hamilton, Key Meersman, Crahan Denton, Claudio Brook.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 17, 1993
In 1961, while still working in Mexico, the great surrealist/moralist/atheist filmmaker Luis Buñuel released his only English language film, The Young One. New 35mm prints of this rarely seen work were prepared last year for the New York Film Festival tribute to The Young One's cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who collaborated frequently with Buñuel as well as shooting films such as John Ford's The Fugitive and John Huston's Under the Volcano. Based on Peter Matthiessen's Travellin' Man, the movie stars Austin hometown legend Zachary Scott in one of his last film roles. Thirty years after its making, the film remains a searing social document -- as startling, uncompromising and unconventional as ever. Taking on the twin themes of racism and sexual abuse, The Young One is a wonderful example of Bunuel's distinct blend of social realism and shameless melodrama. The first word spoken in the film comes from a woman's voice screaming “Rape!” as a young black man (Hamilton) races off in a motor boat. Fleeing a lynch mob, the man lands on an island with only three inhabitants, one of whom has just died. That leaves Miller (Scott), the warden for the private game preserve on the island, and the dead man's granddaughter Evvie (Meersman), a naive nature-child of an indeterminate adolescent age (she herself does not know how old she is) who knows nothing about life away from the island. Evvie makes friends with Travers, the black man. Miller chases him and wrecks his boat. Later, Miller befriends Travers and allows the fugitive to sleep in Evvie's cabin, which gives Miller the opportunity to make Evvie sleep in his bed. He promises her stockings and a pistol in exchange. A minister shows up to bring the orphaned Evvie back to the mainland but even his compassion is chastened in our minds by his unwillingness to sleep in the same bed as the black man had previously occupied until the mattress is turned over. The movie continues on, growing ever more lurid and inbred. Typically, Buñuel takes no prisoners and gives no safe quarter to his characters. As stated in the opening and closing song: “Oh, Sinner Man, where you gonna run to?” The opportunity to see this rare Bunuel gem is one that should not be missed.