Runaways Running Into Trouble on a Wild Dash for the Mexican Border!
Young lovers Benjie and Ann (Tom Selden and Luana Patten) decide to ditch their one-horse town and run away to Mexico to get married, parents be damned. A confluence of events has them picking up a hitchhiker named Jamie (Steven Marlo), who isn’t just an aimless drifter, but also a deranged psychopath. Only hours prior, he had beaten his boss to death with a wrench, pilfered his wallet, and dropped the corpse in an oil well. He’s now going to cross the border with Benjie and Ann, whether they like it or not. Detectives Norm Britt and Dave Mahalik (Ed Nelson and Dan Sheridan) are trailing Jamie the best they can—and they’re even bringing seasoned reporter Tony (James Chandler) along for the ride, since he’s always had a nose for trouble. But can they catch up before it’s too late?
THE YOUNG CAPTIVES is an enjoyable little thriller that makes good use of its hour running time. A few aspects of the set-up are a bit confused, but once the tires start rolling, everything is A-OK in my book. It has quirky characters and a pop psychology disposition that keep things interesting every step of the way.
We spend the majority of time with the younger folk in this film, so we begin pretty quickly to notice a few of their personality quirks. Benjie and Ann are both fairly bland teenagers, to the extent that Ann seems like she stumbled out of the Mouseketeer clubhouse (which may make sense considering Luana Patten got her start as a child contract player at Disney). Benjie is passionate about only one thing—his girlfriend—and gets so excitable when alone with her that it seems like he’s trying to devour her face during conversation. He made close-talking a thing long before SEINFELD rolled around.
On the other side, we’ve got the police and reporter Tony. Norm and Tony seem like old friends, and their banter comes across as effortless—even if inappropriate to the situation. These two have spent too much time in the muck, I reckon, and joke around a bit to stave off the darkness. Their lighthearted remarks seem genuine, though, and not over the top, so that the mood is never interrupted by blatant comic relief.
Most interesting to me about this dynamic is their opposing viewpoints regarding criminals. Both Norm and Dave are jaded and cynical, but Tony is more optimistic and progressive. He believes that rehabilitation is, or eventually will be, possible, once society gets to a point where criminals can be helped instead of merely punished. He is also interested—and by proxy the movie is interested—in the root cause and psychology behind criminal behavior. The late 1950s gave birth to Pop Psychology, and in the coming years it wasn’t uncommon to see this type of interest take shape onscreen. One of the most famous examples can be seen in 1961’s PSYCHO, which, it’s worth noting, was based on Robert Bloch’s novel, released the same year as THE YOUNG CAPTIVES.
Right in the middle of the young victims and the older authorities lies our antagonist Jamie, and the movie lives or dies on his shoulders. Luckily, Steven Marlo puts in a solid performance as a shiftless young man who is obviously more than a little off his rocker. He’s very intense about all things, but especially oil, which he swears that he can smell from above ground. He espouses a rather youth-centric philosophy that revolves around living only in the moment, which sounds good, but even he can’t abide by it all the time. He’s constantly talking about the future and how he’s going to own his own oil rig and make a fortune like the world has never seen.
This movie actually feels a lot like a youth version of Ida Lupino’s classic THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), and if there weren’t a six year gap between the two, I would suspect they were both inspired by the same events—or at least that this one was riffing on the other. Instead, I think THE YOUNG CAPTIVES was just riding high on the juvenile delinquency craze.
Although the movie never implicitly makes mention of beatniks, it would be easy to retroactively label this as a beatsploitation film, as well as a J.D. film. The kids don’t hang out in coffee shops and recite poetry, but Benjie does rock out a few stanzas of Poe’s Annabelle Lee—itself a bit of Bohemia. Furthermore, with Jamie’s freewheeling attitude and fiery intensity, he could pass for one of Jack Kerouac’s “fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” in a heartbeat—if not for the whole murder thing (and even that’s not necessarily a deal breaker). He speaks in a combination of youthful slang and criminal argot, threatening at one point to stab someone “right in the brisket”. The tiki idol that he wears around his neck adds another hipster detail, and the hot jazz music that he loves so dearly rounds out the package quite nicely. The fantastic jazz-influenced score was composed by Richard Markowitz early in his career, who closed it out working on many episodes of MURDER SHE WROTE, which is worlds away from where he started.
Producer Andrew J. Fenady also wrote the script, reportedly based on an unpublished short story by Al Burton. Fenady gave us a few other criminal offerings, and even a horror or two (including 1973’s TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM), but the bulk of his filmography is dedicated to the western with credits on TV’s BRANDED (1965-1966) and John Wayne’s CHISUM (1970).
Director Irvin Kershner started out on television with talkshow/documentary hybrid CONFIDENTIAL FILE (1953-1958) before branching out into B-movies like this one. He worked his way up through drama (THE HOODLUM PRIEST, 1961; THE LUCK OF GINGER COFFEY, 1964), comedy (THE FLIM-FLAM MAN, 1967; S*P*Y*S, 1974), and eventually landed in “respectable” territory with EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983). He closed out a memorable career with ROBOCOP 2 (1990) and a single episode of SEAQUEST 2032 (1993).
This wasn’t the first time that Kershner and Fenady had teamed up. The previous year had seen them release STAKEOUT ON DOPE STREET, also scored by Markowitz, and also starring Marlo (not to mention six other performers who had smaller parts here and weren’t mentioned by name above). It was a real family affair between the two productions.
Not all of the actors in this film went on to established careers, but the astute observer may recognize Dan Blocker as an oil rig worker. Blocker later went on to fame as Hoss in the powerhouse television series BONANZA, a character he played for thirteen years. Less recognizable, but perhaps more interesting, is Carlo Fiore as an officer on the Mexican side of the border.
Fiore was once a good friend of Marlon Brando’s, and apparently something of a hanger-on who wanted to rise to success through association with the legendary actor. A longtime heroin addict, Fiore was eventually phased out of Brando’s life when he could no longer afford the controversy that came with such a relationship. After the dissolution of their friendship, Fiore published a memoir of their time together—BUD: The Brando I Knew—which received some favorable reviews when released in 1974, but some question the veracity of the stories today. Fiore never set the world on fire, but he appeared in the Mamie Van Doren film GUNS, GIRLS, AND GANGSTERS (1959); wrote the script for the unusual Beat-inspired bank robbery drama THE MOVING FINGER (1963); and was involved in the development of an aborted adaptation of Nabakov’s Kamera Obscura (Laughter in the Dark).
And quite frankly, that career trajectory is good enough for me.