Superficially, this is closest to The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe than any other Bunuel movie. Voila: it is set on an island, features a fight for survival, and is in English. But psychologically, it’s most similar to early Mexican film Gran Casino because of… oh ha, I’m just kidding – I have no idea. In fact, it seems not even vaguely like anything else I’ve seen of Bunuel’s, not even Robinson Crusoe. It’s an American South civil rights drama set in isolation, so you’ve got lynch mob threats but no mob. Very good movie, excellent writing, I just can’t reconcile the Bunuel connection (not that it’s bugging me).
Traver, a black musician, flees to a small island, falsely accused of raping a white woman, and runs into Miller, the suspicious racist white dude who runs the place. Miller, meanwhile, is plotting to marry his young ward Evalyn, who’s really too young so he’ll be in trouble if people find this out. The irony that he’s helping capture Traver for sexual crimes (and the suspicion that Traver is actually innocent) isn’t lost on him, so despite his threatening poses, he eventually helps Traver escape after the arrival of a priest and a super-racist friend threatens to call attention (and that mob) towards the island.
Miller, introduced sneering with a dead rabbit in the foreground:
Has two of the same writers as Robinson Crusoe (aha!) and thrilling cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa of Simon of the Desert, Los Olvidados, Nazarin and Under The Volcano. Filmed in Mexico, and looks awfully dubbed at times. In the original short story, Traver gets killed at the end.
Senses of Cinema:
…though slow-paced and rather stilted, is nevertheless interesting in the way it frames racism and sexism as parallel discourses. … The Young One, unlike Robinson Crusoe, didn’t do well at the box office. Buñuel commented in My Last Sigh: “one of the problems [with it] was its anti-Manichean stance, which was an anomaly at the time, although today it’s all the rage.” Nevertheless his tone suggests that he is quite proud of these American productions, as if to say he could have been a Hollywood filmmaker like other European exiles, had chance not sent him to Latin America.
Framed by a monophonic rendition of “Sinner Man” by Leon Bibb, the film has the scorching emotional urgency of a black spiritual. … In the constant frustration of Traver’s escape and Miller’s inability to play nice with him, Buñuel evokes the face of humanity repeatedly peeking out from and retreating into the steely shell of a racist comfort zone. To this already unnerving gumbo of feelings and ideas, the director adds a white supremacist hellbent on lynching Traver and a priest whose compassion has limits: he makes a case for Traver’s innocence but has Evalyn turn a mattress over so he won’t have to sleep on the same side Traver did the night before.
Main white dude Zachary Scott, facially Gary Sinise-like, had starred in Mildred Pierce and Renoir’s The Southerner in 1945. His final film appearance would be two years after this in Tashlin’s It’$ Only Money (I didn’t see that coming). Bernie Hamilton went on to play cops and convicts, a chauffeur, a “negro,” then in the 70’s had parts in Hammer, Bucktown and Scream Blacula Scream. I’m guessing this would be his career high point, then. The girl appeared two years later in another island drama, then IMDB loses track of her. Crahan Denton played the super racist guy, turned up appropriately enough in To Kill a Mockingbird two years later. And the priest, Mexican Claudio Brook, would star in Simon of the Desert, later in horrors Alucarda, Mansion of Madness and Cronos.