The Young One
|La Joven (The Young One)|
|Directed by||Luis Buñuel|
|Produced by||George P. Werker and Producciones Olmeca|
|Written by||Hugo Butler
|Music by||Chucho Zarzosa|
18 January 1961 (U.S. release)
La joven — called The Young One or White Trash in the United States, released as Island of Shame in the United Kingdom — is a 1960 film by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Produced in Mexico and shot in English with American actors, La Joven is Buñuel's second and last American film.
The film deals with issues of racism and rape against a complex portrayal of two men, each of whom shows both good and evil. The film was entered into the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, and has received highly positive reviews since release.
The Young One is currently available in both Region 1 and Region 2 DVD editions after being out of distribution for many years.
Based on a short story ("Travelin' Man") by American author Peter Matthiessen, the film tells the story of Traver, a black jazz musician on the run after a white woman has accused him of rape. Such a charge in the South could lead to his being lynched. After stealing a boat to escape, Traver makes his way to an island inhabited by the beekeeper Miller, and Evalyn, the granddaughter of his recently deceased partner.
What follows is a struggle between Traver and Miller over guns, resources and the affections of the young Evalyn, who becomes increasingly fascinated by the clarinet-playing Traver. She is disgusted by Miller's advances toward her each night.
While being pursued late at night, Traver (Bernie Hamilton) steals a boat and ends up on an island off the Carolina coast inhabited by Miller (Zachary Scott), who has owned a bee farm with his recently deceased partner Pee Wee. Pee Wee, a drunk whose liver finally quit, has left behind a teenage granddaughter named Evalyn ("Evvie", played by Key Meersman), whose age is unknown. Miller is cruel to Evvie until one day he pulls back her wild-child hair and notices that she is quite beautiful. Miller plans to have the youngster sexually for himself and goes to shore to buy her gifts.
Thinking herself alone, Evvie goes about her routine at the apiary, but Traver surprises her and begs her for some honey. He gives her a dime in return. Traver winds up getting a meal back at the cabin, but when he wants to leave with a shotgun and some gas for his boat, Evvie protests. The shotgun discharges during their struggle (inside the house). Traver gives her 20 dollars for the trouble and leaves. He reaches his boat but accidentally shoots a hole in it, forcing him to return to the cabin for repair supplies. Despite this, Traver and Evvie develop trust in one another. Traver spends another night on the island fixing his boat. Evvie wakes up in the middle of the night when a raccoon gets into the coop and kills a chicken. When she opens the window, she hears Traver playing on his clarinet.
Miller returns the next day, but becomes angry when he finds out he's been robbed. He takes a rifle and goes out to find the perpetrator. In the meantime Evvie hides the money by pinning it into her skirt. Traver is at his boat almost ready to leave, but runs away when he sees Miller approaching. Miller comes upon the boat, and shoots enough holes in the hull to sink it. A chase ensues. Traver finds another boat in a river, but Miller sights him as he paddles and fires a shot. Traver splashes into the water, but later emerges unscathed.
Miller returns to the cabin and presents Evvie with a dress and some high heel shoes (here is the film's only Bunuelism, the shoe fetish). He seems to want to make her into a lady, but warns her away from men. Miller has Evvie sit on his lap, and seems bemused by her innocence. "Don't let anyone hold you like this," he warns her. But as he tries to kiss her, she avoids his lips.
After Miller later finds the 20-dollar bill, he confronts Evvie with it. When Evvie tries to explain it, Miller insinuates that she got the money in return for sexual favors and sends her to bed. Traver bursts in and holds Miller up. He takes Miller's rifle and returns to his boat, which he does not yet realize is sunk.
The next day Miller gives Evvie her money back "for telling the truth." He takes a grenade and goes out looking for Traver, whom he finds busy fixing the boat. They have a heated exchange of insults and racial epithets, but reconcile after learning that they both served in the infantry in WWII. Their shared status as veterans appears to mollify Miller's suspicions and he stops using racial slurs against Traver.
Miller and Evvie leave Traver in peace to finish work on his boat, but he returns to the two cabins to keep an eye on the pair while his boat soaks. Miller offers Traver work on the island in exchange for room and board, and uses Traver's presence as a pretext for Evvie to move into his own quarters. He offers Traver the small cabin she and her grandfather used, and makes her move her bed into his.
For her part, Evvie can't understand why the two men can't be friends. Traver explains why he has the gun: "It's easy for him to kill me. It's hard for me to kill him." By his reckoning, Miller has more power in that dynamic, so Traver holding on to the gun "makes us almost equal." After some coaxing from Evvie, Traver plays his clarinet. That night we see Miller kiss Evvie roughly. The implication is that he forces sex on the underage girl that night.
The following day, the local preacher, Rev. Fleetwood (Claudio Brook), and another white man named Jackson (Crahan Denton) come to the island to baptize Evvie. The Reverend soon has suspicions about Miller's treatment of Evvie, while Miller finds out about a rape charge against a black clarinet player, whom he concludes is Traver. The two themes of rape and racism intertwine as the tension on the island mounts.