The Young One
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
La joven (The Young One or White Trash in the United States, Island of Shame in the United Kingdom) is a film, directed by Luis Buñuel and currently available on the Buñuel DVD collection released in 2007, after being out of distribution for many years. Produced in Mexico in 1960 and shot in English, La Joven is one of Buñuel's more serious films, dealing with racism and rape. Based on a story by Peter Matthiessen called Travelin' Man, it tells the story of Traver, a black jazz musician who is on the run after a white woman accuses him of rape. The film was entered into the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.
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 owns a bee farm with his recently deceased partner Pee Wee. Pee Wee, a drunk whose liver has finally quit, has left behind a teenage daughter named Evalyn ("Evvie") whose age is unknown (Key Meersman). Miller is cruel to Evvie until one day he pulls back her wild child hair and notices that she is quite beautiful. Miller gets plans to have the youngster for himself and goes to shore to buy her gifts.
Thinking herself alone on the island, Evvie goes about her routine at the apiary, but Traver surprises her and begs her for some honey. He gives her a rough diamond 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 ordeal, however, 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 sewing 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 once again. 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 we find 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.
Miller later finds the $20 bill and confronts Evvie with it. When Evvie tries to explain it, Miller insinuates that she got the money in return for less innocent favors. He sends her to bed. But then 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. Miller acquiesces and stops using racial slurs.
Miller and Evvie leave Traver in peace to finish work on his boat, but later Traver returns to the 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.
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 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.