(director: Robert E. Collins; screenwriter: Evan Hunter; cinematographer: Bobby Byrne; editor: Douglas Stewart; music: Robby Benson/Don Peake; cast: Robby Benson (Emilio Mendez), Sarah Holcomb (Sarah Lassiter), Henry Darrow (Mike Serrano), Pepe Serna (Cesar), Trinidad Silva (Dagger), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Sergeant Gannett), Lawrence Pressman (Henry Lassiter), Domingo Ambriz (Cowboy), Brad Sullivan (Jerry Kelsey), Irene DeBari (Mrs. Mendez), Eloy Casados (Hugo), Daniel Faraldo (El Tigre), Tony Alvarenga (Paco), Claudio Martinez (Vincente); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Lawrence Turman; Universal Pictures; 1979)

“It’s a rarely seen film since it met with protests by the Latino community who were fed up with Hollywood depicting their youth as gangbangers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran TV director Robert E. Collins, in his first and last film directing gig, bases this so-so Latino gang film on the screenplay by Evan Hunter. It’s a rarely seen film since it met with protests by the Latino community who were fed up with Hollywood depicting their youth as gangbangers and not in healthy family situations and their voices were heard as Hollywood stopped making for awhile such films. In 1979, the gang films The Warriors, The Wanderers and Boulevard Nights were also released, and their theater showings caused enough knife fights and other violent incidents that scared off distributors.

Mexican-American Emilio Mendez (Robby Benson) is a 17-year-old Los Angeles’ El Barrio residing high school student living with his single mom and is a member of a tough Chicano gang called the Aztecas, that’s ruthlessly run by Cesar (Pepe Serna). After a revenge ethnic attack on those Anglos who intimidated a Chicano laborer, the Aztecas leader orders gang member Vincente (Claudio Martinez) to kill the Anglo attacker. But Vincente only wounds him in the leg instead of killing him. To teach Vincente a lesson, the next day he’s ritualistically “jumped out” of the club as he must run through the gang gauntlet and get punched around until he shows up in the hospital in critical condition.

Next comes an unbelievable soap opera romance between Emilio and a pretty wealthy WASP named Sarah Lassiter (Sarah Holcomb), the daughter of a dentist who attends the same high school. She tries unsuccessfully to get him to quit the gang, but he enjoys being macho and a proud Chicano. But his attitude changes when his granny dies and he goes with mum to Mexico for the funeral, and there mum introduces him to the dad he never met–a sleazeball, neer-do-well, drunken white guy. Emilio returns to L.A. a changed kid and leaves the gang for Sarah, at a time they are planning a gang fight with a Chicano gang from Santa Monica called Los Espiritos. Cesar is so disappointed in Emilio quitting that he puts him through the same “jumped out” gang ritual as the one Vincente went through and afterwards a battered Emilio returns to Sarah.

It’s all rather pointless and the Latino community was not pleased that white actor Benson got the juicy lead part meant for a Latino. Though it’s well-intentioned in showing the evils of gang life and much softer than the gang pics mentioned above, it fails to resonant with any particular truths or force–just another Hollywood gang film, but with some Latino culture thrown in despite the hypocrisy of casting Benson (who incidentally was very good in the part).

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