The Young Captives

When people realize that I’m a big movie fan, that often leads to the question, “What’s you’re favorite movie?”  The answer is easy, “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Though I love movies from all eras, “Empire” is one from my era.  I was nine years old when it was released and I remember going to see it like it was yesterday.  Though I love the original “Star Wars” as well, “Empire,” under the direction of Irvin Kershner, is the superior film.  So imagine my thrill when I sat down to check out a forgotten film, 1959’s “The Young Captives,” and saw the director credit…Irvin Kershner.  It was his 2nd film.

The film opens at an oil field where one of the employees, Jamie (played by Steven Marlo) is camped for the night.  When Jamie is discovered, his boss kicks him out.  Unfortunately for him, Jamie is not the sort of guy you want to upset, he promptly murders his boss with a wrench.  Jump to a California beach where teenage couple Benjie and Ann (Tom Seldon and Luana Patten) frolic in the water and dream of being married.  Benjie, obviously with one thing on his mind, tries to convince Ann to elope.  Though she is uncertain, she eventually agrees, and the couple set out for Mexico to tie the knot.  They are convinced that the cops will be looking for them soon (truly it was a different time) but their worries soon shift as they find themselves out of gas in the middle of nowhere.  Enter Jamie, who’s motorcycle has broken down a few miles up the road.  Since Jamie ends up bringing them back some gas, they agree to take him to a nearby town to meet up with a buddy.  This Jamie guys seems nice enough to they young couple, so they are more than willing to help out.  But gradually they get more and more uncomfortable with his presence.  When they finally ask him to leave, he show his true colors and forces them to drive him over the border at knife point.

This is a quick little B-picture, only an hour and five minutes long.  The young lovers, their parents, and the cops are the sort of corny 50’s style characters you’d expect to see.  But, the combination of Kershner’s skilled direction and Marlo’s performance as Jamie builds a great deal of tension and makes this film worth checking out.  Jamie comes across as a sort of twisted version of Eddie Haskell.  One minute he’s all, “gee whiz pal, I’ll buy ya breakfast,” and the next he’s stuffing a woman into the trunk of her car.  It’s pretty creepy.  It is explained that a bad upbringing that made him this way, but Marlo’s performance suggests a character who has a need to kill.  In each instance where we see him murder someone, there is a brief moment when we see the character suddenly realize he’s done it again.  What he’s done gains him nothing, but he can’t control himself.  It makes the character much more sinister than the teen thugs you see in most of these kind of movies.

In some ways, this is another one of those 50’s cautionary tale movies.  I guess this one is a warning to young lovers not to run off and get married at 17, because you might just meet a psychopathic killer.  Since it was 1959, there was only so much Kershner could do with the more violent elements of the story, not to mention the idea that Jamie probably has it in his mind to have his way with Ann.  He actually gets away with a bit more than you might expect for this era.  Jamie’s final attempt at escaping after half of his face as been burned to a crisp is surprisingly gruesome for the late 50’s.  As it turns out, though, Kershner doesn’t need to show us much.  Kershner knows how to get the audience’s imaginations working in his favor.  In our minds, Jamie becomes a much more evil character than Kershner could’ve ever shown on screen in 1959.

“The Young Captives” was a great surprise for me!  A suspenseful early outing from the man who would freeze Han Solo in carbonite.

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