The Lawless (1950)

81-82 mins | Drama | July 1950

Director:

Joseph Losey

Cinematographer:

J. Roy Hunt

Editor:

Howard Smith

Production Designer:

Lewis H. Creber

Production Company:

Pine-Thomas Productions
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were The Big Showdown , Outrage , The Dividing Line and Voice of Stephen Wilder . The film opens with the following written foreword: "This is the story of a town and of some of its people, who, in the grip of blind anger forget their American heritage of tolerance and decency, and become the lawless."
       Information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library provides the following information about the production: After reading an early draft of the script, the PCA recommended changing any references to the alleged rape of "Mildred Jensen," such as eliminating the word "rape," and eliminating the line, "What they holdin' back the doctor's report on what he done to her for," as well as the following line: "and I thought of those hands mauling the lovely little body of Mildred Jensen." Although the PCA determined that the script was basically acceptable under the guidelines of the Production Code, PCA director Joseph I. Breen issued the following statement in a 5 Oct 1949 letter to Paramount: "The shocking manner in which the several gross injustices are heaped upon the head of the confused, but innocent young American of Mexican extraction, and the willingness of so many of the people in your story to be a part of, and to endorse, these injustices, is, we think, a damning portrayal of our American social system. The manner in which certain of the newspapers are portrayed in this story, with their eagerness to dishonestly present the news, and thus inflame their readers, is also, we think, a part of a pattern which is not good. ... More Less

The working titles of this film were The Big Showdown , Outrage , The Dividing Line and Voice of Stephen Wilder . The film opens with the following written foreword: "This is the story of a town and of some of its people, who, in the grip of blind anger forget their American heritage of tolerance and decency, and become the lawless."
       Information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library provides the following information about the production: After reading an early draft of the script, the PCA recommended changing any references to the alleged rape of "Mildred Jensen," such as eliminating the word "rape," and eliminating the line, "What they holdin' back the doctor's report on what he done to her for," as well as the following line: "and I thought of those hands mauling the lovely little body of Mildred Jensen." Although the PCA determined that the script was basically acceptable under the guidelines of the Production Code, PCA director Joseph I. Breen issued the following statement in a 5 Oct 1949 letter to Paramount: "The shocking manner in which the several gross injustices are heaped upon the head of the confused, but innocent young American of Mexican extraction, and the willingness of so many of the people in your story to be a part of, and to endorse, these injustices, is, we think, a damning portrayal of our American social system. The manner in which certain of the newspapers are portrayed in this story, with their eagerness to dishonestly present the news, and thus inflame their readers, is also, we think, a part of a pattern which is not good. The over-all effect of a story of this kind made into a motion picture would be, we think, a very definite disservice to this country of ours, and to its institutions and its ideals....This whole undertaking seems to us to be fraught with very great danger." Paramount evidently held similar reservations about the film, as noted in Paramount representative Luigi Luraschi's response to the PCA, in which he noted that, "Unfortunately, the script you received did not reflect all of the changes we hope Pine-Thomas will make." In the film, it is not explicity stated that "Paul" raped "Mildred"; it is reported that she was "attacked."
       The Lawless marked a departure for producers William H. Pine and William C. Thomas, who were known for making low-budget action melodramas for Paramount. In a Time magazine interview, Pine commented that he and Thomas had wanted to do a serious story about a journalist for years, but were unable to conceive of a suitable screenplay until they started working with writer Geoffrey Homes, pseudonym of Daniel Mainwaring. Pine also noted in the interview that Paramount, which was not known for producing controversial films, was hesitant to make a picture with such a touchy theme, and that they had difficulty finding a Mexican actor for the lead. They finally hired Lalo [Edward] Rios, who was not a professional actor at the time. In addition to Rios and Maurice Jara, Tab Hunter made his screen debut in the picture. In a 5 Mar 1950 NYT article, Homes wrote a detailed description of the film's production, noting that "though it is true that discrimination against guys named Garcia and Chavez is more prevalent in the Texas and California border towns and in Los Angeles, it exists wherever there is a Mexican community. This I wanted to say on film."
       The film was shot in eighteen days on location in Marysville and Grass Valley, CA, areas which were home to many migratory workers. In the NYT article, Homes noted that many local citizens participated in the film and appear as the angry mob in one scene. "Of course, no one ever said what the picture was about. That may have been why they were so amiable." A May 1950 Paramount News item quoted a LADN article, which stated that "this film...points up eloquently, and with great feeling and understanding, the problem that has developed in California as a result of Mexican persons and those of other nationalities trying to adjust themselves to each other. It demonstrates that the fault is on both sides but mainly on the side of those of us of Anglo-Saxon traditions."
       Paramount held the film's premiere in late Jun 1950 in San Antonio, TX, assisted in part by The Lulacs, an organization which promoted "loyal, united Latin-American society." According to a DV news item, Pine and Thomas received an award from the Los Angeles Urban League for "outstanding achievement in developing better racial understanding through the production of their film, The Lawless ." A LAT review stated that "Geoffrey Homes, in one of the most cleverly balanced scripts yet written for a controversial theme, (all racial themes, unhappily, seem to be controversial), has found direction to match in Joseph Losey's dynamic use of camera and speech." Losey was blacklisted by the HUAC in 1951. For more information on this aspect of his career, see the entry above for The Boy with Green Hair . In a modern interview, Losey noted that he worked with John Hubley on the production design for this film, but Hubley was not credited onscreen. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Apr 1950.
---
Daily Variety
7 Apr 50
p. 3, 14
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1951.
---
Film Daily
12 Apr 50
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 50
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 50
p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jul 1950.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Apr 50
p. 253.
New York Times
29 Jan 1950.
---
New York Times
5 Mar 1950.
---
New York Times
23 Jun 50
p. 29.
Time
3 Jul 1950.
---
Variety
12 Apr 50
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus score
SOUND
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Dividing Line
Voice of Stephen Wilder
Outrage
The Big Showdown
Release Date:
July 1950
Premiere Information:
San Antonio, TX opening: late June 1950
Production Date:
late October--late November 1949
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
4 June 1950
Copyright Number:
LP223
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
81-82
Length(in feet):
7,472
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
14310
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In Santa Marta, California, Mexican-American fruit picker Paul Rodriguez dreams of owning a small farm, but his friend, Lopo Chavez, has become embittered by poverty and the prejudice he has faced since returning from World War II. One day while driving through town, Lopo accidentally runs a stop sign and has a minor accident with another car. The driver, Harry Pawling, and his passenger, Joe Ferguson, make a racial slur against Lopo, who responds with his fists. A policeman breaks up the fight and sends Harry and Joe home, and after fining Lopo for running the stop sign, helps him push his disabled car to the side of the road. Lopo then visits Sunny Garcia, whose father publishes the Spanish weekly newspaper La Luz , and makes sure she is going to the Good Fellowship dance that night. Paul, meanwhile, goes home to his shanty and tells his parents about the incident. When his father Juan warns him against spending time with "Americans," Paul protests that he is an American. At the same time, Joe is reprimanded by his wealthy father Ed, who regrets that his son has grown into a bigot. That night, The Union newspaper's new owner/editor, Larry Wilder, a former big city journalist known for his provocative exposés, meets Sunny while waiting in line at the dance. Larry acknowledges that he is there because he anticipates a brawl, but Sunny insists that the Mexican gangs have made peace. Joe, Harry and their friend, Frank O'Brien, show up at the dance, and when Joe starts to harass a young woman, Paul comes to her defense. Joe throws the first ... +


In Santa Marta, California, Mexican-American fruit picker Paul Rodriguez dreams of owning a small farm, but his friend, Lopo Chavez, has become embittered by poverty and the prejudice he has faced since returning from World War II. One day while driving through town, Lopo accidentally runs a stop sign and has a minor accident with another car. The driver, Harry Pawling, and his passenger, Joe Ferguson, make a racial slur against Lopo, who responds with his fists. A policeman breaks up the fight and sends Harry and Joe home, and after fining Lopo for running the stop sign, helps him push his disabled car to the side of the road. Lopo then visits Sunny Garcia, whose father publishes the Spanish weekly newspaper La Luz , and makes sure she is going to the Good Fellowship dance that night. Paul, meanwhile, goes home to his shanty and tells his parents about the incident. When his father Juan warns him against spending time with "Americans," Paul protests that he is an American. At the same time, Joe is reprimanded by his wealthy father Ed, who regrets that his son has grown into a bigot. That night, The Union newspaper's new owner/editor, Larry Wilder, a former big city journalist known for his provocative exposés, meets Sunny while waiting in line at the dance. Larry acknowledges that he is there because he anticipates a brawl, but Sunny insists that the Mexican gangs have made peace. Joe, Harry and their friend, Frank O'Brien, show up at the dance, and when Joe starts to harass a young woman, Paul comes to her defense. Joe throws the first punch and a brawl erupts and spills out of the hall. Paul runs away after accidentally striking policeman Al Peters, and escapes in a stolen ice cream truck. Larry's reporter, Jonas Creel, calls in the story to a larger newspaper in Stockton, and exaggerates the fight as a riot. Paul, terrified, then steals a car as the police chase him, but finally gives up and allows himself to be arrested. Peters angrily starts to beat Paul, but his partner, Boswell, insists that he restrain himself. Of the participants that night, Joe is the only white man arrested, and Sunny resents Joe's guilt-ridden father paying the bail for the poor Mexican boys because they cannot afford a lawyer to prove their innocence. When Boswell tries to stop Peters from roughing up Paul in the back of the police car, he loses control of the car and crashes. Boswell is killed in the accident, and Paul runs away from Peters because he blames him for the death. Later, Stockton reporter Jan Dawson arrives at Larry's office and shows Larry her paper, which has already printed a sensationalized headline reading "Fruit Pickers Riot." Meanwhile, Paul is hiding out in a barn and when he startles teenage farm girl Mildred Jensen, she hits her head on a board and is knocked unconscious. Encouraged by Jan, Mildred later tells police that Paul assaulted her, and news of the attack is reported on television, and Paul is made out to be a dangerous "gangster." Larry wants to publish interviews with Harry, Joe and Frank, but is threatened by all of their fathers, except Ed. Paul is finally tracked to an area near a quarry by another farmer, and a dragnet is formed. Larry manages to find Paul first and protects the frightened, sobbing boy while he is arrested. Sunny implores Larry to print the truth about Paul to counter the vicious lies that have already been published, but Larry fears disrupting the town's peaceful lifestyle. Larry's conscience nags him, however, and he writes a sympathetic article about Paul and publicly asks for money for his defense. The article incites the townspeople, and because Larry stated that Mildred could not know the truth because she was unconscious, her father and his friend try to assault him in his office, then attack Lopo and two friends in their car. Although Lopo's friends escape, he is brutally beaten and left behind. Jensen directs an angry mob to lynch Paul at the jail, but Larry arrives first and convinces the sheriff to take Paul elsewhere. Jensen then leads the mob to Larry's office, where Lopo has taken refuge with Sunny. The mob ignores Lopo's pleas for peace, and after he is battered by stones, they storm the offices and destroy everything. When the police finally arrive with Larry, an ambulance takes Lopo away, and Larry finds Sunny, with whom he has fallen in love, crumpled in a heap on the floor. Sunny revives and is unharmed, but Larry is so revolted by the destruction that he plans to leave town immediately. After Ed puts up Paul's bond, the boy tells Larry that he knew he could trust him because he sees his own brother, who died in the battle at Normandy, in Larry's eyes. Larry is deeply moved by Paul's faith, and instead of bidding Sunny farewell, he proposes they put out a weekly newspaper called The Union on her modest press. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.