From 1960, This Rebel Breed is a black and white film starring Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno as Lola Montalvo, Mark Damon as the sensible and wise Frank Serano, the handsome and suave Gerald Mohr as Lieutenant Robert Brooks, and acclaimed actress Dyan Cannon as Wiggles. This black and white film is centered on troubled youth, racial tension, and young love. One of Moreno’s best films, she plays the sensible but naïve Lola, a teenaged Mexican girl in love with a young white man and fellow classmate named Jimmy Wallace. Lola’s brother Manuel is the leader of the Caballeros, a local Mexican gang whose rivals include the all-white Royals and all-black gang the Ebonys. Wallace is a part of the Royals and Manuel disapproves of Lola’s involvement with young men who aren’t of Mexican heritage, causing tension between the two.
The film initially gets off to a quick start, catching your attention immediately with captivating narration from actor Gerald Mohr (Lt. Brooks) stating, “The story your about to see is not pleasant, but it’s true. It’s the story of the hatred of one man for another, because his skin is brown, or his eyes are slanted, or his talk is strange, it’s a senseless hatred, born on fear, feeding on ignorance and misunderstanding, but for all of that……..none the less real.” Actor Gerald Mohr as Lt. Brooks does an amazing job of playing cop with his distinctive radio voice and authoritative presence. His goal is to crack down on youth involved in drugs and violence focusing primarily on Buck Madison, leader of the Royals who threatens anybody who seemingly gets in his way. Actor Richard Rust as the arrogant Buck Madison plays the role to the tee. Troubled, dangerous, and ruthless, his portrayal is on point, adding precariousness to the film. Shortly after the opening dialogue and narration, Lt. Brooks decides to utilize rookie police officers and have them pose as high school students with the hopes of targeting affiliated gang members. One of those police officers is Frank White played by the charming Mark Damon. White’s name is changed to Frank Serano and poses as Black and Mexican while obviously wearing brown-face. It would have been ideal to get an actor of true mixed race for this role, but Damon does a good job. In the film, his goal is to infiltrate both the Black and Mexican gangs, while his colleague focuses on the all-white gang.
Eventually, Serano is rejected by all gangs within their school due to his perceived mixed race and is subsequently attacked by Manuel for hanging around Lola. Not one dull moment in the film, there are also small snippets (quite awkward actually) of young couples “making out” and young women belly dancing hinting at rebellion and sexual promiscuity for the time.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear of the racism, prejudice, and segregation that was prevalent in the United States at the time. Included in the dialog is racist banter, adding to the shock value of the film. The film would certainly be “canceled” by today’s standards. The youth gangs depicted in the film also have a clear dislike and distrust of each other, but the film also depicts trouble and mistreatment amongst themselves with backstabbing, greed, and violence at the core. Lola’s love interest Jimmy is certainly conflicted between his love for her and his loyalty to The Royals, eventually resulting in his death. As the film proceeds, secrets are revealed including true racial identity and a pregnancy. Mark Damon’s chemistry with Rita Moreno is solid, and they actually look quite cute together in the film. One of Dyan Cannon’s early films, her portrayal of “Wiggles” is mesmerizing and sultry. Although a supporting role, she certainly stands out with her beauty and natural acting abilities.
As the film draws to a close, Lola is desperate to avenge the death of Jimmy which brings her father into the mix. Overall, the film is an accurate portrayal of troubled race relations in our country mixed in with teenage angst, rebellion, juvenile delinquency, and interracial romance. After the film’s initial release in 1960, it was subsequently re-released under different titles such as Lola’s Mistake, The Black Rebels and All God’s Children. Rita Moreno also looks absolutely gorgeous in every scene, especially towards the end when she is wearing a fashionable black cocktail dress. Moreno is such a great actress, and always brings such a genuine feel to every character she plays. Throughout every scene her facial expressions captured looks of worry, fear, and frustration allowing her character to show vulnerability but also strength. One thing that can be appreciated with this film unlike others Moreno appeared in, is the fact she was able to use with her real speaking voice rather than some generic Spanish accent that was used at the time. Moreno also speaks more on this in various interviews.
In the end, “This Rebel Breed” is highly entertaining though offensive, and even a bit hysterical at times with the 1960’s slang. The teens in the film refer to the police as “The Fuzz,” a term no longer used. Every actor in the film is superb. Although some may be taken aback by the premise of the film, it displays an authentic reality we cannot run from. The film is also a great reminder of what we should not be, and that we should always rule with kindness and love for one another. Amazingly, lead actors Mark Damon and Rita Moreno are still with us, at both 90 and 91. I often wonder what older actors may think when viewing their work from decades ago, which now feels like a lifetime away.
Click here to read the review on Rita Moreno’s appearance at The University of Puget Sound in (Tacoma, WA) earlier this year.