Rita Moreno is the best thing about this crude and exploitative story of racial strife among teenage gangs of black, white and Latin Americans. She has some affecting moments as Lola Montalvo, the Mexican girl whose white boyfriend has died in a gang fight.
She then takes up with black Latino Frank Serano (Mark Damon), not knowing that he is an undercover police officer.
Serano and Don Walters (Doug Hume) – two young L.A. cops – volunteer to pose as high school students in order to get to the bottom of the racially charged gang violence sweeping across the city.
Don is assigned to the Royals, a white gang led by oily pot-pusher Buck Madison (Richard Rust), while Frank gets in with the Ebonys – led by Satchel (Al Freeman Jr.) – and the Caballeros.
Buck (Richard Rust) drags Ebonys into dark alleys and slathers them with white paint, little realising that his own girlfriend, Wiggles (Dyan Cannon) is passing herself off as white.
Ultimately, Frank and Don discover the man behind all the problems at this high school is chubby crimelord Mr Abbott, who’s been urging the Royals to sell grass to “the spic market” and “the coloureds” in order to rile up the races, which is good for his business.
A brief lecture at the end by a police officer hardly overcomes the relish with which the final riot is staged or the general air of sensationalism. West Side Story it ain’t.
The movie was re-released in 1965, renamed as Black Rebels with incongruous insertions of nudity added by William Rowland.
Douglas Hume reprised his role as Don for some new footage, explaining in a newly-added voiceover that while Frank was working the race angle, “I was assigned to crash house parties, where sexual excesses were being caused by the indulgence in marijuana”.
In the revised version, the action periodically stops so Don can pop his head into a room where topless women are riding on the backs of underwear-clad men.
Lt Robert Brooks
Richard L Bare