The son of an infamous outlaw who's been through his fair share of trouble, young Tully Rice (Russ Tamblyn) is trying to straighten himself out but with little luck. He's taken a job in the small town of Chalmers, but some townspeople, especially the deputy, won't let him be. Tully is pushed so far that he leaves it all behind, riding up to the Black Crater, the hideout of a gang dubbed the Wild Bunch. The gang's gone though, leaving less than a dozen kids, teenagers and 20-somethings to "uphold" the reputation of the bunch. The sheriff in Chalmers (Walter Coy) wants to help Tully who sees little reward in being a two-bit outlaw, but could his father's name plague him no matter what decision he makes?
From director Albert Band, 'Young' is a not so subtle dig/message to teenage kids trying to decide what route to take. Be a good kid that goes to school or be a punk who smokes, drinks and wreaks havoc? A prologue even links the problems Tully has in 1897 within the story to the problems and issues that teenagers would have been having in 1956. Heavy handed much? It gets to be a little much, a blending of the familiar western genre with other movies of the time, most noticeably Rebel Without a Cause (released a year earlier in 1955). The teenagers are all depressed, sullen and don't know what to do with themselves. The adults either want to work with the kids, fix the problems, or the complete opposite, just wipe them off the face of the Earth.
Just 22 years old at the time but with a long list of movies already to his name, Tamblyn is a good but not great lead. Most people probably know him from his ventures into musicals later in his career (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, West Side Story), but in the 1950s, he was right at home in the western. He's not a showy actor, and at times here he comes across a tad on the wooden side, but I've always liked him, and that's certainly the case here. He tones down the tortured teenager with a checkered past angle -- thankfully -- and avoids getting into James Dean territory (You're tttttttearing me apart!). Mostly, Tully just wants a clean slate, especially when he meets Nora Bowdre (Gloria Talbott), the daughter of a similarly infamous outlaw who now cares for her three little brothers. Uh-oh, do I smell a match made in heaven?
Unfortunately the rest of the cast leaves little impression. Coy as Sheriff Jim Peyton is an exception, an experienced lawman who thinks everyone deserves a second chance. In Tully, he sees a kid who was dealt a bad hand but is trying to make things better. Talbott is tolerable as Nora, not as shrill as so many damsel in distress female characters prevalent in the 1950s. As for the Wild Bunch: Teenage Version, it's one ultra-sullen performance after another including Perry Lopez, Scott Marlowe, Wright King and James Goodwin. Western character actor Chubby Jones is his typical solid self as Grandpa, the old man among the Bunch, Myron Healey sneers and is angry as the pissed off deputy, and Rayford Barnes makes the most of a too-short performance as Kid Cutler, a legitimate member of the Bunch who returns to find what's left of the group.
Beyond the teenage delinquency angle, 'Young' has little to nothing to say. At just 83 minutes, it doesn't know what to do with itself. Much of the movie has Tully and the gang lounging around the Black Crater pouting. Exciting to watch, huh? A few fistfights break up the monotony -- particularly brutal for 1956 -- but even those resort to too much obvious uses of stunt doubles. The ending picks up a little momentum, but for me it was a case of too little and too late. Slow-moving and far too obvious in its message, an average western at best.
The Young Guns (1956): **/****