Films That Time Forgot: Black Rebels (1960/65)

Films That Time Forgot: Black Rebels (1960/65)

Director: Richard L. Bare and William Rowland

Tagline: Her name was Wiggles… And the kids all thought she was white!

Also known as: This Rebel Breed; Lola’s Mistake; Three Shades Of Love

Plot: Young(ish) cops Frank Serano (played by Mark Damon) and Don Walters (Doug Hume) volunteer to pose as high-school students in order to get to the bottom of the racially charged gang violence that’s threatening to sweep across Los Angeles. Don is assigned to cozy up to The Royals, the white gang led by Buck Madison (Richard Rust), an oily pot-pusher. Frank poses as half-black/half-Hispanic so he can investigate what’s going on with both The Ebonys and The Caballeros. But Frank has less luck than Don. When he mentions that he’s “half-colored” to Ebony leader Satchel (played by famed thespian Al Freeman Jr., at the start of his career), Satchel scoffs “Too bad you can’t fix that other half.” And when he’s assigned to work on a class project with Lola Montalvo (played by yet another legend, Rita Moreno), he gets beaten up by her Caballero brother.

Beneath all the racial-purity posturing, though, the relationships at Gang Violence High are more complicated. Lola’s been carrying on a secret affair with a Royal, who won’t acknowledge her publicly, even though she’s carrying his baby. The pressure of all this causes Lola to break down in class in the middle of delivering a report on race. Meanwhile, Buck has been dragging Ebonys into dark alleys and slathering them with white paint, little realizing that his own girlfriend, Wiggles (played by Dyan Cannon!) is passing as white. Once he gets the news, Buck splashes Wiggles with water, to try and wash the black off.

Ultimately, Frank and Don find out that 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 coloreds” in order to rile up the races, which is good for his business. The cops bust Mr. Abbott at a house party, and—in a bit of poetic justice—handcuff him to a lawn-jockey.

Key scenes: An early scene introduces the players, as Frank and Don go over their cover stories with their boss. Frank practices explaining that his painted-on brownness is because he’s “half-Mexican/half-Negro,” while Don plays at being a middle-aged beatnik. Then the cops turn in their badges and get their “receipts,” in the form of switchblades.

No one at the school notices how phony their new classmates look, because they’re all too busy selling drugs, having gang fights, and sitting through social-science classes that turn into debates about whether the minorities—including “the yellow race”—are goaded into violence because they’re trying to protect their women.

These classes don’t do much to increase tolerance, though. At one point, Lola accidentally knocks a white girl’s sandwich out of her hands, and the white girl snobbily ignores Lola’s offer of a sandwich from her own lunch.

And later, when Frank and Lola find an African-American child clutching his stomach in pain from the funny cigarette Buck made him smoke, Satchel gets defensive and angry when Frank and Lola try to help.

Can easily be distinguished by: The awkward, incongruous insertions of nudity, added by William Rowland in 1965 when Richard L. Bare’s original movie (titled This Rebel Breed) was re-named and re-released. Hume even reprised his role as Don for the new footage, explaining in voiceover that while Frank was working the race-riot 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 ladies are riding on the backs of underwear-clad men, all decadent-like. One minute, an authority figure is hissing, “There are a million kids like you all over the country. When are you gonna wake up?!” And the next…

Sign that it was made in 1960: Frank and Lola have an earnest discussion about the root economic causes of racism, citing recent studies on the matter, as though prepping to be interviewed by Mike Wallace.

Timeless message: “We’re all the same under the sky.” (Or maybe “weed is wicked.” It depends on the scene, really, and when it was shot.)

Memorable quotes: In the sexploitation version of Black Rebels, a shot of heavy petting in a science lab is narrated by Don, who smirks, “Classrooms were used for extracurricular activities… for students majoring in anatomy.” But the best lines come from This Rebel Breed, particularly in a scene where a mother chastises her greaser son to “stop using those vulgar beatnik expressions, and fix yourself a nice snack before you go back to school,” to which his dad adds, “And get yourself a haircut before someone makes a pass at you.”

Available on DVD from Something Weird.

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