The Exiles (1961)

Yvonne (Yvonne Williams) and Homer (Homer Nish) are Native Americans from Apache reservations in Arizona that are now living in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. Homer met Yvonne after putting down roots there after his time in the Army, and Yvonne is currently expecting their first child.

Despite his unemployment, Homer prefers to hang out at a bar called the Ritz with other men who have left the reservation. Feeling a sense of hopelessness, he and his friends Rico (Rico Rodriguez) and Tommy (Tom Reynolds) have elapsed into an almost nightly routine of drinking, fighting and spending time on Hill X, singing native songs and swapping stories about better times.

Meanwhile, Yvonne sits at home or with her friend, hoping things will change.

The Exiles could best be described as a "scripted documentary." Director Keith MacKenzie interviewed the principle performers and others prior to making the film to find out what a typical 12-hours in the life of the displaced Native American population in Los Angeles was like. So, while most of what you see in the movie is acted out, it's actually based on the life of the participants. Many of the participants had served jail time for petty crimes.

Still, a large portion of the movie is not scripted. Though released in 1961, the actual filming took place in 1958, and it was all filmed on location. This provides a sort of time capsule as you get to see what Los Angeles and, in particular, a major urban area would have looked like and functioned like at the time. You sometimes get glimpses of this in Hitchcock films and noir movies, but the only film I can think of that really does something similar is Model Shop, filmed a decade later and much inferior to this film.

One surprising unscripted moment occurs in the Ritz itself. Two obvious gay men (one Asian) get drunk and start making a spectacle of themselves. While this would go completely unnoticed in most places now, this was 1958, and you can just see the tension build on the faces of the patrons (largely men) as they try to pretend it's not happening. It's almost frightening to think of what might have happened if someone wasn't filming that night.

Ultimately, the film succeeds in its goal of providing a glimpse into the world of a largely ignored economic underclass.

The Exiles (1961)
Duration: 73 minutes
Starring: Yvonne Williams, Homer Nish, Rico Rodriguez, Tom Reynolds
Director: Kent MacKenzie

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