#77) The Exiles (1961)

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#77) The Exiles (1961)

OR “A Night in the Bunker”

Directed & Written by Ken Mackenzie

Class of 2009

The Plot: Based on interviews and dramatic recreations, “The Exiles” covers a group of Native Americans who left their respective reservations, making them “exiles” of their community, but forming a new community of their own. Yvonne (Yvonne Williams) wishes for a better life for her children, while her husband Homer (Homer Nish) goes out drinking and playing poker. Meanwhile Tommy (Tommy Reynolds) joins Homer in his drinking and tries to pick up pretty much any woman in sight. All of this occurs over a few hours on a dark, very film-noir night in L.A.’s Bunker Hill district.

Why It Matters: The NFR salutes the film as “one of the few non-stereotypical films that honestly depict Native Americans.” An essay by film professor Catherine Russell offers more insight on the film and its significance.

But Does It Really?: As is often the case with docudramas like this and “Nanook of the North”, I’m always a little concerned about recommending a film that might not be the most accurate depiction of a specific culture. But enough people with far more credibility than I have called this film true to life, and that’s good enough for me. I just wish the film were a little more polished. There are long stretches where nothing happens, and it’s only 72 minutes! Regardless, “The Exiles” takes a unique approach to a largely ignored culture, and that’s what film preservation is all about.

Shout Outs: Among the films playing at the theater Yvonne visits is the 1959 remake of “Imitation of Life”.

Everybody Gets One: Not surprisingly, this is the only NFR film (and in most cases the only film period) for the cast of “The Exiles”, as well as Kent Mackenzie.

Wow, That’s Dated: Gas is only 29 cents a gallon!? Also one of the barbershops they pass by offers a shave and a haircut for 40 cents (approximately 3 and 1/5th bits).

Seriously, Oscars?: Well you can’t blame the Oscars for not nominating a film that had no major theatrical release until 47 years after its completion. Or maybe you can.

Other notes

  • The Native American photos at the beginning are from Edward S. Curtis, who you may recall as the filmmaker who gave us “In the Land of the Head Hunters”.
  • Bunker Hill’s historic “Angels Flight” makes an appearance throughout the film. I guess it’s reopening again in a few months?
  • Oh, these folks are not actors.
  • Other films playing at Yvonne’s theater are “Escape to Burma” and “The Iron Sheriff”.
  • Either everyone in this film is dubbed or they are all excellent ventriloquists.
  • I do find the decision to make “The Exiles” a docudrama an interesting choice. If you’re going to include the subjects in the film, why make them act?
  • Ah yes, a simpler time when it was expected of you to sexually harass your waitress. Truly this is the kind of clean ‘50s American lifestyle we all yearn for again.
  • Homer suggests that white people have more problems than the Indians. Don’t tell white people that, you’ll never hear the end of it.
  • It’s around the point when Tommy and Cliff are talking to their dates and trying to pick a song from the jukebox where I started to wonder why this wasn’t a short.
  • Under no circumstances should you ever rush a woman when she’s in the bathroom.
  • That dancer towards the end is a surprisingly open “confirmed bachelor” given the era. For some reason he’s dubbed by someone who sounds a lot like Jerry Lewis.
  • Okay, one of the guys at the 49 Dance definitely makes the Goofy Holler.
  • It’s not perfect, but “The Exiles” is definitely a warts-and-all look at this lifestyle. Why would you let cameras film some of this unflattering behavior?

Legacy

  • Bunker Hill as seen in the film no longer exists. The district was at the beginning of a major redevelopment during filming and “The Exiles” captured many of these buildings shortly before their demolition. Bunker Hill is now comprised mainly of skyscrapers and office buildings.
  • Kent Mackenzie continued to direct and edit films until his premature death in 1980 at the age of 50. One wonders how his career would have gone had “The Exiles” gotten a proper film distribution in 1961.

Further Listening: Ladies and gentlemen, The Revels!

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