Cast & Crew
Miguel Estrada returns home to his Spanish Harlem tenement after serving a one-year prison sentence for assisting some racketeers in the commission of a crime. On the way to his family's apartment, Miguel visits his friends in the Carlos Mendoza mob, not to take up his old position in the gang, but rather, as he tells them, to celebrate old times. Refusing to believe that Miguel really wants to go straight, Mendoza argues that the first generation of Puerto Ricans born in the "land of the big dollar" can either make it "the slow, hard way," or "break out fast at the point of a gun." With Miguel's intelligence and loyalty, Mendoza argues, the gang could crush the rival mob of "Boss" Juan Cortez, a crooked politician, and take control of the barrio . Miguel adamantly rejects Mendoza's offer and then, somewhat apprehensively, goes home, where his family is celebrating the birth of his uncle Alberto Estrada's seventh child. Just before Miguel appears at the door, his father, whom everyone calls "Papa," tells the young man's mother and sister Tina that Miguel has disgraced the family name. Everyone except Papa is happy to see him, but the old man grudgingly allows him to enter. Although he is glad to be with his family, Miguel wants desperately to get them out of the "rat trap" they share. His father assures him that his children will escape the barrio , but Miguel, who notes that the Irish, Jews and Italians "busted out before us," is impatient for a better life for both his own and his father's generation. The next morning, Miguel returns to his old job at a laundry establishment owned by Cortez, who secretly uses the business as a front for his illegal activities. At work, Tina's young sweetheart Emilio asks for Miguel's benedición , or blessing, on their planned marriage, hinting that he has amassed money illegally. When the laundry boilers suddenly explode, Miguel realizes that Mendoza has paid Emilio to jam the valves and boldly orders the gangster to "lay off Emilio." Later, as he is leaving Mendoza's nightclub, he is mesmerized by one of its "hostesses," the beautiful Sarita, and agrees to meet her after work. That night, Mendoza's men trick Miguel into committing a robbery, but he thwarts their plans. In retaliation, they beat him. Miguel staggers up to Sarita's room, where he remains for the next ten days. Having fallen in love with Sarita, he proposes to her, but she insists that marriage would tie her down. When an immigration officer appears downstairs to arrest her, Sarita admits that she is an illegal immigrant from Cuba. Following her arrest, Miguel asks Mendoza to arrange for her release. Sarita then marries Miguel and moves in with his family, while Miguel, eager to give his new wife everything she desires, asks Cortez for a raise. Cortez refuses this request but offers the young man twice his current salary to maintain the laundry's dangerous machinery. Miguel accepts and returns home, only to find that Sarita has left him. Furious, Miguel offers to work for Mendoza if the crook finds Sarita for him. Mendoza orders Miguel to lead his men, including Emilio, in a robbery, and during the heist, the police arrive, forcing the robbers to hide in the cellar. Toro, a Mendoza thug who has always been jealous of Miguel, threatens his rival with a knife, and during the fight, Miguel kills him. Later, in the penthouse apartment Miguel has rented with the stolen money, Mendoza arrives with Sarita, and when she angrily declares that she has to be free, he locks her in the bedroom. The police question Miguel about Toro's death, but he remains silent, even when they threaten to question Emilio, who at that moment is buying a wedding dress with Tina. Seeing the police, Emilio panics and races in front of a car to his death. At the boy's funeral, Tina blames Miguel for the loss of her fiancé, and Papa publicly disowns his wayward son. Half crazed by guilt and frustration, Miguel decides to rob the Cortez laundry, a plan Mendoza labels as suicidal. Before the robbery, Sarita tearfully apologizes to her husband, but he declares that he no longer has feelings for her. The daring robbery proceeds as planned until Papa arrives for work and pulls the burglar alarm. Miguel escapes the subsequent shootout, but because he has botched the job, Mendoza's men decide to kill him. Two of the thugs chase him across a rooftop, and when he tries to leap to another building, he falls. Papa and Sarita, kneeling over Miguel's broken body, blame themselves for his misfortune, but just before he dies, he absolves them of guilt and receives his father's cherished blessing.
Joe De Santis
Leslie I. Carey
Thomas P. Shaw
Eager to cash in on the scandalous sales, Warner Brothers tapped Shulman as a potential screenwriter and he adapted the novel as City Across the River (1949) for Universal. That same year, Shulman published his follow-up to The Amboy Dukes, a direct sequel focusing again on troubled protagonist Mitchell Wolf. It would take another decade for Cry Tough to reach the silver screen, and even then with radical changes to the narrative. (In the meantime, Shulman penned the original treatment for Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, with credit for the finished script going ultimately to Stewart Stern.) In the transition from print to film, Mitch Wolf (played by Tony Curtis in City Across the River) became Miguel Estrada (John Saxon), while the novel's Brooklyn setting hopped across the East River and headed uptown to Spanish Harlem.
Latino actors have enjoyed a long history of employment in Hollywood dating back to the silent era, yet all too often their perceived otherness has found them cast as generic exotics with little regard to racial authenticity. During his long career, the Mexico City-born Ricardo Montalban was as likely to be cast as American Indian (Cheyenne Autumn ), Italian (Let No Man Write My Epitaph ) or Japanese (Sayonara ) characters as he would Mexicans, and the same could be said of Pedro Armendáriz (an Italian in Lucretia Borgia ), a Turk in From Russia with Love ), Katy Jurado (a Navajo matriarch in the 1968 Elvis Presley vehicle Stay Away Joe, and the wife of Calabrian bandit Ernest Borgnine in Mario Camerini's 1962 French-Italian coproduction I briganti Italiani) and many more. Yet when Latinos were the focus of a particular film, Hollywood rarely allowed a Latino actor to take focus. This trend has been distressingly long-lived, with the equation hardly changing between Greek George Chakiris leading the Puerto Rican Sharks in West Side Story and The Perez Family (1995) being personified by Italian-Americans Anjelica Huston and Marisa Tomei and Spanish-Italian Brit Alfred Molina. The same goes for Cry Tough, in which second generation Newyoricans are played by Italo-Americans Saxon and Don Gordon (born Walter Guadagno), native Alabaman Harry Townes and Barbara Luna (of Italo-Hungarian descent, with some Spanish, Portuguese, and Filipino in the mix), alongside the Malta-born Joseph Calleia in one of his final film roles.
Cast in the part of a Cuban dance hall girl, leading lady Linda Cristal was at least an authentic Latina but no one involved in the making of Cry Tough was actually Puerto Rican. Puerto Rican actors with name-above-the-title remain exceedingly rare in Hollywood, with the exception of Raúl Juliá, Rosie Perez and Benicio Del Toro. Although John Saxon (born in Brooklyn in 1935 as Carmen Orrico) had been enrolled in one Manhattan acting school or another as early as age sixteen, he was making money as an illustrator for such popular gossip magazines as Modern Romance and True Story when the opportunity presented itself to go to Hollywood. Saxon's agent had passed along some photographs of the dark-eyed youth to a talent agent in Los Angeles, who agreed to represent Saxon so long as he came west. Because he was still a minor, Saxon's first industry contract had been signed by his parents but within three weeks of arriving in Tinsel Town he had a contract with Universal-International. Lying about his age to skirt child labor laws, the now-seventeen year-old (who had an early bit as an usher in George Cukor's A Star Is Born ) was quickly slotted into the rising tide of youth pictures in the order of Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) with Sal Mineo, Rod McKuen and Fay Wray (as Saxon's mother), its sequel Summer Love (1958), Vincente Minnelli's The Reluctant Debutante (1958) with Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall (who fed him wine between takes) and Sandra Dee, whom the studio paired with Saxon again in The Restless Years (1958). Saxon had shown his range as a teenage psychopath menacing school teacher Esther Williams in The Unguarded Moment (1956) and it was this sense of brooding, time bomb bellicosity that won him the role of a Puerto Rican ex-con in Cry Tough.
Cry Tough (advertising art and posters added an exclamation point, à la Fred Zinnemann's Oklahoma! , Robert Aldrich's Attack!  and Robert Wise's I Want to Live! ) marked the feature film debut of Paul Stanley. In the mid-to-late 50s, the Hartford, Connecticut native established himself as a reliable director-for-hire for television. Prior to taking on Cry Tough, Stanley had helmed episodes of the short-lived anthology series Appointment with Adventure, Have Gun - Will Travel with Richard Boone and Kraft Television Theatre, for whom he staged an adaptation of Bret Harte's satire The Outcasts of Poker Flats starring George C. Scott. Stanley also directed ten episodes of the 20th Century Fox/BBC collaboration The Third Man, starring Michael Rennie in the role made famous by Orson Welles, which split production between the Fox lot in Century City and Shepperton and Elstree Studios in the United Kingdom.
Critical response to Cry Tough was mixed, with The New York Times' Bosley Crowther accusing star Saxon of doing a Marlon Brando impersonation that confused "the ethnic factor." Post-Cry Tough, Stanley returned to episodic television and did not attempt another feature until Cotter (1973), starring Irish-American actor Don Murray as an alcoholic Sioux rodeo clown facing racial prejudice in the aftermath of a murder he didn't commit. Paul Stanley retired from the business in 1985 and died in 2002, at the age of 80.
Producer: Harry Kleiner
Director: Paul Stanley
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner; Irving Shulman (novel)
Cinematography: Irving Glassberg, Philip H. Lathrop
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Laurindo Almeida
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Cast: John Saxon (Miguel Estrada), Linda Cristal (Santa), Joseph Calleia (Sr. Estrada), Harry Townes (Carlos), Don Gordon (Incho), Perry Lopez (Toro), Frank Puglia (Lavandero), Penny Santon (Senora Estrada), Joe De Santis (Cortez), Barbara Luna (Tina), Arthur Batanides (Alvears), Paul Clarke (Emilio).
by Richard Harland Smith
John Saxon interview by Leo Verswijver, Movies Were Always Magical (McFarland Publications, 2003)
Biography of Irving Shulman by Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide
Obituary for Irving Shulman by Mel Gussow, The New York Times, March 29, 1995
An onscreen narrative reads: "In the heart of New York City, there is a steaming jungle of tenements inhabited by America's newest wave of immigrants, the Puerto Ricans. Surrounded by the great city, they are isolated within it. They call their little world the Barrio, the Spanish word for 'district.'" According to information in the MPAA/PCA file on the film in the AMPAS Library, Irving Shulman's novel was originally to have been produced by Mort Briskin for Morjay Productions, Inc., and released by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. Hecht-Hill-Lancaster bought the story from Irving Shulman in 1955. Canon Productions and Anne Productions, Inc., the film's copyright claimant, appear to be companies set up by Hecht-Hill-Lancaster specifically for this production.
A 1958 news item in Daily Variety stated that producer-writer Harry Kleiner completely revamped Shulman's "mid-depression novel about a Jewish family in Brooklyn." According to a October 12, 1958 article in Los Angeles Examiner, Kleiner spent two weeks in Spanish Harlem interviewing hundreds of locals on all aspects of life there. A Hollywood Reporter casting note indicates that Brad Dexter was in negotiations for a starring role. The producers borrowed John Saxon and Linda Cristal from Universal for the film. Although the Variety review noted that Cry Tough marked the screen's first attempt at depicting "second generation Puerto Ricans in Manhattan," most reviewers complained about the film's lack of realism. Cry Tough was television director Paul Stanley's first effort at theatrical filmmaking. The film also marked the first of two films made by producer Harry Kleiner under his Canon Productions banner.