Cast & Crew
Emilio is a member of the Los Angeles street gang, the Aztecas. After experiencing this world of brutality and power plays for some time, Emilio tires of it, and with the help of his girlfriend decides to start a new life.
Irene De Bari
Gary Carlos Cervantes
Eloy Phil Casados
Joe D Jacobs
The scenario casts Benson as Emilio Mendez, a high school kid from the L.A. barrio who's a member in good standing of Los Aztecas, a gang dominated and ruthlessly run by Cesar (Pepe Serna). The film opens with the kids on a night raid to roll some local thugs engaged in ethnic intimidation, and Vincente (Claudio Martinez) raises Cesar's wrath when he shoots to wound instead of kill. The next day finds Vincente ritualistically "jumped out" of the club, subjected to a near-fatal gauntlet beating.
The authorities' discovery of the unconscious Vincente leads to the rousting of Emilio, Dagger (Trinidad Silva) and Cowboy (Domingo Ambriz) by Mike Serrano (Henry Darrow), a local kid turned cop turned social worker, and LAPD Sergeant Gannett (Ji-Tu Cumbuka). While the young gangbangers plead ignorance, Serrano tries to impress upon them that their eighteenth birthdays are imminent, and the minor offense punishments that they have so far laughed off aren't going to apply much longer.
At school, Emilio is discovering another distraction, in the form of Sarah Lassiter (Sarah Holcomb), the pretty daughter of a wealthy dentist (Lawrence Pressman). While initially not knowing what to make of his flirtations, Sarah finds herself intrigued, and slowly won over by his sincerity. Between his growing awareness of the culture gap separating Sarah from him, Cesar's growing determination to provoke bloody war with the Los Espiritos gang from Santa Monica, and the abrupt and stunning truth delivered by his mother (Irene DeBari) about the father he never knew, Emilio is forced to make difficult and dangerous choices about remaining in the gang life.
Walk Proud received workmanlike direction at the hands of TV veteran Robert E. Collins, for what would be his first and last theatrical credit, and the telefilm level of the production value is therefore understandable. The earnest screenplay was the work of Evan Hunter, who had very credibly delineated disaffected youth for a prior generation in novels such as The Blackboard Jungle and A Matter of Conviction. It's not insignificant that the screen adaptations of these works, Blackboard Jungle (1955) and The Young Savages (1961), show less wear from time.
As unlikely as the story's romantic thread seems in cold print, the credible and sympathetic efforts of Benson and Holcomb make it work, and the result is one of Walk Proud's primary virtues. The wholesomely attractive Holcomb, who was featured prominently in two of the period's signature comedy hits, National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and Caddyshack (1980), would only accrue one other screen credit before substance abuse and nervous exhaustion would compromise the promise of her career.
Critics of Walk Proud have pointed to its Latin-American themes as essentially window dressing on just another vehicle for Benson, done up with fake tan and dark contacts for the role. The actor was coming to the end of his disco-era reign as Hollywood's go-to troubled teen, as exemplified by Jeremy (1973), Ode to Billy Joe (1976), One on One (1977) and Tribute (1980). There was no small amount of perception amongst the Latin-American community that Walk Proud was more of the same, only with a quinceneara sequence. Benson also wrote and sang the number that plays over the closing credits.
While the project gave opportunities to several of the industry's stalwart Latin-American character players like Darrow, Serna, Ambriz and Silva, the latter's casting did more harm than help to the film's credibility. Serna was 35 at the time of the film's release, Ambriz 31, and Silva 29; as a result, it came as if these high school hardcases got held back a grade one time too many.
At the time of its theatrical release, Walk Proud also had the misfortune of arriving during an inadvertent but highly controversial cycle of youth gang-oriented features, including The Warriors (1979), The Wanderers (1979) and Boulevard Nights (1979). Highly publicized incidents of violence at urban screenings of The Warriors resulted in distributors getting cold feet regarding its thematic brethren, and this played a large factor in Walk Proud's subsequent obscurity. (Over the Edge , so frequently lumped in with this group, found its domestic distribution tabled for two years.)
Producer: Lawrence Turman
Director: Robert E. Collins
Screenplay: Evan Hunter
Cinematography: Bobby Byrne
Music: Robby Benson, Don Peake
Film Editing: Douglas Stewart
Cast: Robby Benson (Emilio Mendez), Sarah Holcomb (Sarah Lassiter), Henry Darrow (Mike Serrano), Pepe Serna (Cesar), Trinidad Silva (Dagger), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Sergeant Gannett), Lawrence Pressman (Henry Lassiter), Domingo Ambriz (Cowboy), Brad Sullivan (Jerry Kelsey), Irene DeBari (Mrs. Mendez), Eloy Casados (Hugo), Daniel Faraldo (El Tigre), Tony Alvarenga (Paco).
by Jay S. Steinberg
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979
rtg MPAA PG
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979