Pay now. Or pay with your life. Armed and arrogant, a baby-faced teen named Honeyboy Willard terrorizes hardened rumrunners until they agree to shell out protection money. Soon Honeyboy and his underage thugs, the Purple Gang, control Detroit, turning the screws until local businessmen, driven to desperation, call in the Chicago Mafia to outmuscle their homegrown mob.
Disarmingly boyish, Robert Blake (In Cold Blood) makes a chilling Honeyboy, a psychopath equally thrilled by luring a cop to his death or cramming his best pal alive in a coffin, pouring in cement, and dropping him in the river. "That's the way we work," Honeyboy says. Bet on it.
Although this story of the making of a gangland hoodlum reflects only some of the real history of the Detroit Purple Gang in it, the violence portrayed is completely truthful. The sense of reality here is increased by the use of newsreel footage. Robert Blake is "Honeyboy" Willard, a juvenile delinquent always in trouble for petty thefts and similar deeds. (The actual Purple Gang started that way just before 1920, led by the youthful Bernstein brothers.) Cop Bill Harley (Barry Sullivan) is convinced that Willard's violent side can only be tamed by a stint behind bars. Opposing him is a social worker who wants to use modern methods of therapy to correct the teen's problems. When the social worker is found brutally murdered, the cop knows that Willard is responsible. He decides to stick with the case -- in spite of the fact that the gang eventually has a lot of city and union brass in its pocket. Just as a note, the gang got their name because one citizen commented that they were tainted, like the purple color of bad meat.
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