The style of Los Golfos is one of a deceptively simple realism. The background is authentic. The industrial and slum areas of Madrid, market places, dance halls, and river banks are areas frequented by the group of boys who form the subject of this film. The camera acts as an observer, conversations are clipped as if overheard, incident follows incident in the apparently formless fashion of real life. Here the intention is to present a certain point of view which will assume the validity of the subject matter itself. It is an artistic method which succeeds because the director creates characters rather than sociological concepts….
[The theme of Los Golfos] is the ultimate innocence of the delinquents. Their determination to raise enough money to launch Juan as a bullfighter has the selfish single-mindedness of the child. Their innocence springs from their lack of a realistic contact with society. No private existence can last for long if cut off from society as a whole. Outside realities intrude, usually accompanied by disaster. In Los Golfos, reality takes the form of failure and ignominy. The film's ending, which is totally crushing, is delineated with the realism already noted, a realism which now emerges in its true form as drama. The grubby bull-ring, the jeering spectators, Juan's humiliating attempts to kill the bull, are the tragic details of an uncompromising reality.
Luis Bunuel may be a more famous director and Los Olvidados a more notable film. But in Los Golfos the young Spanish director Carlos Saura avoids the more experienced artist's clinical coldness and covert sensationalism. He has succeeded in making that rare thing, a good film about juvenile delinquency, the result of an unsentimental realism and an honest humanitarianism.
J. S., "Melbourne Film Festival, 1961: 'Los Golfos'," in Film Journal (copyright by Melbourne University Film Society), No. 18, October, 1961, p. 19.