SOMETHING WILD (1961)


SOMETHING WILD  (1961)  Directed  and  co written by  Jack Garfein is said  to be ‘a lost indie film classic”.  This picture lives up to that suggestion and more even if it  is rarely seen today.   A  jarring piece of  film making complete with  strong performances  by Carol Baker, Ralph Meeker and others.

Youth films  flourished in the  late fifties and  sixties with the  style of HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR  (1960)  and many others usually involving a  leather glad  delinquent that gets  redeemed  by ‘rock and roll ‘music or a winning a race in a  hot rod.  Such pictures  were  good  fun to watch yet with some notable exceptions  like Brando’s  THE WILD ONE (1953) , REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and  the lesser known  WILD SEED (1965)  with Michael  Parks took the  theme of “Teenage  trouble” and the  accompanying  society alienation  seriously much less making the  female the main story.

SOMETHING WILD (1961)  takes it all a  step forward with its  almost “French New  wave “cinematic title sequence by Saul Bass featuring, vehicles, painted road lines,  time distortion all to a scored by a  young Aaron Copeland.

The story of  a young New York girl who is brutally raped in a  park and her method of  finding here own way after is  heavy issue  today  even more so  in 1961.   Carol Baker  in only her third role after BABY DOLL (1956)  and  a role  in GIANT (1956) gives a  defining performance as Mary Ann Robinson.

 

 

Actors  studio trained Carol Baker would go on to a controversial career  that somehow didn’t quite take off to the heights of when she was dubbed as  another  “Marilyn Monroe”  Ralph Meeker best known for tough guy  roles such as Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY (1955) turns in multi leveled performance as  the simple  mechanic Mike that comes into Mary’s life.   Meeker alternates between gentle, shy, bumbling person around Mary to obsessive drunken rage culminating in confinement.   Mike does not know tenderness  as he  saves Mary in a moment of despair yet at the same time threatens her

The  cast is  filled out by early roles from two soon to be  television legends in the person of  Jean Stapleton who would go onto  to immortality as  “Edith Bunker” in ALL IN THE FAMILY.  Stapleton takes her turn in two brief scenes as a sleazy boarder Shirley Johnson who lives next door to  Mary.    Doris Roberts  as  “Mary’s  store coworker” who would become “Maria Barone” in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.  The actor that steals the show in a small role is Martin Kosleck as  slimy landlord of the house that Mary ends up living. Kosleck made a career of playing evil mostly Nazi  like Conrad Veidt before  him yet in this picture Kosleck is like a leering  tattooed snake. Veidt and  Kosleck both were born in Germany and  fled the tide of Hitler to portray an aspect of their country that they both hated.  A young Diana Ladd is  listed as  having a  bit role.

 

SOMETHING WILD (1961) derives its power from its black and white stark images. Many of these styled in Noir lighting and  German expressionism of the  decent into Mary’s existence.   We see crowds, and  large spaces in the beginning of the  film only later to be replaced by shadows, darkness and  even the people become the enemy as Mary is trapped on subway.

 

The people fight and battle to get on an off the cars often looking to be within a moment of real  violence to those around them. The real New York locations sure as  the Bowery become  even more foreboding as  you see nothing but “lost people”.

 

 

The attack on Mary is particularly well handled for sixties as  while its brutal in it intent The moment  becomes singularly not  comfortable  sense wise when you see the simple shot of  Mary’s garter and her bare skin pressing into a  rock during the attack.  That is all  one needs to see to understand what this attack is unlike many of the  film makers of today showing more  images.  One knows the room is  vacant when you place one object in  it.

 

SOMETHING WILD (1961) become Film Noir in its outlook on life in the pictures second half. The  torture  that both Mary and Mike feel and do to each other is the story.   Classic Noir theme of being both are trapped in something be it the past or what they have been branded by society.  Mary and Mike are locked physically together suffering like addicts by their situation only to find a  type of redemption.   Mildred  Dunnock plays Mary’s mother Mrs Gates masterfully as  she tries to make amends  being oblivious to her concerns similar to Jim Backus as James Dean’s  father  in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955).  Mrs Gates pleads with her daughter to come home and to restore the world as before but Mary know that it can never be the same.

 

SOMETHING WILD (1961) lives up to its billing as a lost classic.  It features expert direction, acting and camera work worth of  a small classic picture. In somewhat  Hollywood tradition it was not well received by the public as it was often to intense and  bleak.   The picture was  the last  to be made by Director Jack Garfein which is a shame.   See this hard to get film if you can.

 

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