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.