Disappointing... yet brilliant

Random and not-so-random thoughts about movies

LFF#7: Something Wild 

SPOlLER ALERT There is a dramatic development in the first few minutes of this film that has to mentioned to discuss it in any sensible way. 

Each year I try to see at least one archive film at the LFF. This time it was this little-seen film from 1961. It stars, and was partially financed by Carroll Baker and directed by her then husband, Jack Garfein. Baker is most famous for playing the nymphet in Baby Doll, the Tennessee Williams/Elia Kazan film. Garfein worked with Lee Strasberg, the legendary method-acting guru, and set up the LA branch of The Actors Studio. Something Wild was meant to show that Baker was an actress to be reckoned with, and the couple hired the best possible talent to work on their labour of love, including title sequence genius Saul Bass, composer Aaron Copland and the legendary cinematographer Eugen Schufftan, who picked up an Oscar for one of the other films he shot that year, The Hustler. And yet all of this failed to make Something Wild into the critical success its makers were aiming for. 

Baker plays a student who gets raped on her way home in a socially declining Bronx neighbourhood. She says nothing about her experience to her snobbish, uptight mother. Unable to resume life as normal, she runs away into the city. One of the great things about Something Wild is that it was shot on location in New York, in the days when that was still rare. And Baker roams for miles, from the blazing lights of Broadway to the forlorn Lower East Side.

She’s excellent. The Actors Studio had a big effect on the movies, and not always a good one. A film where the Method is unchained, and one which a chunk of it takes place in one room with two characters, offers up all sorts of self-indulgent possibilities. But Baker avoids most of the traps, and produces a fine performance as a woman who can’t communicate what has happened to her. It’s a shame this film didn’t work for Baker – making it was a brave move, and it deserves a better reputation.

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