Monday, April 18, 2016

Something Wild (1961) New York Kitchen Sink Noir

A psychological noir directed by Jack Garfein, written by Jack Garfein and Alex Karmel, stars Carroll Baker (Baby Doll (1956), Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly (1955)), Mildred Dunnock (Kiss of Death (1947), Baby Doll (1956)), Jean Stapleton, Martin Kosleck (The Spider (1945)), Clifton James, Doris Roberts, and New York City in all it's 1960-61 glory. Cinematography was by Eugen Schüfftan (Port of Shadows (1938)) and music by Aaron Copland.

The tale is about a young woman Mary Ann (Baker). She still lives at home with her mother (Dunnock) and step father.  She is attending college in New York City. One night after riding the Jerome Avenue line subway back to Kingsbridge Road Station, she takes a shortcut home through St. James Park.

Near the Southeast corner she is grabbed from behind. Dragged into the bushes she is brutally raped up against a retaining wall by a grunting panting slob. Bruised, sore, and traumatized, she gathers up her books and belongings and runs home.

She quietly enters her house and tells no one. In her bathroom, frightened and shivering, she strips her clothes off, gets into a tub, and washes away all the evidence. She takes scissors and cuts the soiled clothes and undergarments into small pieces and flushes them down the toilet.

She hides the rape from her parents and tries to carry on with her life. She now recoils from physical contact with all people. While riding the subway to school, the crush of people in the morning rush hour is too much for her to bear. Felling sick she rushes from the train and faints on the platform of the 103rd St. Station. The NYPD brings her back home and her uptight, whining, insensitive mother who is always concerned about "what the neighbors think", is mortified that she has been brought home in a police car.

Continuing in the following days to wallow in a morass of self deprecation and despair Mary Ann snaps. She just takes off from her Morningside Heights school, leaves her books on a sidewalk bench and walks downtown through Harlem, The Upper West Side, Times Square, Greenwich Village to the Lower East Side.

In the Lower East Side she rents, from sleazy slumlord (Kosleck), a five dollar a week flop in his rundown tenement, and finds a twenty-five dollar a week job at a five-and-dime. She has a loud, obnoxious, two bagger prostitute, Shirley (Stapleton) as a next door neighbor, who offers to fix her up with some "gentlemen friends."

Continuing her downward spiral she becomes increasingly alienated from the world and decides to end it all. To Mary Ann the conveniently nearby Manhattan Bridge has a big imaginary sign that says "JUMP ME." As she climbs up on the rail about to go over she is stopped by by Mike, an alkie, sad sack, slightly whacked in the head auto mechanic. Her knight in rusty armor has a few screws loose himself. He walks her back to the Manhattan side and talks her into resting at his place while he goes to work. He doesn't trust her in the condition that she's in, thinking that she try something again, so he locks her in his basement apartment. Mike, slow on the uptake, never quite understands why Mary Ann doesn't want to be held there against her wishes.

When Mike comes home late that night sloppy drunk he tries to get a little "friendly" with Mary Ann but with what she just went through and in the condition she's in she naturally totally freaks and kicks him in the eye. When Mike comes too the next morning he has no recollection of the night before thinking he got into a fight at a bar. He's a blackout boozer. He loses the eye as a result of her kick and has to wear an eye patch.

When Mary Ann tells Mike that she has to go back to work, he offers to match what her boss pays her at the store. So we ask ourselves why does Mike behave this way? Did he also contemplate doing a brodie into the East River? Is he aware, on some gut level, of the certainty that letting her go now in this condition would be fatal, but just mentally disabled enough not to realize the "benies" of getting her professional medical attention. He "knows" in some weird way that fate has bound them together. He  actually NEEDS her in his own twisted way.

So Mike continues to hold Mary Ann prisoner, telling her that he likes "the way you look here." She is held there in Mike's apartment for months having, at times, surreal nightmares. One night Mike does it up big, he cooks steaks, buys wine sets the table with flowers, and fixes a nice dinner for the both of them. He proposes to Mary Ann and she rejects him. She tells him that it was she who kicked him in the eye. Mike says that he didn't know, but insists the she is "his last chance." Mike is a damaged person also. He gets up heartbroken and goes out the door leaving it ajar.

Mary Ann grabs her coat and is out the door. Free at last she wanders the city eventually sleeping in Central Park. Her destructive funk is cured and she returns to the apartment to be back with Mike. These two damaged souls manage to find each other and bring into the equation what the other needed.

They get married and as our story ends Mary Ann has a bun in the oven. Life is strange indeed, there are a million stories in the Naked City.....

New York Noirsville


The cast is excellent, the first half of the film is pretty much all Baker, and besides the obvious iconic Classic Noir creds that Ralph Meeker brings to the table, watch for a bit of cinematic memory, Mildred Dunnock played Rossi's mom, the one that Tommy Udo sent down the staircase in the wheelchair in an iconic Noir sequence from Kiss Of Death.

Screencaps are from the MGM limited edition DVD. Aaron Copland's score is adequate, but I would have preferred something more jazzy/bluesy that would have fit NYC better, hell I would have loved say a variation of the NYC classic Street Scene, another bit of cinematic memory. It chronicles a 1960 New York City still with heavy vestiges of the 40s and 50s. Depending on my mood a 7-8/10.

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