Monday, April 10, 2017

The Savage Eye (1960) Experimental "Dramatised Documentary" Noir

A passion project, directed and produced by a triumvirate of Ben Maddow who was also a prolific screenwriter and documentarian noted for (Framed (1947), Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) (adaptation), The Asphalt Jungle (1950)), film director and editor Sidney Meyers (The Quiet One (1948)), and director, producer and screenwriter Joseph Strick (The Big Break (1953), Tropic of Cancer (1970), Road Movie (1974)).

They worked on this project, both writing and editing it in the city of Los Angeles, California, over a number of years in the late 50's strictly on their weekends for roughly $65,000. The music was by Leonard Rosenman. The outstanding cinematography was by Jack Couffer, Helen Levitt and Haskell Wexler.

The Savage Eye is a feast for Noir eyes.

The film stars Barbara Baxley (Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV Series (1955–1962), Naked City TV Series (1958–1963), The Twilight Zone  TV Series (1959–1964), No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)) as Judith McGuire, Herschel Bernardi (Mike Hammer TV Series (1958–1959), Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), Murder by Contract (1958), Peter Gunn TV Series (1958–1961)) as Kirk, Jean Hidey as Venus the Body, Elizabeth Zemach as The nurse and narrated in part by Gary Merrill (Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), A Blueprint for Murder (1953), Witness to Murder (1954), The Incident (1967)).

The Savage Eye is the dramatized documentary of a year in the life of a young divorcée Judith McGuire who has recently relocated to Los Angeles, California after a bitter separation from her husband. He dumped her for another woman.

Judith McGuire (Barbara Baxley)

The somewhat absurd and outlandish strangeness of her new surroundings in tinseltown is juxtaposed against the discarded broken dream lives of the disenchanted, the down and out disillusioned, and the lost and aged waiting to die. The film is a beautiful and poignant snapshot in time, giving us a neo realist, cinema vérité feel.

pet cemetery

Dive Bar




Judith is a fish out of water, both in her new surroundings and in the changing mores of the time, the sexual revolution train is definitely coming. She lives between the alimony paychecks on "bourbon and cottage cheese", in a Murphy bed furnished apartment. She survives her depression through beauty treatments, body spas, bingo/poker parlors, yoga classes, and boozing it up, sometimes starting as early as 2PM in the afternoon in an L.A. dive. She gets the Dutch courage to call her ex but only finds out that he's getting married again and couldn't be happier.

When Judith finally decides to start dating she agrees to go out with Kirk, a married man. She tells herself it's revenge. Kirk takes her to movies, to dinner, to a prize fight, wrestling match, to a roller derby contest, to a burlesque strip show.

Judith and Kirk (Herschel Bernardi)

Near 'N Far Burlesque

Venus the Body (Jean Hidey) 

Her relationship with Kirk comes to its culmination after a New Year's Eve party and a degrading session of hiding the sausage on her pull down mattress.

Quaintly she feels very "fifties" soul tortured, dirty,and unclean. She washes herself, her sheets, her car. She "goes to Jesus" to wash her sins in the form of an evangelical church service, but decides she isn't going to confess to fornication with a married man in front of a huckster faith healer. She tries to commit suicide by automobile but survives. During her recovery she does a self reboot and embraces life and all its absurdities.

Barbara Baxley, as the moderately depressed woman seems to absorb her surrounding situations without coming off as being too desperate despite her personal tragedy. She and Gary Merrill trade the lines of narration. Herschel Bernardi making his moves, is convincing as the straying husband out to score.


Drag Queen


What makes The Savage Eye special is that practically every frame of the film could grace the walls of a photographic art gallery in Noirsville. Screencaps are from Image Entertainment October 10, 2000 DVD. 7/10

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