Monday, May 17, 2021

Something Wild (1961)

Another of the movies that I recently got around to watching to try to free up some space on my DVR is Something Wild.

Carroll Baker plays Mary Ann, who goes to night school and lives with her mother (Mildred Dunnock). One night, while walking home from school through a park, she's accosted by a strange man and raped, although of course this being a 1961 movie it's shown with innuendo and never referred to as rape. In any case, it's obvious what happened as Mary Ann tries to clean both the literal and figurative residue of the assault off of her.

Mom doesn't understand what's caused such a change in her daughter, and the daughter isn't about to tell Mom the truth. Eventually, not being able to handle Mom any longer, Mary Ann runs away to get a room in a seedy apartment, and a job as a cashier at the local five-and-dime. A sign of how seedy it is is that one of her neighbors, Shirley (Jean Stapleton) brings home random guys and seems to be willing to offer Mary Ann a man, too, obviously not knowing that Mary Ann had been raped.

Mary Ann's co-workers also treat her less than well, also being unaware of her past. This keeps going on for a surprisingly long amount of screen time until one day, Mary Ann has decided she's had enough and decides that she's going to throw herself off one of the bridges that connect the various boroughs of New York.

She's saved by Mike (Ralph Meeker), however. Mike works for one of the taxicab companies as a mechanic, and lives in two run-down rooms in the basement of a dilapidated apartment building. Since Mary Ann won't tell him where she lives, Mike takes her to his place to let her sleep off her melancholy until she can recover and go home.

At least, that's what Mary Ann expects. She gets a bit of sleep, and even has a bite to eat with Mike. But Mike seems to figure that perhaps this will make Mary Ann fall in love with him, so he propositions her. Big mistake, even if Mary Ann hadn't been raped. Mary Ann wants nothing to do with Mike's drunken advances, so she kicks him, blinding him with one eye. Not that this is going to stop Mike from pursuing Mary Ann. Even though Mike is unconscious, Mary Ann doesn't leave, because she can't. Mike has locked the door and Mary Ann can't find the key.

Mike goes out to work and comes back, leaving Mary Ann trapped inside the apartment. (I'll assume she quit her job, which is why nobody comes looking for her.) Mike lets Mary Ann know that he's not going to give her up because he's a failure in life and sees her as his last chance. But really, what woman would want to be with a man who treated her this way?

Something Wild is an interesting, if very slowly paced movie. It runs 113 minutes, with the suicide attempt not being until almost halfway into the movie, and most of the second half being in just the two rooms of Mike's apartment. As such, some people are going to find it a bit of a slog. There's also the ending, which some people might find controversial.

But Baker and Meeker do ultimately make the material work, and are helped by the cinematography of New York City as it was about 1961, and not the glamorous parts of Manhattan that we normally get in New York-set movies of the era. People from New York City, or those interested in the city's past, will definitely like this aspect of the movie.

So even though Something Wild has its share of flaws, I'd say that it's worth a watch. It got a Criterion release which means it's a bit pricey, and doesn't show up on TCM enough. Note that there was a mid-1980s movie with the same title but different story which is also on DVD.

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