• The Savage Innocents



    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: June 27, 2017
    Directed by: Nicholas Ray
    Cast: Anthony Quinn, Yoko Tani, Carlo Giustini, Peter O’Toole, Marie Yang, Marco Guglielmi, Kaida Horiuchi, Lee Montague, Andy Ho, Yvonne Shima, Anthony Chinn, Francis de Wolff, Michael Chow, Nicholas Stuart
    Year: 1960
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    The Movie:

    Inuk is desperate for a wife. Sensing this, Anarwick offers the use of his wife for Inuk’s sexual pleasure. When Inuk turns the offer down, Anarwick takes it as an insult and attacks him. Being younger and stronger, Inuk wins, and the two make up. Anarwick’s sister and her two daughters soon arrive, and Inuk is at first torn between which daughter he would prefer to marry before finally settling on Asiak. After the usual sexual tensions have been exhausted, the two seal their arrangement. Later, after going on a bear hunt and seeing it felled by someone with a rifle, Inuk learns of a white man’s trading post that will exchange such a weapon for a number of fox furs. As the summer progresses, Inuk shirks his other duties to collect the furs, and at the trading post learns that white tradesmen have a vested interest in civilizing the natives, whom they see as savages; among their rules is a prohibition on nudity and wife-swapping, things that are common among the natives. Soon, Inuk and his wife move into a new igloo, after which they meet a Christian missionary. Following the example that had been set for him, Inuk offers the man his wife, but the man refuses, thus insulting Inuk. Flying into a rage, Inuk beats the man’s head against the wall, killing him. Afraid of spirit vengeance, the Eskimo and his wife flee, though not before summarily severing the missionary’s fingers and placing them in his mouth per their customs. Life goes on; Asiak’s mother dies, and Asiak gives birth to a son. Unbeknownst to her and her husband, however, Canadian authorities have come to arrest and prosecute Inuk for the missionary’s murder.

    The Savage Innocents is not writer/director Nicholas Ray’s finest hour. In fact, were it not for some brutal violence aimed at animals in what is either stock footage, footage shot by a second unit, or—and this is less likely—footage perfectly faked, the film would be either laughable or forgettable. In some ways, it perfectly encapsulates the conflicted mindset that intellectual elites had of Native Americans at the time. On the one hand, they were viewed as violent savages untempered by societal strictures; on the other, they were infant-like innocents whose ignorance of civic virtues made them superior. The film’s title, then, is perfect (for the record, the book is based on a novel titled Top of the World by Swiss writer Hans Rüesch). But while Ray wants us to believe that native groups are the victims of outside forces led by intransigent European types, he mistakenly makes said natives just as intransigent. After all, it is Inuk’s violent outburst that leads to the primary conflicts of the story (man vs. man/insider vs. outsider/heathen vs. Christian/innocence vs. corruption/savage vs. cultured/ignorant vs. educated), not the other way around.

    Of course, it probably doesn’t help that Inuk, an Eskimo of Asian descent, was cast by an American actor of Mexican decent, with makeup applied to the eyes to make them more Inuit in appearance. Now, one can certainly argue that the late 1950s/early 1960s were a different time, and that’s true, though it no more makes Quinn right for his role here than it does John Wayne as Mongol leader Genghis Kahn in The Conqueror (1956). It wouldn’t be entirely fair to blame the casting on Quinn himself, however; he fulfills his duties as Inuk admirably. He conveys well both the innocence and savagery with which the character was written. Too bad most of the other roles were written as one-sided; even actors as skilled as Peter O’Toole can do nothing to bring them to life.

    Regardless, all is not lost. Ray has a beautiful eye, and he fills what should be a flat, nearly monochromatic image with attractive flourishes, from minor specks of color here and there to painterly frames that perfectly capture the action. And despite its many ridiculous faults, The Savage Innocents is at least a window into the views of another time.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Savage Innocents comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films as part of a deal with Paramount. One of the Hollywood major’s neglected titles (it did receive a DVD release from Eureka in Great Britain), Olive presents Ray’s semi-classic film in 1080p high definition with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The film is placed on a BD50 disc in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. It looks quite good despite a couple of minor flaws. Let’s get those issues out of the way before we delve into all that’s good about the image: At one point, there are bluish bursts of light that, upon first glance, look like the illumination of lightning but are in fact an anomaly in the original materials used for the remaster. Thankfully, this happens only briefly. Second, there’s minor crush in a few of the darker moments. That said, there are very few dark moments in the film; it’s well lit, which allows for bountiful detail. Now, this is a film that takes place in the arctic wilderness, where the skyline is mostly made up of snow and ice and gray skies. One would think that such an image wouldn’t offer much in the way of detail, yet there’s plenty to be seen, not only in the furs of various animals and the Eskimos’ clothes but also in the snow and ice itself, which at times takes on an almost three-dimensional quality. Some reviewers have overhyped the picture’s negatives, stating that DNR and edge enhancement tools have affected the depth and detail, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that in a few scenes such tools appear to have been used judiciously, with emphasis on the word judiciously. Never is this any sort of serious problem, and, in general, the patina of grain is foundational and organic, overblown only in a couple of those dark scenes mentioned above. Most of the time, colors are surprisingly strong and vivid given the near-white of the setting (some footage was shot on location while most of the film was obviously shot on sound stages, though this gives it something of a surreal beauty only heightened by the transfer). There’s also some minor stock footage, but it’s handled well enough that most eyes won’t be able to spot the difference (though we know better of R!S!P! readers). Some minor speckling adds to the flavor.

    Olive has utilized a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track for the film’s score and dialogue. In reality, this is a mono track threaded through the two primary speakers. There are no other tracks (no isolated score and effects or commentary tracks). The track is more than serviceable; while it naturally doesn’t have the bells and whistles that constitute modern soundtracks, it certainly doesn’t bear any age-related defects such as hissing or dropout, and dialogue—including the narration—are clear and easy to understand. The film’s score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino sounds a bit thin, though. English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included.

    Unfortunately, there are no extras.

    The Final Word:

    The Savage Innocents is a misguided film but is interesting nonetheless, a window into the views of another time. A half-hearted attempt to understand a minority culture, it falls into contradictory stereotypes too often to achieve its lofty goals. Olive’s Blu-ray release looks quite good, however, despite some minor imperfections in the film and a touch of digital corrections. Color is mostly vivid, and detail is relatively sharp. Sound is a bit thin but otherwise good. The only real drawback is a lack of extras, but it’s doubtful that a film this obscure could sell the number of requisite copies to justify anything other than a trailer or vintage featurette.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!