Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Savage Is Loose (1974)

          Depicting the travails of three (fictional) people marooned on a tropical island during the early years of the 20th century, this strange melodrama combines the basic DNA of the Adam and Eve story with Oedipal angst. Even though it’s made with restraint, the film follows its psychosexual premise all the way to the logical conclusion, so the vibe is deeply creepy. Therefore, it’s fascinating to ponder what might have attracted George C. Scott to such outré material. After all, this is unmistakably Scott’s film from top to bottom: Although he did not write the script, Scott produced, directed, played the leading role, cast his real-life wife as his costar, and released the film through his own company. Alas, The Savage Is Loose coincided with, and presumably contributed to, the decline of Scott’s star power. It was also the last of the two theatrical films he directed.
          The Savage Is Loose starts on a false note, because Scott depicts the shipwreck that triggers the story by showing close-ups of a painting of a shipwreck. Weak. Then, during the first live-action scene, several minutes of interaction suggest that John (Scott) is alone on an island with his preteen son David (played as a boy by Lee Montgomery). Thus, it’s jarring when John’s sexy wife, Maida (Trish Van Devere), arrives on the scene. Eventually, however, The Savage Is Loose locks into a Robinson Crusoe­­-type groove by portraying people from civilized society learning to survive in nature.
          The best part of the film is roughly the second quarter of the running time, during which John and Maida clash about priorities while raising David. John trains David to be a hunter so the boy will be able to fend for himself after John and Maida die, but Maida schools John in the ways of the outside world, hoping against hope for rescue. About halfway through the movie, things get kinky when David sees his parents having sex and asks Maida whether she and David will marry once he reaches adulthood. Then the movie cuts to David as a strapping young man (played by John David Carson). Grown-up David quickly becomes estranged from his parents, because David’s youthful affection for Mom was just a precursor. Now ruled by hormones, he’s blinded with lust whenever he’s around her. Conflict over which man gets to be with Maida ensues.
          Among other colossal problems, Scott’s direction becomes amateurish whenever he tries to film sexualized scenes. One bit featuring furtive glances around a dinner table includes more extreme close-ups of eyes than a Sergio Leone movie. A vignette of Maida humping John includes Van Devere grinding and growling with the ferocity of a porn star. And the “shocking” revelation of David’s sex cave—where he’s built an anatomically correct effigy of his mother out of animal parts—is borderline comical. Screenwriters Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich (who previously collaborated on 1972’s Z.P.G.) try to play the outrageous story straight, even integrating text from the Bible, but it would have required a far more delicate touch than Scott or the screenwriters could muster to steer The Savage Is Loose clear of camp. Further, Scott’s leaden pacing kills any chance of viewers simply going along for the transgressive ride. In sum, whatever intellectual or social significance Scott perceived in this unpleasant fable is not visible onscreen.

The Savage Is Loose: FREAKY

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