Something Wild (1961 film)

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Something Wild
Something Wild.jpg
Original poster art
Directed by Jack Garfein
Produced by George Justin
Written by Jack Garfein
Alex Karmel
Based on Mary Ann by Alex Karmel
Starring Carroll Baker
Ralph Meeker
Mildred Dunnock
Jean Stapleton
Martin Kosleck
Charles Watts
Clifton James
Music by Aaron Copland
Cinematography Eugen Schüfftan
Edited by Carl Lerner
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • December 23, 1961 (1961-12-23)
Running time
112 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget under $1 million[1]

Something Wild is a 1961 independent sexual-abuse drama film directed by Jack Garfein and starring Carroll Baker, Ralph Meeker, and Mildred Dunnock.[2] The film follows a young New York City college student (Baker) who, after being brutally raped, is taken in and held captive by a mechanic (Meeker), who witnessed her suicide attempt on the Manhattan Bridge.

Adapted from the novel Mary Ann by Alex Karmel, the film violated a number of Hollywood conventions and taboos by showing an on-screen rape and brief nudity. The film featured a musical score by Aaron Copland and was filmed on location in New York City, which was rare at the time. Director Jack Garfein was married to Carroll Baker when the movie was filmed. The director of photography, Eugen Schüfftan, was a noted German cinematographer and inventor of the Schüfftan process, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography the following year for The Hustler.

Referred to as "a lost indie classic", the film was screened at the IFC Center in New York in 2007, and was released on DVD by MGM through their limited-edition series in December 2011 in celebration of the film's 50th anniversary. In October 2016, The Criterion Collection announced a re-release of the film slated for January 2017, marking the film's debut on Blu-ray.[3]


Carroll Baker in Something Wild

Mary Ann Robinson, a teenaged girl attending college in New York City, is brutally raped while walking in a park near her home in the Bronx. Traumatized by the experience, Mary Ann washes away all the evidence and destroys her clothing. She hides the rape from her mother and stepfather, with whom she has an already distant relationship. Mary Ann unsuccessfully tries to continue living her normal life. She takes the subway to school and faints during the crush of people. This results in the police escorting her home, which upsets her prim and unsympathetic mother.

The rape continues to haunt Mary Ann. She leaves school abruptly and walks downtown, through Harlem and Times Square, to the Lower East Side. There she rents a room from a sinister-looking landlord (Martin Kosleck). She takes a job at a five and ten store, where her coworkers dislike her because she is distant and unfriendly. Her crude, promiscuous neighbor at the rooming house (Jean Stapleton) is rebuffed when she offers to "introduce" Mary to her male friends.

Overwhelmed at her job after her co-workers play a prank on her, Mary Ann walks across the Manhattan Bridge and almost jumps in the East River, but she is stopped by a mechanic, Mike (Ralph Meeker). At first, he seems to have her best interests in mind, offering her shelter and food. She decides to stay with him, but when he comes home drunk and tries to attack her, Mary Ann kicks him in the eye. The following morning, he has no recollection of the incident, but his eye is badly hurt and eventually must be removed.

Mike now says that he wants Mary Ann to stay there, saying, "I like the way you look here." She wants to leave, but he refuses to let her go, keeping the door locked. He holds her captive in the apartment, though she refuses to have anything to do with him.

One night, Mike proposes to Mary Ann and she rejects him, saying she just cannot. He again attempts to be physical with her. Mary Ann reveals to Mike that she was the one who blinded him in one eye. Mike still insists he needs her. When Mary Ann discovers the door unlocked, she leaves, walking through the city and sleeping in Central Park. She later returns to Mike's apartment, and when he asks why she has returned, she says, "I came for you". She writes her mother, who comes to the apartment and is shocked to see where and with whom Mary Ann lives. She has married Mike and announces that she is pregnant (if by Mike or the rape is not revealed). Her mother insists that she come home, while Mary Ann tries to impress upon her mother that she now considers the apartment her home.



Jack Garfein had made his debut as film director with End as a Man (1957). He formed a company, Prometheus Productions, with his wife Carroll Baker. It obtained film rights to Mary Ann, the first novel of Alex Karmel, published in 1958. Karmel and Garfein wrote the script, and United Artists agreed to finance. It was originally called Something Wild in the City.[4]

The score for the 1961 film was by the distinguished American composer Aaron Copland, who in 1964 reused some of its themes in his symphonic work "Music For a Great City". The original film score, taken from private session recordings preserved by the director, was released on CD in 2003.

Originally, Morton Feldman was commissioned to compose the score for the film, but when the director heard the music, he promptly withdrew his commission, opting to enlist Aaron Copland, instead. The reaction of the baffled director was said to be, "My wife is being raped and you write celesta music?"[5]

The opening title sequence was an early live-action title sequence created by Saul Bass. Though unconfirmed, Bass's title sequence might have been an influence on the creators of Koyaanisqatsi, as it features very similar sped-up city imagery as that famous 1983 documentary.

The supporting cast included two actresses who later became famous playing iconic television sitcom mothers on popular, long-running shows. Jean Stapleton, playing Mary Ann's boisterous rooming-house neighbor, went on to star a decade later as Edith Bunker in All in the Family and its spinoff/successor show, Archie Bunker's Place, while Doris Roberts, portraying Mary Ann's store co-worker (it was Roberts' film debut, although she had done television work previously[6]), several decades later took the role of Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. However, the two future television legends never appeared together in any of the same scenes in Something Wild. Roberts did eventually work with Stapleton as a guest star in a 1976 All in the Family episode.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

The film debuted on December 23, 1961, and received an uneven critical response. Jonas Mekas wrote in Film Quarterly that the film was the "most interesting American film of the quarter; it may become the most underestimated film of the year."

However, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said that it was "quite exhausting to sit through that ordeal in the apartment." and that "it is not too satisfying, because it isn't quite credible and the symbolic meaning (if there is one) is beyond our grasp." The movie was not a commercial success, and was Jack Garfein's final project as a movie director.

In 2007, the film was screened at New York's IFC Center, billed as a "lost indie film classic."[7]

Home video[edit]

The film was released for the first time on DVD as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection in December 2011. In October 2016, it was announced that The Criterion Collection would be releasing the film for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD on January 17, 2017.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SHUFTAN IS HERE FOR 1ST U.S. FILM: One of Europe's Top 'Mood' Camera Men Will Shoot 'Something Wild' in City By EUGENE ARCHER. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]09 July 1960: 11.
  2. ^ "Something Wild". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Vurki, Mithram (October 14, 2016). "The Criterion Collection Announces January Titles: 'His Girl Friday,' 'Black Girl' and More". Indiewire. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 
  4. ^ VIEW FROM A LOCAL VANTAGE POINT By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]01 May 1960: X7.
  5. ^ Wilson, Peter Niklas, Canvasses and time canvasses: Comments on Morton Feldman's film music, retrieved July 17, 2012 
  6. ^ a b Doris Roberts
  7. ^ Bennett, Bruce (December 29, 2006). "'Something Wild' This Way Comes". New York Sun. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 

External links[edit]