With so many different styles of movies out there, I know that there’s one thing that has consumed your mind all these years…the fact that there just aren’t enough eskimo epics out there. I feel you pain, man. Fear not, though, film fans, for today we’re traveling back to the year 1960 for an eskimo adventure courtesy of director Nicholas Ray. Bundle up for The Savage Innocents.
The film centers on a simple-minded and lonely eskimo hunter named Inuk (Anthony Quinn). Though Inuk manages fine on his own, he is anxious to have a woman to “laugh’ with. I think it’s fair to say that laughing has a slightly different connotation in this particular culture. When visiting a friend, Inuk meets the man’s nieces, either of whom would make a fine wife. At first Inuk fancies one who ends up being romanced by another man, but he soon finds that he truly loves the other girl, Asiak (Yoko Tani). The two head off into the icy landscape to live together, with the mother-in-law in tow.
From there we follow Inuk on various adventures. He soon starts focusing on hunting foxes because he hears that the white men like their furs and will trade him furs for a gun. This little family starts to grow, also, as Asiak gives birth to a son. Trouble soon comes to Inuk, though, when he accidentally kills a white missionary who refuses his offer to “laugh” with Asiak. Now, Inuk is pursued by law enforcement officials (one of whom is played by Peter O’Toole, but with his voice dubbed) determined to bring him to justice.
The Savage Innocents is an interesting film, though it’s not without some aspects that don’t entirely work. There are some sequences of the film, including the opening, that feature a very clinical narration that makes the film feel a bit like those scratchy educational films we used to watch on days when the 4th grade teacher didn’t feel like teaching. The narration does provide some important information that comes in handy as the film progresses, but it still comes across as a bit awkward.
Anthony Quinn’s performance is one that I quite enjoyed, but I have a feeling some people may find it a bit grating. To me he came across as a very genuine character, a gentle giant of sorts. He’s a simple man who just wants someone to love. At the same time, there is a childish aspect of his character that can wear a bit thin. There’s a bit too much weird giggling, not to mention some over-the-top reactions to the simplest of things. I can understand how some might be annoyed by his performance. I, however, found Inuk to be, for the most part, a charming character, especially in his interactions with Yoko Tani as Asiak…probably the best performance of the fim. Peter O’Toole is also fine, but, full disclosure, between the fact that his voice is dubbed and he’s buried under a giant fur coat, I didn’t realize it was him.
The highlight of the film is definitely the photography. There are some truly awe inspiring shots of the snowy landscape and some incredible wildlife photography. One sequence has Inuk and another man hunting walrus, which leads them to a small island of rocks covered in literally hundreds of the giant creatures. All the walruses then start streaming into the water in an effort escape the approaching hunters. I simply have never seen a sequence quite like this before. It was quite impressive. Of course, not all of the film could be shot on location in the harsh wintry landscape, so there is also quite a bit of a soundstage work. Though these scenes are quite obviously shot on a soundstage, I’d still say these sequences are integrated with the location material quite well.
I did find The Savage Innocents to be an interesting film which does an effective job of transporting the viewers to a world that most will never experience first hand. There are a few hammy aspects that some viewers may have trouble warming up to, pun intended, but there was enough to make this film worthy of rubbing noses with.
Note: The Savage Innocents was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Thanks to them for giving us a chance to check out the film.