Based on Alex Karmel’s novel Mary Ann, Something Wild was independently financed and released through United Artists largely on the strength of star Carroll Baker. Baker was then married to writer/director Jack Garfien, who had received critical accolades for his film directing debut, The Strange One in 1957. At the time, Baker was anxious to shed the sex kitten persona that had dogged her since she had starred in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll in 1956. Something Wild gave her a chance to explore a different kind of damaged, young woman.
Mary Ann Robinson (Baker), a 19-year-old college student is raped while walking home from college through the Bronx. While depicted almost completely in elliptical close-ups, the rape scene feels surprisingly explicit. Just minutes into the film, Garfien establishes a very serious tone and makes clear that Something Wild is a film for adults, dealing with adult issues.
When she eventually comes to, Mary Ann pulls herself together and returns home, where she lives with her mother and stepfather. In her bedroom, she wraps herself in a blanket to hide from the world and warm herself from the cold that has invaded her body. From there, we watch, as she silently, methodically bathes, cuts up the clothes she was wearing during the rape and flushes them down the toilet. Though she tries, Mary Ann finds she can’t really return to a normal life. She rids herself of it, leaving school and family. One poignant image seals it: a pile of textbooks left on a bench as Mary Ann walks away.
She moves into a tenement in East Harlem and gets work at a five-and-dime. Even as she does all of this, watching Mary Ann is painful. It’s clear, that to her, every man she comes in contact with represents a threat. She can’t deal with confined spaces. Panic overcomes her. After the women at her work haze her, it’s all just too much for Mary Ann and she tries to commit suicide. A passerby, Mike (Ralph Meeker) stops her before she can jump off the bridge. He than takes the distraught woman home and lets her sleep it off. However, as Mary Ann regains her bearings, she realizes she’s locked in Mike’s basement apartment. It seems he’s decided that she owes him something for saving his life. He keeps Mary Ann imprisoned with the hope that she will fall in love with him.
While Mike’s actions are obviously disturbing, Garfien refrains from any type of immediate sexual threat, making the viewer wonder what exactly is it that Mike wants from Mary Ann? Ah, but Mike is slowly breaking down his victim. Much smarter than a lot viewers likely first thought, he’s grooming her. Alas, she knows more than we might have thought, making it known she’ll never be the love of his life. I won’t say much about the ending expect it’s unexpected and difficult to swallow. After thinking about it for a while as unsettling as the ending is, it’s probably appropriate. Like it or not, a character like Mary Anne forces us to reexamine our expectations and question the importance of the values we hold dear.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s new 2K digital transfer supervised by Jack Garfien, truly shines. The image is clean and crisp throughout. Black-and-White visuals are spot on, exhibiting a richness in every frame. Textures are apparent throughout and contrast is excellent.
The LPCM Mono Audio track actually sounds amazingly crisp, with nary a hiss to be heard when it comes to Aaron Copland. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are included:
- Jack Garfien (HD, 26:47) In this interview filmed exclusively for Criterion in August of 2016, Garfien recalls how Lee Strasburg redirected his career and how that led to Something Wild. Further, he discusses the transformation of Baker’s character and more.
- Carroll Baker (HD, 15:01) In this interview filmed exclusively for Criterion in September of 2016, Baker recalls how she got into the film business after joining the Actors Studio and her relationship with Elia Kazan during the shooting of Baby Doll, her admiration for Clark Gable, her work with Ralph Meeker on Something Wild and more.
- Behind the Method (HD, 20:56) In this interview filmed exclusively for Criterion in September of 2016, scholar Foster Hirsch discusses the impact the Actors Studio had on American cinema during the late 1940s and 1950s and the three actors whose work transformed it (Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift), Jack Garfein’s time at the Actors Studio and more.
- Master Class With Jack Garfien (HD, 38:19) A video featuring footage from Garfien ‘s famous acting class which was recorded over two days in New York in 2014.
- Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.