Cast & Crew
Consumed with bitterness and anger over a failed marriage, recent divorcée Judith McGuire flies into a large city to reconsider her life. In a running interior "discussion" with her conscience, Judith harshly dismisses the relationships of others around her, then caustically acknowledges that she remains completely alone, as through miscarriage and abortion she never had a child. After settling into a modest apartment, Judith lives on bi-monthly alimony checks and for the first few days, remains indoors, seeing no one but the landlady and her cat, hoping vainly to hear from her former husband, Fred. Judith finally ventures out and joins the throngs who struggle to remake themselves through beauty treatments, fanatical exercise and shopping for unnecessary, frivolous items. For a time Judith finds solace in playing cards and gambling. Still brimming with resentment, Judith notes how people congregate everywhere, yet remain alone. She observes how the subsequent loneliness often causes many people to lavish excessive, unnatural attention on a myriad of pets. After coming upon a car accident and its victims, Judith realizes she wants to forgive her husband for his infidelity and her conscience urges her to contact him. Upon telephoning Fred, Judith learns with dismay that he is happy and intends to remarry. In response, an angry Judith begins dating and goes to a roller-skating derby and a wrestling match where the crowds enthusiastically applaud the brutality. One night, Judith accompanies her date to a burlesque club and both pities and admires the women who transform themselves into male fantasies for money. After a New Year's Eve party, Judith takes her date to her apartment but remains unmoved by their night together. Goaded by her conscience to cease her self-pitying and reach for life, Judith can only see desperation around her in the homeless, the poor, the elderly and the laborers. She observes that so many people long for sensation and take various roads to satisfactions that seem to lead nowhere. Depressed by her own unsatisfied, lonely desires, Judith attends a religious faith-healing session, during which a minister lays hands on numerous women who fall into raptures. Overcome by a strong feeling of despair at this empty excess, Judith speeds along the freeway and, losing control of her car, crashes. Seriously injured, Judith is transported to the hospital where, during her recovery under the ministrations of a sincere nurse, she begins to relate to humanity again upon observing the numerous people who donate blood for her. In a dream, Judith follows the kind nurse outside where she sees dancers and drag queens and various other social outsiders all embracing their differences and finding happiness. Judith tells her conscience she has decided to "say no to nothingness," and rejoin the living. Upon being released from the hospital, Judith sees a young couple on a beach and is content to realize she has opened herself up to love again.
The Savage Eye was registered twice for copyright by City Film Corp., on June 23, 1959 under the number LU3155, and on November 26, 1959 under the number LP18981. The onscreen credit for the writers and directors reads: "A Film by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick." Contemporary reviews and articles on The Savage Eye conflict over the writing and directing credits, in some cases listing Maddow as the sole screenwriter, in other cases crediting Maddow, Meyers and Strick. The New York Times review lists Strick as the sole producer. All three are given directorial credit in contemporary sources, except Los Angeles Mirror-News, which lists Meyers as the sole director. Time credits Meyer as the film's editor. There is also an inconsistency in the reviews over production and distribution company credits. The Variety review lists the film as an Edward Harrison release.
According to reviews and news items, The Savage Eye took four years to photograph in and around Los Angeles. The film is presented in a semi-documentary style, with no direct dialogue, but voice-overs by actress Barbara Baxley, as "Judith McGuire" and her "conscience," voiced by actor Gary Merrill, whose character is listed onscreen as "The Poet." Although reviews noted that "Kirtz," the character played by Herschel Bernardi, is married, he is never referred to as married in the film, nor is he referred to by name. Instead, Judith merely thinks of him as her "date."
The film garnered attention during its August 1959 premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it won the festival's top award and was applauded for its stark realism. Critics at the festival described The Savage Eye as "startling," "disturbing" and "a challenge to conscience." The film then showed out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in September 1959 and received a special award of merit. The Variety festival critic called the film "fascinating and uncompromising."
Among the many places and situations presented in the film is an uncensored depiction of an actual burlesque show that includes footage of a topless dancer. Later in the film, when Judith admits to having a fixation on cleaning in an attempt to rid herself of "a sin that won't wash off," her conscience says: "Ah, masturbation." This May have been the first time the term was spoken in a theatrically released entertainment feature. Due to these candid sequences, The Savage Eye faced censorship issues when it played in New York, where censors insisted on deleting several words and one scene from the film. A April 5, 1961 Hollywood Reporter item indicated that a Chicago censor board demanded further cuts in addition to those made in New York. The releasing company, Trans-Lux Distributing Corp., refused to make the deletions and appealed, according to law, to Mayor Richard Daley, who reversed the decisions on all cuts. The Savage Eye was then shown in its entirety in Chicago.