Then the film disappeared again. Until now. New York's Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria) has unearthed it for a screening on December 13th, as part of its "Lonely Places: Film Noir and the American Landscape" series. Good news for serious film aficionados - and fans of its fabulous star, Barbara Baxley.
"The Savage Eye" is very much a celebration of the invaluable and singular Baxley, too long a neglected actress.
The dual-level film is part narrative, part documentary. Directed in tandem by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyeres and Joseph Strick (who also produced and edited the film), "The Savage Eye" is ostensibly about a woman named Judith McGuire, who spends the day waiting for her divorce to come through by wandering around Los Angeles.
The year in "The Savage Eye" is 1959. Jaded and now seeing life in a more realistic way, Judith serves as a guide through a city which, seen up close, looks dirty and disreputable - bustling yet empty. The rose-colored glasses are off.
The result is a narrative which works also - largely - as a documentary about the city and its assorted haunts, a narrative whose compelling supporting cast is a vast array of Los Angeleans, most of whom come across as emotionally and culturally impoverished. There's no sense of joy here because priorities have been skewed in favor of relentlessly shallow needs and goals.
Gary Merrill co-stars as a character called The Poet, who gives voice to the city, and Herschel Bernardi is on board, too. Leonard Rosenman wrote the score for this vivid journey through hopelessness.
For its 2008 screening of "The Savage Eye," the UCLA Film and Television Archive utilized The Billy Wilder Theater on its campus. More please.
Note in Passing: When I originally addressed "The Savage Eye" back in 2010, I heard from a reader named Mark who wrote, "The film was restored by the Academy Film Archive. As a preservationist there, I was asked to present a program in the context of UCLA's 2008 "Out of the Past" series, and I chose to show this film (along with our preservation of Strick's short film Muscle Beach), as we were proud to have worked on it, and, indeed, it is too little known today. It was great evening, and we even had some late 1940s Muscle Beach folks in the audience, a couple of whom show up briefly in the short! UCLA does excellent preservation work and programming, but I wanted to make sure that credit was given where due in this case - at the archive, we were thrilled the Academy supported this restoration. Thanks for writing about the screening!"