Monday, May 05, 2008


Wild, this movie isn't. Creepy and disturbing, maybe, but in a bland way. Carroll Baker is a college student living with her parents in New York City. One night, on her way home, she's attacked and raped. She cuts up the clothes she was wearing and flushes them down the toilet, then withdraws, dropping out of school, leaving home and getting a small apartment in a tenement (without telling her parents where she's gone) and taking a job as a cashier at Woolworth's. She doesn't fit in with her neighbors and co-workers, can't cut the job, and has a breakdown. As she's about to jump off a bridge, she is saved by working class mechanic Ralph Meeker. Without knowing anything about her, he takes her home to his apartment (which isn't in much better shape than hers) and tells her to stay and recover while he goes to work. That night, he comes home stumbling drunk and tries to assault her. She kicks him in the eye which knocks him out cold. The next day, he can't remember what happened and thinks his eye injury (which winds up being permanent, requiring him to wear an eye patch) was the result of a bar fight. But though he feeds her and seems to think he's treating her well, he keeps her a prisoner in his apartment, for no reason he can articulate except that she's his "last chance." Eventually, these two damaged souls do forge something of a "normal" relationship, though I was not convinced that it would last.

This material might have worked better as a play, as practically all of the last half takes place in Meeker's apartment, though that is also the part of the movie that grows tedious. Neither Meeker not Baker inhabit characters who are all that interesting. We know a little bit about Baker, and the part of the film that focuses on her decline is good, but we know virtually nothing about Meeker's unpleasant character, and we have to accept on faith that he's a nice guy at heart. I did like the fact that much of the first half was shot on the streets of New York, giving the film a kind of neo-realist feel. It was also great fun to see Jean Stapleton, who I know mostly as Edith Bunker, as a hooker who, in a bizarre scene, manhandles a shirtless drunken sailor. A very young Doris Roberts also has a small role as a Woolworth's worker, and Mildred Dunnock is good as Baker's neurotic mother. For Ralph Meeker completists only. [TCM]

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