(director/writer: Nicholas Ray; screenwriters: from the book Top of the World by Hans Ruesch/Mr. Ruesch/Franco Solinas; cinematographers: Peter Hennessy/Aldo Tonti; editor: Ralph Kemplen; music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino; cast: Anthony Quinn (Inuk), Peter O’Toole (First Trooper), Yoko Tani (Asiak), Marie Yang (Powtee), Andy Ho (Anarvik), Carlo Giustini (Second Trooper), Lee Montague (Ittimargnek), Marco Guglielmi (Missionary); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Maleno Malenotti; Paramount; 1959-Italy/France/UK)

“The Savage Innocents makes you feel that you have become part of the tundra.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Savage Innocents is much more than just an appealing curio adventure drama as presented by the great Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without A Cause”), it’s a moving drama about how we should not judge a more primitive culture by Western civilization’s narrow standards. It’s an international co-production, which might explain some of its production problems and why there was a narrator providing an unneeded and uncalled for voice-over which cuts into the film’s energy and takes away from the brilliantly authentic feel established. “Innocents” is adapted from the book Top of the World by Hans Ruesch.

The daring Ray is not afraid to explore the human condition and choose a subject that might not fly with the general public, as this time he chronicles a story about the hardships of the Eskimo Inuk as played by Anthony Quinn. He struggles to survive the inhuman elements and the encroachment of Western civilization in the form of pop culture, Christianity, and capitalism. You really feel in your guts what is going through Quinn’s innocent but savage nature. The Savage Innocents makes you feel that you have become part of the tundra. The episodic story is shot in a semi-documentary style, as it depicts Eskimo rituals in hunting and marriage. Its stilted dialogue (pidgin English) might be a turn off to some. But Ray blasts through these drawbacks with a film of sublime beauty and through icy blue shots of the blinding snowscape as compared with the deafening loud sounds coming out of a juke box, man’s ongoing vengeance against nature is studied in surreal terms.

Inuk is a traditional Eskimo hunter almost completely untainted by the white man’s culture, surviving only by his skills to live off of the frozen Canadian tundra. When Inuk goes to a newly established trading post to exchange furs, he meets a friendly missionary priest (Marco Guglielmi). According to Eskimo custom, Inuk offers the priest his wife for sex. When the priest refuses this offer, the offended Inuk kills him. Inuk is pursued by two Mounties (Peter O’Toole and Carlo Giustini). When he’s slowed down by his wife’s elderly mother, he sends the woman out on the ice to die, also in the ancient tradition of his people. The police eventually capture Inuk, but the lawmen and their prisoner encounter severe weather on their way back and Quinn saves the life of O’Toole by doing something a pampered Westerner wouldn’t be able to do.

Peter O’Toole made his debut as a featured actor (though the actor complained his voice was dubbed). Three years later O’Toole starred in Lawrence of Arabia. Also, Anthony Quinn’s wife Yoko Tani played his daughter Asiak.