4 March 2005 | Sanguinaire
Call Me Amazed!
In the Golden Age of Hollywood, amid the storied eons of the great glamor stars, you had the Stanwyckian tough cookies, the Rogers-like high society sophisticates, and the Garboish fragile beauties - but no one was quite like the Jazz Age wild child Clara Bow. When she made an entrance, she burst onto the screen like a whirlwind and didn't look back, positively exuding earthy vitality. That she didn't have a significant sound career is truly unfortunate, for one's imagination plays happily with the notion of Clara bawdily defying the frigid censors well into the culturally stolid war years. Though we didn't get much in that way, CALL HER SAVAGE is fortunately a picture worth a thousand words.
Okay, the first ten minutes make it look like a dusty old western, but STAY WITH IT...otherwise you'll be missing one of the boldest and brightest pre-Code items this side of CONVENTION CITY. When Clara first appears on horseback, the wind blowing through her hair, you will be transfixed for the remainder of the show. The narrative opens in Texas, with a rich landowner punishing his tomboy daughter Nasa (Clara) by sending her off to Chicago for charm school. He also has latent motivation in wanting to marry her off to the man of his choice. Once in the big city, Nasa becomes known as "Dynamite" in the tabloids for her volatility and elopes with a slippery charmer instead of her intended beau. He strays, so to speak, as soon as their honeymoon, leading Clara to take her leave. From here, it's a road to ruin and back again for the young lady, with a startling secret in store for her at the climax. A free-form blend of western, romantic comedy, tragedy, and everything in between, CALL HER SAVAGE takes (sometimes jarring) turns from comedy to pathos, creating an absolutely unique experience.
I can only imagine how Joseph Breen and his ilk must have gnashed their teeth over this film - virtually every scene seems to have been calculated to drive them up the wall. For all its brazenness, it's surprising that CALL HER SAVAGE was a Fox production, for one would expect it more from Warner Bros. We first see Clara in a tight-fitting white shirt, enthusiastically whipping a snake - then a handsome ranch hand when he laughs at her! Clara then tears off a portion of her shirt to tend to his wounds (my, hasn't that one been appropriated time and time again!). Further mix in race relations, prostitution, and an attempted rape of Nasa by her STD-ravaged husband ("Don't get up" she cautions. "I GET UP every afternoon!" he answers). And don't miss the detour to cinema's very first gay bar where the waiters sing about sailors in pajamas (!). On a seedier level, there's a brief but unsavory taste of pederasty when a drunken old fool approaches a little girl.
But it's Clara who makes this movie. The early scenes of her scantily clad and writhing on the grass have a palpable erotic charge that no black and white vintage can dilute (remember, this was the woman who sat through a stage performance of Dracula dressed in a fur coat - and little else). I really hope that Clara is well remembered today, for she was TRULY a star and incredible personality. A lively, vital, and eternally beautiful free spirit. But there was always a touch of sadness in those big, childlike eyes, wasn't there...