One of only two films by noted theatrical director Jack Garfein, a protege of Elia Kazan, this offbeat, European-influenced indie melodrama plays like a peculiar hybrid of MARTY (1955), THE COLLECTOR (1965) and REPULSION (1965), which it preceded by several years. The film features a strong line-up of behind the scenes talent, notably composer Aaron Copland and veteran cinematographer Eugen Schufftan, and Saul Bass' striking title sequence — a montage of fluttering pigeons, dense traffic and bustling pedestrians — is a grim, ominous variation on the thrilling city symphony opening he designed for Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
On a stiflingly hot summer night, college student Mary Ann Robinson (Carroll Baker, then married to Garfein) is on her way home to the Bronx townhouse she shares with her repressed, status-conscious mother (Mildred Dunnock) and stepfather (Charles Watts). She cuts through a park and is brutally raped by a thug; after the assault she creeps home in near-shock, bathes and meticulously destroys her tainted clothes. She can't bring herself to tell anyone what happened, but is incapable of resuming her daily routine: The crowded subway makes her unbearably anxious, her attention wanders in class and she flinches at the slightest touch. Mary Ann eventually flees home for a shabby East Harlem rooming house run by a leering creep (Martin Kosleck) , where her neighbors include slatternly good-time girl Shirley (Jean Stapleton), and gets a menial job at the five-and-dime, where her high-strung aloofness alienates the other shop girls (including a very young Doris Roberts). Mary Ann eventually tries to commit suicide by throwing herself off the Manhattan Bridge, but is stopped by troubled garage mechanic Mike (Ralph Meeker). Mike offers to let her rest at his place, a squalid basement apartment on the Lower East Side, while he's at work, but he returns home stinking drunk, locks the door and makes a pass. She kicks him in the head so hard he loses an eye; when he comes to the next day he assumes he got into a bar fight. Mike keeps Mary Ann locked up for months, clumsily attempting to woo her and eventually proposing marriage, while she alternately pleads for her freedom and sinks into a state of listless passivity.
While the bizarre dynamic between Mike and Mary Ann is never entirely convincing, the sadly bloated Meeker — a once-promising actor generally typecast as one-note thugs and bullies, most memorably as Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer in KISS ME DEADLY (1955) — oozes defeat and desperation; what reduced him to such degraded despair is never revealed, but his desperate hope of redemption at Mary Ann's hands is feverishly convincing. And the lengthy sequences in which Mary Ann wanders the streets, trying to lose herself in a blur of constant, aimless motion, capture New York at the moment crime, filth and entrenched social malaise began to erode its longtime image of glamour and sophistication. Garfein's surreal fillips include shooting the first 15 minutes without a word of dialogue and a dream sequence in which Mary Ann finds herself in a museum, watching her younger self amid a gaggle of faceless schoolgirls enthralled by a painting of the rape of the Sabine women, complete with a dying stag whose eye oozes off the canvas. The sordid psychodrama comes to a jaw-dropper of a conclusion that's oddly touching despite its outrageous proposal that marriage is the cure for post-traumatic shock syndrome.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: One of only two films by noted theatrical director Jack Garfein, a protege of Elia Kazan, this offbeat, European-influenced indie melodrama plays like a peculiar hybrid of MARTY (1955), THE COLLECTOR (1965) and REPULSION (1965), which it preceded by severa… (more)