Call Her Savage
Bow would make only one more film after Call Her Savage before retiring to her marriage with cowboy actor Rex Bell. Throughout the rest of her life, she suffered with mental illness, at times checking herself into various facilities. She attempted suicide in 1944 when Bell decided to run for the Senate in Nevada. Five years later, she entered yet another institution where she endured electric shock treatment. While her experiences in Hollywood likely did not cause her mental health issues, the exploitive nature of publicity and promotion undoubtedly exacerbated it. Call Her Savage was released at a key juncture in her life and career, and it is important to understand the film in that context.
Call Her Savage was developed especially for Bow by her friend, producer Sam Rork. Both Rork and Bow needed a successful film to overcome recent difficulties. The producer was experiencing a slump, while the star was recuperating from a nervous breakdown. In 1931, Bow's secretary and close friend, Daisy De Voe, revealed her employer's sexual exploits during a court case brought against De Voe by Bow and Bell. The press, who had begun to depict the poorly educated Bow as an inarticulate low-life, sensationalized De Voe's claims and half-truths, which affected the star's mental health as well as her standing in the Hollywood community. After she was able to return to work, Bow signed a two-film deal with Fox Film, and Rork persuaded Fox executive Sidney Kent to produce Call Her Savage. Bow had story approval and signed off on the first draft of the screenplay in September 1932.
Call Her Savage to the point of distraction. However, Nasa's horrific experiences with spoiled, selfish Larry Crosby changes her nature. She hardens and learns to internalize her feelings. Bow gradually changes her approach to the character, toning down her performance as Nasa experiences betrayal, bitterness, destitution, and depression.
Call Her Savage was released in 1932 before the Motion Picture Production Code was mandatory. Though the script and rough cut were submitted to the Production Code Administration (PCA) for an opinion, Sam Rork and Fox Film were not obliged to follow their suggestions. The Code office was not in favor of turning the notorious novel Call Her Savage into a film, because the storyline featured incest, masturbation, lesbianism, and sadism. However, the screenwriters did not seek to include those controversial subjects, because such scenes would not pass the state and local censorship boards in certain states. The narrative was toned down considerably for the film version. Still, the PCA suggested that the love scene between Nasa's mother and her Native American lover be more romantic and less sexual. Also, Nasa's husband, Larry Crosby, contracts syphilis, which results in madness. The PCA wanted the references to venereal disease to be vague. When shown the rough cut, the PCA suggested that Larry's attempted rape of Nasa seem more like a violent outburst than a sexual assault. Also, when Nasa becomes destitute, she turns to prostitution to support herself and her child. The PCA office suggested that the street walking sequence be reduced in length so that her fallen circumstances were subtly implied, not explicit.
Call Her Savage would not have passed the Code after 1934, when it became mandatory. Even a hint that a character has contracted venereal disease was forbidden under the enforced Code, so the vague dialogue referencing Larry's condition would not have been permitted. One of the primary mandates of the Code is laid out on the first page: "No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin." Nasa's decision to prostitute herself is depicted as her only alternative at that moment in her life. The audience is very sympathetic to her plight and forgives her for making this choice. In addition, showing "the method and techniques of prostitution" was forbidden under the Code, so Nasa's attempts to attract customers as she strolls along the streets of New Orleans would have been cut. Sexual perversion was also prohibited under the Code, and homosexuality was considered in that category by the PCA. In a scene in which Nasa and her love interest decide to enjoy a wild night in New York City, they end up in a cabaret in Greenwich Village. The entertainment consists of two waiters in frilly aprons singing a bawdy song. The two are clearly gay as they prance and skip to the music--something viewers would not see after 1934. Even a line of dialogue between Larry and his mistress, Sunny De Lane, would have likely been cut if the film had been released two years later. When Larry leaves Sunny, played by an icy Thelma Todd, to marry Nasa, she tosses a cutting barb that hints at the nature of their attraction, "You'll be back. I understand your peculiarities." Finally, some of Nasa's costumes would be too risqué for the Code office of 1934. Bow's opening scene in which she wears a silky blouse with no undergarments not only emphasizes the movement of her breasts but also her nipples, and a few of the low-cut gowns in a shopping montage were too revealing.
Hoop-la, was released in 1933, which was also during the pre-Code era. If the actress had continued to appear in films after that, an image makeover would have necessary.
Associate Producer: Sam E. Rork for Fox Film
Director: John Francis Dillon
Screenplay: Edwin Burke from a novel by Tiffany Thayer
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Editor: Harold D. Schuster
Art Director: Max Parker
Costumes: Rita Kaufman
Music: Peter Brunelli, Arthur Lange
Cast: Nasa Springer (Clara Bow), Moonglow (Gilbert Roland), Sunny De Lane (Thelma Todd), Lawrence "Larry" Crosby (Monroe Owsley), Ruth Springer (Estelle Taylor), Ronasa (Weldon Heyburn), Pete Springer (Willard Robertson), Jay Randall (Anthony Jowitt) Silas Jennings (Fred Kohler), Old man on wagon train (Russell Simpson), Silas's wife (Dorothy Peterson), Anarchist in cabaret (Mischa Auer)