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Inuk, an Eskimo hunter, hoping to marry, inquires of his friend Anarwick when his aged sister Powtee will arrive with her two unmarried daughters, Imina and Asiak. Anarwick offers to allow Inuk to "laugh with," or bed, his wife Lulik, a common Eskimo custom, but Inuk refuses out of pride. Insulted, Anarwick attacks Inuk, who responds in typical Eskimo fashion, by knocking his friend's head against the wall of his igloo. Soon after, the two reconcile, and Anarwick announces that the women have arrived. Close behind is Kiddok, a rival hunter whose preference for Imina arouses Inuk to demand Imina over her sister. As soon as Kiddok agrees, however, Inuk changes his mind and chooses Asiak, who then insists that he pursue her as he did her sister. Soon, the newly "married" couple leaves by dogsled with Powtee and proceed to hunt a bear. They leave the bear seal meat with a coiled whalebone inside as bait, then track it over several days until the bone causes such intestinal discomfort that Inuk can attack it. Just as he is about the spear the bear, however, another hunter shoots it down. Although Asiak and Inuk are terrified of the unfamiliar weapon, Inuk is fascinated with its power. Back at the other man's igloo, he explains that, at the white man's trading post, he traded one hundred fox furs for the gun. Inuk determines to do the same, and for the rest of the summer hunts only foxes, despite the need to gather winter provisions for his new family. They reach the post, where the white proprietor's rules to "civilize" the native population include prohibitions against nudity and sleeping with or trading wives. Inuk and Asiak's provincial ways are mocked, and he successfully acquires a rifle, but must hunt for more furs to obtain bullets. That night, after Inuk drinks his first alcoholic beverage, Asiak pleads with him to leave the "crazy man's home," and when Inuk ignores her, she proudly offers herself to another man. At the last moment, however, Inuk intervenes and packs the sled, unaware that Asiak has given away his rifle. They move into a nearby igloo, where one day a missionary comes to convert them to Christianity. Inuk, completely misunderstanding his intentions and vocabulary, offers the guest first his best meat, which is crawling with bugs, and then his wife. The missionary insults Inuk with his disgusted response, and when Inuk knocks his head against the wall, the frail man dies instantly. Inuk and Asiak, fearful of the white man's soul, flee after fulfilling their people's custom of cutting off the dead man's fingers and placing them in his mouth. After many months, an ailing Powtee discerns that Asiak is pregnant, and asks to be allowed to die in peace on the ice. Although Asiak is sorrowful, Eskimo conventions demand that anyone who cannot contribute must be sacrificed, so she bids her mother goodbye. Somewhat later, Asiak goes into labor, and to divert Inuk, asks him to hunt musk ox for her. After digging a hole in the floor, Asiak gives birth to a healthy boy and, after licking him clean, names him Papik. When Inuk returns, he is thrilled, until he notices that the boy has no teeth. The two adults blame each other for their bad luck, but eventually realize that he will grow teeth later. Meanwhile, two Canadian troopers are hunting Inuk for the missionary's murder, but are delayed another year when their helicopter breaks down. The next spring, Inuk is demonstrating hunting tactics to Papik when the troopers arrest him, despite his confusion over the white man's laws, which unlike his do not allow for accidental manslaughter. They roughly bind him and place him on their dogsled, and upon encountering a storm, the troopers refuse to allow Inuk to lead the sled. The inexperienced mushers soon drive the sled onto thin ice, and one trooper falls through the ice, freezing to death. The other, whom Inuk calls "Man," refuses to allow Inuk to leave, even though Man's hands are freezing and he is weak. Inuk considers leaving him behind to die, but then cuts open one of the dogs and shows Man how to warm his hands inside the still-warm body. As the two continue on, the challenges of the Arctic landscape require Inuk to care for Man and save his life again and again. Finally, he reaches his igloo, where Asiak greets him joyfully. As Man recovers from his trip, he insists that Inuk remain his prisoner and that he must bring him back to the camp to stand trial. He tries to explain to the couple that Inuk will be considered guilty of murder until he is tried, but Inuk and Asiak are still confused, and Inuk insists that they can change the white men's minds by explaining the circumstances of the death. To that end, they sled back toward the camp, but once outside, the grateful Man announces that he will go in alone and lie that he has killed Inuk, so the couple can escape. When Inuk refuses, Man deliberately insults him, knowing this is the only way to drive him away. Perplexed but enduringly good-natured, Inuk and Asiak return home with Papik.
Anna May Wong
Francis De Wolff
Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
V. N. Novarese
The Four Saints
Peter O'Toole demanded that his name be removed from the film's opening and closing credits because his voice was dubbed by another actor.
The film's working title was Top of the World. The opening and closing cast credits vary in order. An opening credit identifies the film as "an Italian-British-French coproduction." The Savage Innocents ends with the following written statements: "The production gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the Canadian and Danish authorities and of the U.S. Army which made possible the actual filming of scenes in the Arctic Zones of Canada and Greenland. Organization of Air Travel Services by SAS: Scandinavian Airlines System."
Peter O'Toole's voice was dubbed by an unnamed American actor throughout the film. The Variety review, copyright records and other contemporary reviews list the film's length as 110-111 minutes, while the New York Times review lists the running time as 89 minutes. The Savage Innocents opened in Rome in March 1960 as Ombre bianche at 110 minutes and in Paris in September 1960 as Les dents du diable at 90 minutes. The print viewed ran approximately 90 minutes. Although some sources list the gauge as Technirama 70, the onscreen credits list Technirama. The Variety review, published after the film's London opening in June 1960, stated that the $1.5 million budget had been split evenly between the Rank Organisation, Maleno Malenotti's production company (Magic Film) and Paramount Pictures.
In October 1960, Variety reported that Paramount would hold back the picture's release in order to give the advertising department more time to create an extensive promotional campaign. The film's official American release date was February 1961. In addition to Greenland, some scenes were shot at Hudson Bay, according to the Variety review. Modern sources add the following names to the crew credits: Jack Atcheler (Camera Operator); Dario Cecchi (Art Director); Edward Clements (Set Decoration); Eraldo Da Roma (Film Editor); Penny Daniels (Continuity); Harry Gillard and Albert Clarke (Stills); Stella Rivers (Hair stylist); and Muir Mathieson (Conductor). Modern sources also add Nicholas Stuart to the cast as the narrator.
In 1970, Bob Dylan published a song inspired by The Savage Innocents, entitled "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)." A December 30, 1965 Daily Variety article stated that Anthony Quinn was suing Magic Film for $25,000 in deferred payments. The article suggested that, because Paramount had recently sold The Savage Innocents to NBC-TV for broadcast, the profits could be used to pay out Quinn's original contract. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined.
Released in United States Spring March 1961
Screen acting debut for Peter O'Toole, whose voice is dubbed.
Super Technirama 70 (UK)
Released in United States Spring March 1961