I’d always looked at the DVD sitting there, especially with Michael O’Donoghue’s name on it. So odd. I mean, it’s a Merchant-Ivory film, co-written by O’Donoghue (!), that refers to the said Savages – on the DVD box yet, as “the Mud People.” So it’s intriguing if nothing else.
After the outcries of the indignities in King Kong and stuff about the Noble Natives, I thought this just might be the antidote. For those who don’t know, O’Donoghue was part of National Lampoon as its regulars morphed into SNL and SCTV. He was a main writer on SNL and sometimes performer (Wolverine, Steel Needles in the Eyes), but other than Scrooged, he had precious few screenplays to his credit.
I seem to remember from his biography that he frequently punched up diaolgue, and that Tarantino used him for that purpose. Or maybe it was that an actual conversation between him and Tarantino about submarine movies was used as dialogue in Hunt for Red October – something like that.
In any case, he was funny, had a very cruel sense of humor, and died of cancer at 54.
Savages is basically modeled on a Bunuel film in reverse (Sorry, I forget which one). A group of savages, called Mud People, even with little golliwogs on the title card, though they’re all white, doing their thing, slowly, in black and white, until they discover a croquet ball. As the title cards indicate, a perfect sphere does not exist in nature and this leads them – literally – to an abandoned mansion, where they dress up and become civilized. Bunuel’s film does this in reverse, but Savages, after evolving them, devolves them back to their original state. The trappings of civility cannot hold, and they slip away, faster in some characters than others, and that makes for some of the most interesting parts of the film. A musician, who earlier in the film abandons his companions, maintains his enlightenment, while the others slip back into the dark ages, whacking croquet balls and falling out of their tuxes and gowns all the while. It’s a little funny to think of it now in the context of so many Americans and Mulsims who are sick of science and knowledge and want nothing more than to just study their Magic Book (not the same Magic Book of course) and forget all about what we know.
Another interesting bit is that while the first silent part of the film has expository title cards, the rest of the film (in color with sound), has a narrator doing voiceover, but it’s in German. A nice touch I thought.
Now this would seem like a perfect example of a Michael O’Donoghue project, but perhaps Merchant & Ivory wouldn’t jump to mind. Yet it’s still about manners, mores, class and societal expectations, which I think became some of the most prominent themes of their period films. So it’s all there, but it’s sadly just not very funny, and I’m not sure who to blame. It probably wasn’t intended to be much funnier than it was; certainly not a broad comedy, but one would wish for a little more wit in such a scenario.
There’s a thankfully short interview with the filmmakers afterwards, and they both seem genuinely proud of the film (it did well at Cannes, naturally), and apparently even started work on a second film with O’Donoghue and his co-writer George Trow. It was scrapped. So little of what O’Donoghue wrote other than for SNL is out there (Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video still not deemed fit for release, while the 3 DVD set of the Best of SNL’s Brad Hall sketches is for sale everywhere), that I’d say it’s worth seeing for fans of Lampoon, SCTV, and so on, but it won’t rank high in the pantheon of such.