Dove Linkham is hitch-hiking his way out of the dustbowl of Texas, optimistically headed for the lights of New Orleans where he believes his true love will be waiting for him, but the road is long and the offers are few for a lanky farmhand. Better at using her assets to catch a ride is Kitty “Twist” Tristram, and together they make their way to Louisiana, taking care of each other before their differing natures force an abrupt separation.
Kitty seeing Dove’s kindness as a weakness she cannot afford, when she steals from the diner owner who has given them a meal he turns his back on her, but Teresina Vidaverri sees him as an honourable man and offers him a job, a place to sleep and suggestions on how to track the elusive Hallie Gerard, but the response is not what she had hoped for him. Hallie is in New Orleans, but she is effectively the property of the steely Jo Courtney, madame of the high class bordello known as the Doll House, frequented by the most powerful men in town.
Based on the 1956 novel by Nelson Algren, it was not until 1962 that director Edward Dmytryk’s adaptation of the tragedy of Dove Linkhorn reached the screen, Walk on the Wild Side toned down from the source material yet still sufficiently incendiary to be described by contemporary critics as “lurid, tawdry and sleazy.” Released on Blu-ray by Arrow Films in a new 4K restoration, the wild side may seem tame by moderns standards but the performances remain fiery, passion and violence simmering in the southern heat.
The Manchurian Candidate‘s Laurence Harvey the honourable but misguided Dove, he is balanced by All About Eve‘s Anne Baxter as the generous but practical Teresina, neither of them a match for Double Indemnity‘s Barbara Stanwyck as the formidable Jo, manipulating her girls with a cocktail of comfort and threats, among them The Pink Panther’s Capucine as Hallie, no longer the girl Dove remembers, and dazzling debutante Jane Fonda as Kitty, freshly arrived in town and eager to make her mark.
Hallie elegant, sophisticated, intelligent and educated, she is far above those who compete for her, but in the Doll House only money buys attention and Dove has little, the farmer and the artist a mismatched pairing. She did once love him but he took too long to find her, offering her happiness when she would rather have pity, dressed as though in mourning on their date even as Dove reminds her how to smile, yet always in her mind the thought of what Jo might do to him, a businesswoman as stealthy and ruthless as a snake in the grass protecting her investment.
Shot in crisp monochrome by Joseph MacDonald and with a soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein, the iconic titles by Phase IV‘s Saul Bass of a black cat’s nocturnal prowl are examined by Pat Kirkham on the new edition of Walk on the Wild Side which also carries a personal appraisal of the film by critic Richard Dyer, an archive interview with Dmytryk and a commentary from Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan who attempt to untangle the contradictory accounts of the production and consider the changes from the novel which sidelined protagonist Dove to make space for the powerful women in his life, Hallie, Teresina, Kitty and Jo.