Gentle Savage (1973)

gentle savage 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Indian accused of rape.

Camper John (William Smith) is an Indian living in a small town who gets accused of raping a white girl (Betty Ann Carr) by Ken (Kevin Hagen) her stepfather even though it was actually Ken who did it. The hidden prejudices of the predominantly white folks come to light against the nearby Indian community. Both sides take up arms and become intent on crushing the other causing hysteria and violent outbreaks while Camper John tries hiding out until it blows over.

If there is anything distinctive about this otherwise formulaic and predictable low budget drama is the fact that it paints vigilantism as more of a problem than a solution even if the one side feels completely justified, which I found to be a refreshing and more realistic take on the issue especially as the Indian group becomes as vindictive, violent and hateful as the people they are trying to fight. However, it would’ve been nice had there been at least one white person who wasn’t portrayed as being completely narrow-minded and bigoted, which in a lot of ways comes off as reverse racism by the filmmakers.

The music is loud and overly dramatic, which gives the proceedings a very heavy-handed feel. In a lot of ways it comes off as a poor man’s Billy Jack, which was already pretty amateurish and one-dimensional to begin with although still far better than this thing. The 75 minute version that I viewed had an abrupt ending that seemed incomplete and failed to tie up many loose ends, but I wasn’t complaining as even with the abbreviated runtime it was still highly protracted, overblown and tedious with the scene of a water tower tank exploding and dousing everyone on the street with tons of water being the only slightly diverting moment.

Smith is intense in the lead, but he should’ve been given more dialogue especially at the beginning as the viewer barely gets to know or understand him before being jettisoned into his quandary. Character actor R. G. Armstrong who normally plays menacing characters is quite wimpish here as a bartender who gets held down and forced to swallow drink after drink when he tries closing down the bar before the patrons were ready. Hagen is competent as the bad guy, but casting Gene Evans and Joe Flynn as a bumbling sheriff and deputy in an attempt at misguided ‘comic relief’ in the Last House on the Left-type vein was a big mistake. One scene even has them handcuffed together wearing nothing but their underpants while forced to walk across the desert, but it all adds little and takes away from the tension, which is the only time that this flat film ever becomes mildly diverting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Camper John

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (Full Version)

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: None at this time.

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