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Film / Call Her Savage

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Call Her Savage is a 1932 Melodrama film directed by John Francis Dillon and starring Clara Bow in her next-to-last film role.

Nasa Springer (Bow) is the granddaughter of a rich Texas railroad magnate. Her mother Ruth (Estelle Taylor) is trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage to Pete Springer (Willard Robertson), who cares more about business than her, and as a consequence Ruth is having a long-term love affair with Ronasa (Weldon Heyburn), a local Native American. Nasa is a wild child, who can't be tamed by her stern father, and seems to only listen to Moonglow (Gilbert Roland), a local "half-breed". Her father sends her off to a women's college in Chicago, with hopes of civilizing her; when this fails he attempts an Arranged Marriage with an affectionate but dull young blueblood whose family ties would help the Springer business. She refuses, and instead marries playboy Larry Crosby (Monroe Owsley), only to find that he doesn't love her at all, and only married her to spite his cheating girlfriend, Sunny (Thelma Todd).

Nasa lives off her husband's money for a while but eventually they divorce and she is reduced to poverty. She is further reduced to prostitution to support her baby, who is promptly killed by a fire in their tenement. Still further trials and tribulations await Nasa before she finds out the truth about her past.

Call Her Savage was the first film in a two-picture deal for Bow with Fox, after she'd retired from the movie business after a nervous breakdown. This film and her next, Hoop-La, met with mixed critical receptions, but Bow's performances, especially this one, impressed everyone in Hollywood. She got contract offers from almost every studio but instead retired from the movies for good at the age of 28. Besides Bow, this film is remembered for its appallingly racist ending (see The Reveal below), and for how exploitative and trashy the film was, with sexual content that was shocking even in The Pre-Code Era.


  • Ambiguously Gay: Two waiters, dressed as women, singing about sailors in pajamas. This is a thing that happens.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The film cites Exodus 20:5 as the reason why fate is so unkind to Nasa, her grandfather being a cruel man who humiliated his wife by openly having an affair.
  • Bar Brawl: Jay Randall takes Nasa out to an "anarchist" restaurant. He's recognized as the son of a capitalist exploiter mining magnate. Cue brawl.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Many nasty, false rumors about Clara Bow's sexual life circulated during her acting career. One of those rumors was that she'd had relations with her Great Dane. So the scene where Nasa cavorts with a Great Dane, ending up on her back under the dog, is mind-boggling.
  • Cat Fight: Nasa and Sunny (Thelma Todd) get into a typical hair-pulling, fanservice-y cat fight over Larry.
  • Chick Flick: If you have a montage where you remember all the men that have mistreated and abused you, leading you to snarl "Men!" and shatter a mirror, you are probably in a chick flick.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Moonglow says that he is a half-breed, and he knows his place, while Nasa is white and is thus free to do what she wants. And in the last, very racist scene, mixed ancestry is presented as the cause of Nasa's unhappiness (see The Reveal below).
  • Healthcare Motivation: Why Nasa decides to try hooking. Sick baby.
  • Injun Country: In the first scene, the wagon train that Nasa's grandfather Silas is leading is attacked by Indians. An angry, dying pioneer blames the attack on Silas's sinful life.
  • Male Gaze: Crosby's lawyer shamelessly stares at Nasa's legs, much to her irritation.
  • Marital Rape License: In the grossest scene in the movie, Nasa goes to visit her husband Larry, whom she hasn't seen in months, and who is supposedly dying. He tries to rape her, citing the License. She has to hit him over the head with a piece of furniture. It turns out that while Larry was suffering a mental breakdown, he wasn't dying at all, and later he's completely recovered. (His illness is implied to be an attack of syphillis.)
  • Maybe Ever After: After telling Moonglow the truth (see The Reveal below), Nasa takes his hand, and it seems like she might finally find happiness.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Bow spends pretty much the whole movie in various revealing outfits. In the most daring scene, the camera focuses in tight on her legs as she shimmers into a slip, and then she spends the rest of the scene running around wearing nothing but the slip.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Jay Randall's father is appalled that his son wants to marry Nasa, the wild party girl with a checkered past. So he invites Nasa's ex-husband Larry and Larry's girlfriend Sunny to dinner. They all enter the dining room....cut to a wrecked dining room, with Sunny nursing a newly blackened eye.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally. Nasa, embarrassed about having fallen into poverty, doesn't tell her family where she is. So they can't tell her that her grandfather has died and left her a ton of money. Moonglow seeks her out in New Orleans on the same night that she goes out to turn tricks so she can buy medicine for the baby. The baby dies in a fire. Moonglow tells her about her inheritance as she weeps over the child's death.
  • The Reveal: Fate deals her some cruel hands, but Nasa's fiery temper and lack of impulse control makes some of her own problems, like how she keeps getting into fights in public, or when she impulsively marries Larry, or when she starts a brawl at the Randall dinner. Nasa wonders on a couple of occasions why she can't fit in and be happy in high society. The really, really racist ending provides the answer—Pete Springer wasn't her father, she is actually the love child of Ruth and Ronasa the Indian. The implication, of course, being that her fiery temper is from her “savage” blood, and her unhappiness is from trying to fit into fancy white society instead of her true "place”.
  • Sexless Marriage: Pete Springer is focused on business and has no time for his wife.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Nasa prostitutes herself to provide for her infant child.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The dying pioneer gives this curse to Silas. His granddaughter Nasa sure does pay for it.
  • Smithical Marriage: When Larry Crosby dumps his girlfriend Sunny, he tells her that he caught her checking into a hotel with another man under the name "Mr. and Mrs. Smith".
  • Streetwalker: Nasa sees a woman strutting on the sidewalk and gets an idea of how to get the money to get her baby some medicine. It ends in tragedy.
  • A Taste of the Lash: In Nasa's Establishing Character Moment, she falls off a horse she's been riding too fast, only to see a rattlesnake on the ground in front of her. She breaks out a whip and lashes the snake. When her friend Moonglow comes up and laughs at this, she whips him. He takes it.
  • Time Skip: An 18-year jump finds Ruth unhappily married and her daughter Nasa an uncontrollable hellion.
  • Title Drop: Sort of. After the big fight at dinner (see Offscreen Moment of Awesome above), Jay is horrified, and tells Nasa that he's glad it happened. She slaps him, and he spits "Savage!" at her.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Nasa keeps her handkerchief.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In the opening scene, Ruth looks like she might be seven years old. Somehow, an 18-year Time Skip is enough for Ruth to have her own daughter that is old enough to go off to college.