Good Western about Revenge hampered by uneven filmmaking
Alberto Mariscal's "Taste of the Savage" is a 1971 Mexican Western that explores the familiar subject of lifelong revenge. Like so many other movies of the genre the film begins with the murder of a husband by a gang of gunmen and the lamentations of his wife and child.
The wife-turned-widow (Isela Vega playing Sara Carson) has steel in her heart though. She hires an aging gunslinger simply named Huck (a wizened Cameron Mitchell) to school her son Judd (Jorge Luke) in mastery of firearms. Judd Carson is thereafter raised as an instrument of vengeance -- his own trauma and his mother indoctrination making him destined be the bane of his father's killers.
Taste of the Savage was made during the Spaghetti-boom, and follows its Italian sisters in spirit and tone. Judd does grow up to be Gods-gift-to-guns, but he is simultaneously emotionally vexed and troubled. He is hotheaded, twitchy, and obsessed with revenge. Huck's reserved and level-headed demeanor has completely failed to rub off on him. This makes Judd an unstable young man -- and before the film ends we see just how far he spirals into the deep end.
The film doesn't pull any punches in depicting Judd's moral downfall. It has the appropriate amount of blood and sleaze to depict this. In his hotblooded rage he commits some unforgivable deeds. That is not to say that this Mexican Western is anywhere near as gruesome as, say, "Fasthand is Still My Name" (1973) or "Cut-Throats Nine" (1972), but it's attentiveness to the emotional and psychological breakdown of its hero does give it a strong sense of bleakness of its own.
This is the strength of the film. Unfortunately though, it is seriously hampered by some uneven filmmaking. Much of this has budgetary roots. Mariscal does have the directional abilities to give the various scenes a "spaghetti-vibe", but other things such as dubbing and editing are absolutely abysmal. Even the most pivotal scene in the film is almost ruined by an atrociously jarring cut that completely takes us out of the moment. Likewise, the VHS pan-and-scan is one of worst I've ever seen. At multiple times, talking characters disappear off the edge of the screen and close-ups feel very crowded and claustrophobic. I'd imagined that the cinematography of a wide-screen copy would look quite adequate but the VHS transferee is very bad.
Overall I give "Taste of the Savage" a 6/10 for the reasons listed above. It's a rather weak 6 though.
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