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The Savage Innocents

In the late 1960s, Bob Dylan was asked how he came to write the song, “Quinn the Eskimo.” He replied that he’d seen a movie in which Tony Quinn played an Eskimo. That film was The Savage Innocents, a drama about a clash of cultures, in which an Eskimo who has had little contact with white men goes to a trading post where he accidentally kills a missionary and finds himself being pursued by the police. Anthony Quinn added Eskimo to the many ethnic types he portrayed and Peter O’Toole makes his feature debut as a Canadian Mountie. Shot in the Canadian Arctic, the film examines the Eskimos’ survival in the extreme Arctic wilderness, as well as their raw existence and struggle to maintain their lifestyle against encroaching civilization. Contrasting the cultural practices of Inuit and North American societies at a time when many Inuit people had not yet encountered the white man and his ways, the film asks the question, “who is savage and who is innocent?” Directed by Nicholas Ray.

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