Steven Spielberg’s “Savage” (1973)

1971’s television film DUEL had generated director Steven Spielberg some significant attention from the cinematic world. Longing to answer their call, he frustratingly found himself still bound in place by his TV contract, which was nearing its end.  His impatience to graduate into feature filmmaking showed through in his 1972 TV film SOMETHING EVIL, and 1973 saw the production of the last television work that he was contractually obligated to.  This project was SAVAGE, a feature-length pilot about a muckraking journalist named Paul Savage (Martin Landau) who investigates rumors of a sex scandal concerning a nominee to the Supreme Court.

Despite the lurid subject matter and its high-profile star, SAVAGE ultimately failed to be picked up as a series.  To this day, it remains unreleased on home video, and the only version I could find on the internet was a five-minute cut-down of various scenes.

From what I can piece together, Spielberg attempted to make something slick and entertaining (unlike the indifferent SOMETHING EVIL before it).  The 35mm film image is appropriately polished and lit by SOMETHING EVIL’s cinematographer Bill Butler.  Spielberg employs various low angle compositions and extensive camera moves as his aesthetic by this point had begun coalescing into something distinctly his own.  Gil Melle is credited as the music composer, but I can’t tell if the music on the embedded Youtube video is from SAVAGE itself or was added for the cut-down.  If it’s original, then the light jazzy mood fits the sophisticated, urban sensibility Spielberg is after.

Like that trailer of THE NAME OF THE GAME: “LA 2017” (1971), I can really only comment on what I can see from the cut-down.  Spielberg– already a TV veteran by age 27– seems to be in firm command of his faculties within the medium.  It’s almost like he knows this is his last hurrah in this world (even though it wouldn’t be), and he wants to go out on a strong note.  SAVAGE also finds him taking on the sort of serious, decidedly adult issues for that he would later explore in films like SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) and LINCOLN (2012).  SAVAGE itself looks to be entertaining and strong, but its inability to amount to a successful series dooms it to the footnotes of a career that has all but overshadowed it.


Producer: Paul Mason

Written by: Mark Rogers, William Link, Richard Levinson

Director of Photography: Bill Butler

Production Designer: Will Tuntke

Edited by: Edward Abroms

Composer: Gil Melle