Theatrical release poster inspired by Saul Bass’s opening title sequence
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Charles K. Feldman
Written by John Fante
Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Starring Laurence Harvey
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Harry Gerstad
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
February 21, 1962
Country United States
Budget $2 million
Walk on the Wild Sideis a 1962 film directed by Edward Dmytryk, adapted from the 1956 novel A Walk on the Wild Side by American author Nelson Algren. The film had a star-studded cast, including Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter, and Barbara Stanwyck, and was scripted by John Fante. It was not well received at the time; Bosley Crowther of the New York Times described it as a “lurid, tawdry, and sleazy melodrama.” While it passed its censors, it was an adult film noir with quite explicit overtones and subject matter. It walks its audience through the lives and relationships between adults (mostly women), engaged in the “business” of commercial prostitution, at a stylish New Orleans brothel. The “boss” is a beautiful, stylish Madam (Stanwyck), whose combination of toughness; and, a motherly?/sisterly? intimate tenderness toward her “girls'” real lives; is as disturbing, as it is entertaining, to watch.
Set during the Great Depression, it starts with Dove (Laurence Harvey) and Kitty (Jane Fonda) meeting on the road in Texas as each is traveling separately to New Orleans. They decide to travel together, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains. Dove is hoping to find his lost love Hallie (Capucine), and is not interested when Kitty comes on to him sexually.
After Kitty steals from the New Orleans-area café where she and Dove stop for a meal, he leaves her and makes things right with the owner, Teresina. She gives Dove a job at the café and a place to stay while he searches for Hallie. He finds her working at the Doll House, an upscale French Quarter bordello, where Jo (Barbara Stanwyck) is the madam.
Later it is revealed that, after Jo’s husband had lost his legs in an accident, she lost interest in him. A lesbian relationship is suggested between Jo and Hallie, who is supported by the owner in pursuing her interest in sculpting on the side. But Hallie still works for Jo as a prostitute like the other women. Hallie is unhappy with her life at Jo’s, but does not want to give up her comforts to risk life in marriage with Dove.
Meanwhile, Kitty starts working at the bordello after Jo bails her out of jail, where she had been confined for vagrancy. Seeing that Kitty and Dove appear to know each other, Jo questions Kitty about her past, and learns that she traveled with Dove from Texas to Louisiana. Jo threatens Dove with arrest for transporting the underage Kitty across state lines for immoral purposes and for statutory rape, unless he leaves New Orleans without Hallie. As Dove leaves the bordello, the bouncer, another employee, and Jo’s husband beat him viciously. Kitty watches from upstairs.
Kitty helps Dove return to the café, where Teresina cares for him. The younger woman goes back to the bordello to get Hallie, helping her reach the cafe. When Hallie can’t be found at the bordello, Kitty is suspected and put under pressure; frightened, she brings Jo and her three helpers to the café. During the ensuing struggle among the men, Hallie is shot and killed by a stray bullet. The film closes by showing a front-page newspaper story that reports Kitty’s testimony sent Jo and several others from the bordello to prison.