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Given the fact that this is the Fifties and the Code was coming to an
end, this is still a remarkably erotic film, almost Tennessee Williams
like in its treatment of sexual issues.
Charlton Heston's Christopher Leiningen could have been created by Tennessee Willlams. He came to the South American jungles as a teenager and built up a plantation out of the jungle and it took him over 15 years to do it. He now decides to get himself a wife and begat some children.
Heston says so quite frankly he has pointedly refrained from indulging any lust with the native women because in his society there'a a nasty name for whites who do so. In keeping with his Tennessee Williams like character, he's from New Orleans so his attitude to darker skinned people is understandable.
He has his brother put in an advertisement for a mail order bride and Heston can't believe his luck when the drop dead gorgeous Eleanor Parker shows up on his door. She's not what you would picture a mail order bride to be. But then marital problems arise when he discovers she's a widow, used goods as the common phrase was back in the day.
Parker has a few of her own issues and that and Heston's inexperience in these matters lead to a rocky start and almost an ending. But then come the ants.
As District Commissioner William Conrad says, every generation or two something puts ants in the ants pants and up they come out of their ant hills and go on the march destroying every scrap of life before them. And man has found no way to stop them.
The ants kind of make everyone come together in a crisis. What they do is some of the most frightening stuff ever put on film.
If The Naked Jungle were made today it would be far more explicit about all the sexual problems than this version was. There might be better special effects. But you won't get better players than you will in Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker as leads.
Unless they resurrected Tennessee Williams to write the screenplay.
THE NAKED JUNGLE is based on Carl Stephenson's story "Leiningen Vs The
Ants." There was at least one excellent radio adaptation in which William
Conrad (who has a supporting role in this film) played Leiningen. The first
half of this screen adaptation is pretty ordinary, centering around the
romantic problems of Heston and his mail order bride Ms. Parker. When the
ants arrive, this film really takes off. One scene where the ants devour a
drunk down to his bones must of looked pretty shocking in
This film was reviewed in a 1954 issue of The American Museum of Natural History magazine, where the reviewer, an entomologist, stated that while single ant colonies do migrate, and can wreck havoc, migrations of multiple colonies, as in this film, do not occur in real life. Phew! Thats good to know!
You don't hear the word `jungle' much these days ... Somehow, `The Naked
Rainforest' doesn't do it for me. Say `the naked jungle' softly to
yourself, and the images that come to mind will give you a good idea of what
to expect. No, sadly you won't see the naked Eleanor Parker - this is 1954.
But there IS a particularly erotic scene, all things considered...
Okay, maybe a trillion omnivorous ants weren't what you expected, either. Consider them a bonus. This is the story of a mail-order bride and a wealthy plantation owner (the sort of character likely to be played by Charlton Heston) who come to fall in love with each other partly because of savage external forces (ants), and partly, to be honest, because there's not much else to do in the middle of the jungle. The extended coda in which they must fight tooth and nail to save the plantation from ruin is thus not tacked on to the romance, but an integral part of it. And it's exciting even if you don't give a fig for the love story.
Before Charlton Heston faced the Red Sea, the Apes, and the anti-gun folks, he was in this picture, where he takes second billing to the Marabunta (sic), army ants that want to eat his plantation. His other problem is his knockout mail order bride with whom he is having trouble communicating. With Heston at his most passionate, running the emotional ladder from A to B, it's hard to tell. Nevertheless, I saw this movie with my sister when we were about 9 or 10 and movies cost 15 cents. We would hide behind the seat in front of us each time the skeletal remains of the alcoholic guy showed up (we sat through the movie four times). The rest of the theatre shrieked. The movie is really a lot of fun. Those ants are a menace which, like the shark in Jaws, don't really have anything personal against us--they are just hungry and eating everything in their path. Heston must find a way to combat them or lose everything he has. As a teenager, one of my top ten short stories was "Leinengen Versus the Ants." This does justice to the story although I don't remember anything about the "experienced" young woman he finds himself with. I chanced upon this film on AMC one day and I was totally caught up in it. Give it a chance. It will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you're looking for a fully developed dramatic piece, forget it.
This fine drama is as much about unhappy newlyweds as it is about savage soldier ants that threaten a South American plantation. The killer ants cover a wide area, sweep everything before them and naturally are headed straight for Leiningen's cocoa plantation. The dislike between bride and groom nearly upstages the approaching army of ants. Eleanor Parker and Charlton Heston make a handsome couple but she seems to be everything he is not. Parker is confident, poised and self-assured while Heston is insecure, inadequate and out of his depth in her company. Perhaps this explains why he spends so much time trying to diminish her. The film leans heavily on the verbal sparring between Parker and Heston while building tension for the showdown with Marabunta. William Conrad is good in an early role as a jungle commissioner.
An old style Hollywood adventure taking place in the Amazon jungles
circa year 1901, this is a favorite of mine from TV showings dating
back 30 years ago. A portion of the jungles have been tamed by Heston's
character as the story begins; he's carved out his own little kingdom
with sweat and blood, with the help of local natives, and now his new
wife (Parker), married by proxy, arrives. This is one of Heston's
better characters: he's well-suited to play this proud, often arrogant
male, driven to build a personal empire to perhaps compensate for the
inherent failings of such men. His main weakness is he knows nothing
about women, and Parker, almost regal in her bearing, represents a kind
of strength and sophistication he is obviously not accustomed to. Their
meeting and slowly building towards a mutual respect after a very rough
beginning is in itself an interesting story, but this exotic adventure
throws in a spectacular menace to add suspense to the whole thing. The
jungle, as it turns out, allows Heston only 15 years of conquest before
fighting back in 'nature-gone-amok' style similar to all the future
eco-terror pictures of the later seventies.
By now, everyone knows that this menace is the soldier ant, or 'marabunta' as it's mysteriously referred to in the middle of the story. I think even audiences who saw this back in '54 were probably aware of what the threat was beforehand, as well. But it's not revealed during the film until after several ominous yet uninformative references by the main characters. It comes across as some huge monstrous threat - which indeed it is - billions upon billions of these ants merge together to form a monster 20 miles long and 2 miles wide. As the local commissioner (Conrad) states, with quavering voice, these ants actually think, in military fashion. Nothing stands in its way and we mean nothing. But, of course, if anyone is going to give it the all-American try, it's Heston (yes, he's a character who grew up in South America, but he's strictly the U.S.of A breed - the rugged individual). This builds towards a literal war between Heston's resources and the invading army of ants, and it's a grand finale. It's interesting that this came out about the same time as "Them," a sci-fi tale about giant ants. But the ants here are real - this may make them all the more terrifying. See also "Phase IV," twenty years later, for a different take on even more intelligent ants.
"The Naked Jungle" is the story of a wealthy owner of a big coffee
plantation in Brazil's jungle, menaced by an army of warrior ants on
the move covering several square miles of ground and eating everything
on their way (the Marabunta). The man's unknown mail-ordered wife has
just arrived too but something in her past annoys him and a conflict
between them is taking place when the ants arrive.
The picture was really original back in 1954 and is very entertaining too. This was probably Byron Haskin's best work as a director with an uneven carrier that included also "I Walk Alone", 1948, and "The War of the Worlds", 1953. The Special effects of Naked Jungle are really good for its time and the fine performances of Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker as the main couple surely helped to raise the final product. Heston went on to full stardom and Parker continued to keep up her interesting carrier (she had been in some good movies before as "Scaramouche", 1952, and "Detective Story", 1951, and went to good ones too like "The Man with the Golden Arm", 1955). You will also find a good color photography and well designed settings.
A very amusing and enjoyable film with sort of a "B" structure but a real "A" outcome.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wish I could pin down exactly what it is that makes Charlton Heston's
walk so distinctive, but I guess it may not be unique. He walks like a
lot of tall men -- Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. There's a
certain seven-league-boots quality to their slow strides. A tall man's
step bespeaks self confidence. Just the opposite of Joe Pesci, Mickey
Rooney, Charlie Chaplin, and Danny DeVito, who always seem to be
rushing somewhere. Come to think of it, though, Alan Ladd didn't seem
to be in a big hurry. Maybe he wasn't short enough.
Okay. Now take Charlton Heston, a tall, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced kind of guy with a face hewn out of a mountainside, dress him in leather boots and riding breeches, strap a gun around his waist, accesorize his neck with a casual scarf, top him with something that looks like a cowboy hat, make him a rich and powerful plantation owner somewhere in the middle of the Amazon basin, and you've got every woman's dream.
At any rate, Eleanor Parker found it appealing enough to marry Heston's Leiningen sight unseen, as a mail-order bride who comes to his empire. I'm surprised they kept the name Leiningen from the original story because the usual tactic is to turn the hero's name into something like Steele (it was good enough for Stalin), Armstrong, Masters, or something equally suggestive and simple. Leiningen is three syllables long. One can imagine the producers wringing their hands over whether an American audience would find that congeries of alien-looking consonants and vowels too hard to chew on. "LEAN-again"??? (Vladimir Nabokov had the same problem when he tried to market his memoirs under the title, "Speak, Mnemosene.")
Well, never mind all that. The movie is divided into two parts, like the USA today. First part -- the arrival of Heston's bride and her introduction to life on the old plantation, complete with the usual staff of slaves, servants, headshrinkers, wise Jivaro elders, and whatnot. Second part -- the arrival of the irresistible army ants ("maribunta" -- always spoken in a voice hushed and saturated with awe).
The first part is hilarious and the second part is thrilling. Overall it's a very diverting film.
The dialog between Heston and Parker will induce spasms of laughter. Heston is disappointed -- no, MORE than disappointed -- to find that Parker has been married before, and you know what that means! "The piano is a little out of tune," Parker comments after playing some Chopin. "That piano is brand new. I only have things shipped to me that are new. The piano has never been USED before." Angrily, Parker repostes that obviously he doesn't know much about music because if he did he'd know that a piano is BETTER after it's been PLAYED BEFORE.
Heston doesn't have a smart reply for that. Who could? But as they're sitting silently at the table after dinner, a cockatoo on a perch squawks, Heston turns a sullen face to the bird and says, "Shuddup." Heston here is a self-made man who worships his creator. Similar gems crop up in Heston's other 1954 jungle movie, "Secrets of the Incas." Both films share a screenwriter, Ranald MacDougal, who must have laughed himself into a fit. It's helped because Heston plays it perfectly straight, as he does everything. I doubt that in "Ben Hur" he realized that he and Massala had been lovers when they were boys.
Not to neglect Part Two, in which Heston decides to stick around and defend his property and Parker stays by his side, but the limits of available space are being nibbled away, so to speak. He uses all sorts of weapons -- fire and water -- but the ants are an unstoppable tide, cutting a swath through the jungle and his plantation is in their way. He escapes with his life but it's a close call, I'll tell you. Whew. En fin, he may lose his colossal empire but he gains a loving wife. We all pray that she continues to love him after she finds out what it's like to be living in the middle of the jungle with some guy who is still tall but newly broke .
You miss this one at your own expense. It's really enjoyable.
Now that I've seen this film in its original glorious color -- It's NOT a science fiction B movie at all, but a very good tale of a male/female battle of wills superseded by a battle between humans and nature. The human threat is redheaded, and the ants - the threat from nature - are red. Red Scare, anyone? Eleanor Parker is accomplished, elegant, and ravishing. (Perhaps it strains credibility that anyone would have the luck to send off for a 'mail order' bride and get HER.) Heston looks good too. His acting must have improved later with the help of William Wyler: he and Parker were only 2 years apart in age, but he comes across as a greenhorn by comparison. But he's as magnetic as ever and the direction and script are top drawer. It's also a pleasure to look at the mores of the 1900s through the filter of 50s Hollywood.
The movie The Naked Jungle was magnificent!! It was extremely
enthralling!! The title "Leiningen versus the ants" was the original story!! It was first broadcast on radio probably in the 1940's maybe even earlier!! The radio show was even better than the movie if that is possible!! The suspense, the intrigue, you bit your nails down to your knuckles!! The radio show was fabulous!! That's why they re-broadcast it over and over again every year or every two years. I listened to it many times!! The movie of course gives a different perspective!! You can actually see The RED ARMY ANTS, or RED ANTS, or ARMY ANTS frighteningly live which of course you couldn't do on radio!! These ants do exist and they are dangerous!! But also let us not forget that this movie is a great love story!! Here we have Charlton Heston, a real hunk!! A strapping six foot four very handsome, very physical male!! Then we have his love interest, Eleanor Parker a ravishing, redheaded beauty, with a fantastic body and figure!! A man and a woman in their prime eventually attracted to each other and falling in love at the end!! What more can you ask for in a movie! RED ANTS and A RAVISHING RED HEAD. That's why this was a great movie in it's time and still is today in my opinion!!
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