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Having seen this movie recently for the first time I found it
surprisingly arty. The classification cheap indie doesn't do the
picture justice. The photography in sharp black and white well, far
more black than white -, the quirky camera angles and the editing are
almost as good as in more famous film noirs of that period like, for
example, Kiss Me Deadly.
The story has a really uneasy feel to it. I am not sure if all that surrealism is intentional or mainly caused by a low budget, I just know that is is damn effective. The action unfolds in one dark night and feels like a claustrophobic nightmare. There are several similarities to Otto Preminger's Laura, the ever effective John Carradine is cast as a rich, arrogant art critic in the line of Waldo Lydecker. And he delivers all right. But who is Laura? There are three different women who occasionally pop up, dead or alive, in photographs on billboards, in sketches or framed paintings. They are not real but rather like figments in a man's imagination. Maybe they are the same woman altogether? Very confusing. And who is the man who imagines those women? Is it the caricaturist who thinks he is a failure as an artist? Or the alcoholic policeman? I could not help assuming that they were one and the same person, too. Just think of David Lynch's Lost Highway! It is not really clear, what is going on in this picture. People do strange things. Sneaking up to an apartment at 3 a.m. asking urgently, hysterically for a caricature, entering another apartment at 3.30 a.m., having a discussion with a woman in her bedroom while in the background the woman's husband tosses uncomfortably, desperately trying to sleep, entering a third apartment at 3.45 a.m. putting a head on the bosom of Jayne Mansfield who's reclining there - without any explanation. The police detectives refuse to take people to the precinct and want to conduct the investigation into a murder in a sleazy bar near where it happened. These strange scenes are not cheap - they work in a way that you start feeling slightly feverish.
The set design is very good. Several fifties interiors and gadgets are nicely displayed. I admire all those movies in which great effect is created with little means. One reason why I like film noir where this tendency at times results in real art.
Lawrence Tierney was given numerous low-life/tough-guy roles throughout
40's in such noirs as BORN TO KILL (1947) and THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE
(1948), until he gained himself a bad name in Hollywood for his constant
bar-brawls and arrests. The Tierney architype was resurected in the 50's
when minor studios decided to milk the one-time noir icon for what he was
worth. His only 50's come-back films I know of are THE HOODLUM
Artists) and THE FEMALE JUNGLE (1956-ARC), directed by the very
Bruno VeSota right after DAUGHTER OF HORROR.
Lawrence plays a bum alcoholic detective who investigates in the murder of an actress committed outside the same bar he was drinking in. The plot unfolds itself from flashbacks. Producer, Burt Kaiser plays an alcoholic and unemployed artist, married to waitress, Kathleen Crowley. Kaiser is asked one night by a mysterious gossip columnist (the wonderfully sinister John Carradine, looking suave as ever in white tie and tails) to have his characature painted. Kaiser and Tierney both have affairs with Candy, a deliciously slutty bombshell (Jayne Mansfield, looking stunning in her film debut). Other suspects include George, the black janitor, James Kodl providing some intentional laughs as Joe, the bar owner and Cornelius Keefe (billed as Jack Hill!) as the Chief.
During World War 2, anyone who went to the movies had no choice but to pay money and view low-budget black-and-white quickies beacuse of the restrictions. Bottom-of-the-barrel studios like PRC and Monogram were in their element turning 'em out faster than they ever did before. This also gave film noir (considered lowbrow entertainment back then) an opportunity to be shown to wider audiences. The 50's saw just about every cinema-goer heading for the 70mm CinemaScope epics and big-name blockbusters leaving all other kinds of films to be viewed by nonexistent crowds at either art-house or drive-in theatres. It also saw the very last of the film noir echoeing it's way through the minor studio system. FEMALE JUNGLE, a great noir by many standards, was sold to Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson for ARC (pre-AIP) in 1956 and was dumped on a drive-in double-bill with OKLAHOMA WOMAN, a western directed by Roger Corman! I still don't think that FEMALE JUNGLE has got the appreciation it deserves. It is a superior film noir full of interesting low-life characters and dimly lit side-streets which all of us noir-lovers crave for in a film.
In an interview, Jayne Mansfield said that FEMALE JUNGLE "was filmed in two weeks and led to nothing". She was paid $150 for starring and then returned to her job as a popcorn-girl in a cinema before returning to the screen again in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? Lawrence Tierney wound up driving a taxi cab in Central Park before being resurected again (!) to play his tough-guy role in John Huston's PRIZZI'S HONOR (1985) and again in Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1993). Bruno VeSota later directed THE BRAIN EATERS (1958) and INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962), starred in numerous drive-in features throughout the late-50's and 60's (TEENAGE DOLL, A BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE CHOPPERS...) before dying of a heart attack in 1976 aged 54.
I imagine the sole reason for most people to want to see this movie is
for the screen debut of 50s cinema sex goddess Jayne Mansfield.
However, the film itself stands up reasonably well after fifty years.
The plot, as you are probably already aware, concerns the hunt for the killer of a Hollywood actress, murdered after she leaves a bar. An off-duty cop is in the frame as the killer and sets out to track down the real culprit.
This movie was obviously done on the cheap but has a gritty edge to it and more than enough action and suspense to fill its meagre running time. Shot entirely at night the film has an oppressive feel and has good performances from all concerned. Jayne Mansfield, in her film debut, is very impressive as a slutty broad and performs well without her trademark squeal. Although obviously very attractive she isn't at all glamorous here and acts very well. For anyone in doubt of her abilities then Female Jungle proves that she definitely had something.
Cheap, short and in the long term, forgettable, this is still an entertaining way to spend an hour. Don't break your neck to see it but if the opportunity arises, don't pass it by.
Female Jungle is a fairly good and at times noteworthy low budget indie feature. Produced by star Burt Kaiser, who plays a down on his luck sketch artist with the longest 1950's hair this side of Elvis, the film also features Lawrence Tierney, who sleepwalks through his role as a drunken cop trying to win back the respect of his sergeant by helping solve a murder mystery. Tierney's career was entering crisis mode at this point thanks to his own drinking problem, and though he's obviously trying his best here, it shows. The story is fairly feeble, but the fine cast--which also includes John Carradine, Attack of the Giant Leeches man Bruno Ve Sota, an unglamorous looking Jayne Mansfield, and Davis Roberts--is worth watching. For a poverty row cheapie the film looks quite good--a testament, perhaps, to the effective work of DoP Elwood Bredell, who always did good work with little money on 'B' classics like Man Made Monster and Phantom Lady.
There's a persuasive argument to be mounted that the end of the
so-called Golden Age of Hollywood movie-making can be ascribed not to
the studios' divestiture of its theater chains but to the explosion, in
the motorized society of the 1950s, of drive-in theaters, where the
main attraction was not on the screen. Up to that point, even the
lowliest second feature was apt to show at least a modicum of craft and
plausibility. The exploitation movies changed all that, ushering in an
era when just about anything goes or, often, nothing.
American International Pictures was the outfit that pioneered fodder for the teenage popcorn-and-petting trade. In 1956, it released one of its few features that might be considered even marginally noir Female Jungle (also called The Hangover). Neither title quite fits, though the second has a bit more claim to legitimacy than the first, which was simply a ploy to pack 'em in.
After the gala premiere of her debut film, a starlet leaves a seedy bar and meets her quietus at the hands of a strangler. For the next hour or so, Lawrence Tierney, John Carradine, Jane Mansfield and half a dozen other characters go racketing around through the night on a series of wild-goose chases. Tierney plays an off-duty policeman whose long evening bending his elbow resulted in a blackout; he thinks he might have been the killer. Carradine plays a gossip columnist whose helped the dead starlet's career, only to be jilted. Mansfield (in her screen debut) seems to be playing a call-girl who's in love with an out-of-work caricaturist whose wife might be the next victim of .
All that said, Female Jungle remains watchable, if barely. It was AIP's policy to engage a few actors on the way up and a few more on the way down, filling up the rest of the slots with whoever was handy (both the producer and director have parts in the movie). But Tierney, by this time seriously on the skids and persona-non-grata in the major studios, exudes some of his rough magic while Carradine, looking particularly suave, gives it his old-trouper's all. And Mansfield, of course, has her own morbid fascination. There's a peculiar allure to some of this late-50s sleaze; if you're into it, this is the movie for you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like countless young actors today, in 1954 a 21-year old named Jayne
Mansfield made her professional motion picture debut in an ultra
low-budget indie. To be sure, Mansfield remains the primary reason for
taking a serious look at FEMALE JUNGLE today -- as it showcases a
yet-unformed actress with obvious beauty and a naturalistic quality and
simple commitment that -- in the bulk of her film work post-the Marilyn
Monroe-caricature she gleefully played in 1957's WILL SUCCESS SPOIL
ROCK HUNTER? -- the lady, sadly, never truly regained.
Shot in 10 days under the working title HANGOVER, this 70-minute B&W movie was a labor of love (and ego?) for its writer/producer/star Burt Kaiser. Plotted as a noir-ish little caper involving the murder of a glamorous movie starlet -- mysteriously strangled in the street outside a dive bar in downtown LA -- keeps the lives of three men in an all-night turmoil. Under Bruno Ve Sota's macho direction, these include actor Lawrence Tierney being pensively murky as the blackout-drunken, off-duty cop; B-horror movie king John Carradine distinguishing the film with his usual picking-up-a-paycheck performance, while sprinkling in a flavor of sophisticated menace; and Kaiser as a brooding hard- luck street artist, looking like an un-shaven Johnny Depp doing an imitation of Marlon Brando. Playing Kaiser's anything-for-the-guy wife is Kathleen Crowley, whose coolly contained beauty reminded me a another '50s brunette, Jean Peters. Add to the mix a call-girl named "Candy Price," and you've got a movie "Introducing Jayne Mansfield."
With its clunky dialogue and choppy narrative, nowadays, FEMALE JUNGLE plays like of a second-rate episode of TV's HOMICIDE. Still, it's an energetic effort from all involved, and the acting is pretty damn good. Production values, especially the film's lighting and editing, are haphazard, though the jazzy soundtrack keeps the melodrama churning in a fun mid-50s way.
As for Mansfield, like I said, it's an impressive debut. Honestly. She's only got three substantial scenes. In keeping with these kinds of noir-yarns, the guys take most of the screen time. Still, Mansfield makes the most of hers, including a serious smooch session with the sexy Kaiser. In fact, their longest scene has a back & forth that goes something like this: line of dialogue. KISS. line. KISS. line. KISS. KISS. little line. KISS, etc. Long, wet & sloppy, Jayne & Burt go for it! And with the guy's dark, edgy handsomeness, well... it probably makes for the most erotic scene in all of Mansfield's movies. Oddly, for an actress who made her name as a "Sex Symbol," Mansfield has surprisingly few love-making scenes on her resume. FEMALE JUNGLE is one of the few. And it's a hot one.
Finally, although she would come to typify the bouncy dumb blonde persona onward from '56's THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT and the aforementioned ROCK HUNTER, I find Mansfield's earlier work here (not to mention her subtle performance in Paul Wendkos's under-rated '55 noir THE BURGLAR) has an organic honesty that would get squashed in the bulk of her later work. Don't get me wrong, I dig the daffy yet mannered high-pitched squeals, goo-goo popping eyes and bosom-thrusting exhibitionism that Jayne Mansfield would become famous for, but... did they mask her true abilities? FEMALE JUNGLE makes it apparent: The actress had more to offer than met the eye.
One night outside a seedy LA bar, a sexy blonde Hollywood starlet is
strangled to death by an unseen, shadowy figure. Naturally the cops are
baffled, and one cop in particular is having the queasy sensation that
he himself might be the killer. That cop has good reason to suspect
himself because he's played by Lawrence Tierney--and Detective Tierney
spent that very evening in that very bar drinking himself into Blackout
Land (an uncanny nod to the particular problem that sent the actor
tumbling down to poverty row). After being summarily dressed down for
his repeated drunkenness, Tierney is then inexplicably asked to lend
his questionable expertise to solving the murder.
What then begins is a bizarrely claustrophobic nightmare chase to the end of the line, offering up a host of potential other suspects. Could it have been the sinister Hollywood gossip columnist (John Carradine) who helped make the starlet's career and was then casually dumped by her? How about the oddball caricature artist (Burt Kaiser) who had recently drawn the starlet's likeness and was one of the last people to see her alive? And what about the caricaturist's wife who just happens to work at the bar? Let's not forget about Tierney's drunken cop who staggers his way through this nocturnal labyrinth with all the conviction of a man staring down at the bottom of an empty bottle. And how does Candy, the gorgeously voluptuous call girl (Jayne Mansfield in her screen debut) who's been sexually involved with both the artist and the cop figure into all of this? Perhaps it's best to not to be overly concerned with the storyline, which is deliriously beneath pulp trash, and relish the demented visual poetry of cinematographer Elwood "Woody" Bredell, himself no stranger to the dark confines of the noir universe, with 1940s classics like PHANTOM LADY, THE KILLERS, SMOOTH AS SILK, and THE UNSUSPECTED lurking on his resume. (Bredell was 70 when he shot FEMALE JUNGLE, which would be his final feature film. He died in 1976 at age 91.) And this is precisely why FEMALE JUNGLE is such an important film, for it relentlessly discards any use for logic in favor of the inhabitation of its own deranged nightmare world. Bredell invests the film with such strikingly abstract imagery that it's impossible to attribute its surreal look and feel to the accidental good fortune of its nearly non-existent budget--as many of the film's detractors have done. Rather, it is a pure distillation of the totality of the noir ethos and much more resonant with the thrill of death and doom than any other 1950s film outside the realm of Nicholas Ray.
FEMALE JUNGLE was the first film directed by Bruno Ve Sota. And despite having directed only two others (THE BRAIN EATERS (58) and INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (62)) his career was fairly deep as an actor, appearing in such disreputable (and legendary) films as DEMENTIA (55, aka DAUGHTER OF HORROR, which he also co-produced and allegedly co-directed), a bunch of classic 50s Roger Corman films, namely THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, ROCK ALL NIGHT, WAR OF THE SATELLITES, BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE WASP WOMAN and ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES as well as the Arch Hall, Jr. teen trasher THE CHOPPERS (61; Leigh Jason), and the tres obscure beatnik noir THE CAT BURGLAR (61; William Witney).
Shot in 1955, FEMALE JUNGLE was picked up for distribution by Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson's fledgling American International Pictures (then briefly known as ARC) and released in early 1956 as the second half of a double bill, beneath a Roger Corman western THE OKLAHOMA WOMAN. Ve Sota, oddly enough, has a small role in that film, too.
But it is FEMALE JUNGLE, an imaginatively ambitious and unapologetically naked excursion to the darkest regions of film noir, that we will remember Bruno Ve Sota forand deservedly so.
This highly recommended film is not available on a US DVD (a UK one does exist, though). It came out on a VHS tape from RCA / Columbia in the early 90s and turns up on eBay every now and then. Jump on it when it does.
I got just about what I expected from this, a low-grade b-movie with
several redeeming qualities. I've seen two films from Bruno VeSota (the
other being "The Brain Eaters") and they seem to both have the same
positive and negative attributes. I am a massive fan of film noir, but
I'll have to admit this is probably among the poorest examples of the
genre I've seen. It's main problem is that VeSota has no idea how to
keep a story moving. I don't mind slowly paced films, but when I watch
a trashy grade-b flick such as this I expect it to keep me intrigued.
Despite the running time of about an hour, it feels very erroneous.
Still, he knows how to create an atmosphere. This is one sleazy,
sordid, and claustrophobic film. This is created by mainly some
creative cinematography, and the minimalist sets actually help this one
In addition to the atmosphere, it has an interesting cast assembled. Lawrence Tierney, who is always a favorite, had an uneven career. When given the opportunity, he could turn in a riveting tough guy performance. Check out either "Reservoir Dogs" or "Born to Kill" to see him at his finest. However, often he just seemed to be going through the motions. That seems to be the case here as he is hardly used. John Carradine is more impressive. Even when given such an uninteresting and poorly developed character such as this, he could be depended on for some accomplished acting. He doesn't fail in this aspect. Jayne Mansfield is in this only briefly, but she certainly looks good.
The story was standard and predictable pulp fiction stuff. This isn't a very good film, but not completely worthless either. Maybe worth watching if it turns up on TV and there is absolutely nothing else on. (4/10)
Even at 73 minutes this film began to drag, which is a shame because as
B-movies go it had quite a lot of promise. The 1950's were better known for
the sometimes laughable sci-fi offerings - it was often only the cheap
special-effects which caused derision though and the films had lots of good
ideas and storylines. The film noir rip-offs from the same period didn't
rely on effects and most are worth watching - they are certainly better than
the straight-to-video junk churned out in the 90's.
'Female Jungle' begins with the murder of a glamourous blonde actress outside a bar. Having immediately grabbed our interest the narrative steadily falters and ultimately the good work is undone by a confused plot and characters who elicit little interest.
Lawrence Tierney plays the central character, a drunken cop who may be involved in the crime, but he only serves as a dull vehicle around which the minor, but more interesting, characters can operate. These are primarily John Carradine as the suave but sleazy agent of the murdered actress and Jayne Mansfield who plays Candy Price, the mistress of a down-on-his-luck artist who knew the victim ( the artist is played by one Burt Kaiser who also wrote and produced the film, but seems to have done nothing else at all - wonder what happened to him ).
The action seems to take place over one night - there are certainly no daylight scenes - but there is a disjointed feel to proceedings and I kept getting lost towards the end as to what was exactly happening.
If you take away the great title, the opening 5 minutes and Jayne Mansfield then there is not much here. B-Movies don't need a great deal though and these 3 elements make the film just about worth catching.
"Female Jungle" (1956) is a b-noir that is a true murder mystery, for
we do not find out who the killer is until the end at which point all
the loose ends are also tied up. The story begins with the murder in
the dark of a blonde outside a bar. Her diamond choker is ripped off.
She turns out to be a movie star. Lawrence Tierney, an off-duty cop, is
outside the bar. He's had too much to drink and has some blackout spots
in his memory of that evening. He wonders if he did it, because he has
some cuts on his arm. After being dressed down by his superior on the
scene, Tierney resolves to see what he can find out.
Suspicion falls upon John Carradine, a critic who was in love with the star and argued with her that night. Several characters associated with the bar are possibilities too, including the oddball owner and the man who mops up. Almost immediately after the murder, Carradine follows a waitress to her apartment where she lives with her struggling artist husband who makes money doing caricatures. He's played by Burt Kaiser, and he's playing around with Jayne Mansfield.
Carradine is a high spot of the movie. He's a powerhouse actor who commands the screen, and the part of a tuxedoed aristocratic critic suits him perfectly. Ms. Mansfield is excellent in this her premiere movie. She could really act and she shows it here in several scenes including a love scene with Kaiser. Tierney is a bit softer in parts of this movie than in some of his tough roles. He too is a highly-charged actor. Kaiser's acting is not in the same league as these three, unfortunately.
What brings this movie down though is, as one reviewer here notes, the "clunky dialogue and choppy narrative". Indeed. There are spots where there is unneeded talk and other spots where the direction and editing don't work smoothly. Awkwardness harms the flow. Film editing at times is choppy. Clumsy execution can't be glossed over all the time by skilled acting. The bartender, if I may say so, grates too.
Although the cinematographer was the top-notch Elwood Bredell, the budget and two-week shooting schedule apparently precluded the kind of lighting and careful work that we see in his major films. The picture has some atmosphere in the night scenes, but it shows its b-origins.
Overall, "Female Jungle" is certainly worth catching, imperfections and all.
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