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Colorful locales, kitschy production design and a nice stroke of sado-masochism go a long way in making this obscure gem a guilty pleasure of jungle-lust adventure. Mel Ferrer directs the story like a comics classic, with his then-wife Audrey Hepburn playing a jungle girl with her usual Givenchy class, and Tony Perkins as a young Indiana-Jones type. Hokey and utterly inappropriate, but still enjoyably offbeat, especially when Perkins croons a love song. The other cast members fare much better: with Lee J. Cobb overacting perfectly as Audrey's old man; Sessue Hayakawa, laconic and petulant as the Indian chief; and Henry Silva, all wide-eyed enthusiasm as the warrior relishing his tortuous ritual of courage. Old-style Hollywood, matinee magic in CinemaScope, with the added wonder of Stereophonic sound.
Let's dispense with the good points first. At least SOME of the casting
works. Specificly, I'm speaking, first, of Hepburn at her most mysterious
and bewitching. No one else could have possibly played Rima with the fey
charm tinged with mystery that Audrey, at her most radiant, brings to the
role. Then, there's Henry Silva as a virile, villianous Indian. Silva, to my
mind, was and still is one of the cinema's great heavies, and he doesn't
disappoint here. His quiet underplaying vs. Tony Perkins' hammy overplaying
when the former's duplicity is discovered is a perfect illustration of what
stands the test of time and what doesn't. Plus, there are the beautiful
Amazon locations and Bronislau Kaper's beautiful, understated
Now on to the bad points, and where better to begin that Tony Perkins' impossible miscasting in the lead. The lean, intense Perkins was always a masterly potrayer of angst, as Hitchcock discovered the next year. But he was never much of a conventional leading man, and this film, and the following year's "Tall Story," bring this weakness sharply into focus. Someone such as, say, Robert Wagner or Laurence Harvey, would have been far more believeable. They were the right age for the role, and both were under contract to MGM at the time. What were they thinking? Then there's Sessue Hayakawa, still riding high from his "River Kwai" comeback, as the most improbable native chieftan on record. At least he comports himself with his usual innate dignity. Mel Ferrer, Hepburn's husband at the time, was always a fine actor, but never more than an average director. One can invision a William Wyler (busy at the time with "Ben-Hur"), a George Cukor, or a William Dieterle as a far better director for this film. Finally, Dorothy Kingsly's screenplay fails to patch up the several sizable holes in the original W.H. Hudson story, particularly the "Is-she-dead-or-isn't-she?" ending.
In short, you could do worse that this film, but you could do much, much better, too.
I have heard people harp on and on about how bad this movie is and how Anthony Perkins and Audrey Hepburn were sooooo miscast! While the film is certainly no 'Psycho' or 'Roman Holiday', it is a lot better than people give it credit for. Everyone seems to come down pretty hard on Perkins especially, because he seems out of place or isn't 'rugged enough' for the role. Those people probably are the people who want to see him as Norman Bates and nothing else. I think his performance was just fine. He has this sensitivity and this almost childlike innocence, and sense of adventure that i think is ideal. He is no John Wayne, he is like an adventurous young child. But that innocence is perfect for the scenes he has with Hepburn. and while he is not the traditional leading man, it makes him all the more interesting. I think if the male lead was too good looking it would just be phony looking. Audrey Hepburn's trademark gentleness is ideal for this part. My only complaint about her is the fact that her hair and her make-up are flawless no matter what, but it really isn't her fault. Originally cast was Pier Angeli, who although a good actress lacked the same kind of gentleness that Hepburn had. If anyone looks silly here it's Lee J. Cobb. He looks more like a cross between Santa Claus, and a hillbilly, more than a South American. As for the film itself, it started off really well, but got kind of bizarre as it went on. After the scene were the three leads, leave Rima's (Hepburn) home i started to lose my interest. And when it came time for big emotional outbursts the actors fail to deliver. One of Hepburn's emotional outbursts comes out of nowhere, and is so phony i can't even explain. She wasn't so great at being angry i guess. However the intimate scenes between Perkins and Hepburn are moving. and i think this was the first time Hepburn took on a 'sexy' role like this. This is not her worst movie, i think it's actually better than 'Charade,' which i thought was overrated. The film has it's flaws but those flaws do not just lie in the performances as most people say.
When I read Hudson's "Green Mansions" I thought, "Well, they'll never make a movie out of this!" But director Mel Ferrer gives it a good try and might have had even more success if he had cast a stronger actor than Anthony Perkins as the male lead. Audrey Hepburn is marvelous as Rima, the bird-girl (Who else could have played the role?) and the rest of the cast is strong, especially Henry Silva as a virile, villainous Indian. There's an imaginative use of Cinemascope and the score (mostly Bronislaw Kaper but some Heitor Villa-Lobos) is atmospheric and sensuous. The revised ending (Is she dead or isn't she?) fails but the book's conclusion isn't any better. For the Romantics among us. I've seen this movie several times and never fail to enjoy it.
After reading reviews of this film I expected it to be pretty bad. I wanted to see it anyway because I love Audrey Hepburn, and I always have an interest in seeing Anthony Perkins films since I loved him in Psycho (though I must admit I still haven't seen him do anything as well as he did Norman Bates.) So I put the tape in the VCR and expected something visually stimulating, but with a dull story. What I got was something visually stimulating, and a story interesting enough to keep me entertained. The scenery is gorgeous (though I agree with a previous comment that some of it looks fake), and Hepburn and Perkins are equally attractive. The music is heady and romantic (Tony Perkins sings - and he does this well!) A few scenes of primitive tribal rituals are the only inelegant parts of the film. I do think that Audrey Hepburn was miscast as "the bird girl"; she seems a bit too sophisticated for this type of role (and dare I say just a wee bit too old - she was about 30 at the time, playing a character constantly referred to as "that child.") But it doesn't matter. She was a great actress so she did this role well. Anthony Perkins did well at least in the more romantic scenes. The chemistry between them worked for me. The whole movie worked for me, at least on a hedonistic level. Green Mansions isn't a "great movie", but it's an enjoyable one.
This must surely be the strangest movie that Audrey Hepburn made,
though it's not without its virtues. Directed by her-then husband,
actor Mel Ferrer, the 1959 movie is a fanciful adventure story where
Hepburn plays Rima, a nymph-like "bird girl" living in the remotest
part of the Venezuelan jungle. She is being hunted by the local Indian
tribesmen for being an evil spirit, but she is protected first by her
grandfather Nuflo and then by Abel, a young political refugee whom she
rescues after he is bitten by a deadly coral snake. The slowly-paced
story initially focuses on Abel's hazardous journey into the jungle
with Joseph Ruttenberg's cinematography nicely capturing the authentic
Rima shows up as a shadowy figure about a half-hour into the film and doesn't speak until about ten minutes later. Leave it to Hepburn to exhibit any sort of conviction in such an impossible role. Looking ethereal if a little too styled and coiffed (even without Givenchy) and sounding entirely too Euro-cosmopolitan, she still exudes Rima's innocence while discovering the darker secrets of her past. The rest of the cast is not as lucky. Anthony Perkins, a year away from "Psycho", is irritatingly unctuous as Abel when he is not simply confounded by his heroic role. His low point has to be the ridiculous scene when he sings a love song to Rima as he strums his guitar. And where exactly did the guitar come from? Familiar character actors show up in the oddest roles. Lee J. Cobb, heavily made up as a cross between Uncle Jesse Duke and Santa Claus, turns in yet another ham-fisted performance as Nuflo, and Henry Silva is cast as another exotic as the ultimately nefarious tribal leader. Nehemiah Persoff has a small bit at the beginning as a greedy trader, while Sessue Hayakawa, of all people, has a mostly silent role as the tribal leader. Adding to the artifice is the obvious use of soundstages and matte shots to replicate the jungle, and the ending is pure Hollywood sappiness. This is a curio for Hepburn fans.
Anthony Perkins does seem a little out of place in this beautifully shot, unique film from 1959. That is, until he makes it to the inner jungle and meets the bird girl Audrey Hepburn. In the romantic scenes with her, the two of them work quite well. The scene where he plays guitar and sings his love song to Rima (Hepburn) and seeing her face as he woos her, is the definite highlight for me. When he's trying to play the tough, strong guy it's a bit laughable. The cinematography is stunning and the Venezuelan jungle comes off as an idyllic fantasy place that's a sensual delight to watch. (The fakiness doesn't distract from the beauty but only helps to give it an otherworldly look. I really don't think it was intended to appear real) Overall this is not a very good film, but there's a romantic, sexual and fantasy appeal to the jungle scenes with Hepburn and Perkins that fuels the imagination for a film that could have been. Watching Hepburn prance around the jungle and glide along tree branches in that lithe way of hers is enough reason to watch this very different and amusing tale from the late 50's.
I guess there's some difference of opinion as to what is found in the
area that headwaters of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers make their
neighborhood. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that there was a lost world of
prehistoric dinosaurs when he wasn't doing Sherlock Holmes stories. But
W.H, Hudson has us believe that there's a young waif like girl making
her home with her granddad among all the hunter/gatherer tribes of the
At the time that both The Lost World and Green Mansions were written that area was still one of the few unexplored parts of our globe. I daresay that there are still some parts of that area that haven't seen the trod of civilized feet ever. But it sure makes for stories of imagination and in the case of Green Mansions, romance.
W.H. Hudson who was also a naturalist and ornithologist by trade had the advantage over Conan Doyle because he knew from whence he wrote about. The film has some lush photography and in fact was shot on location in Venezuela. In fact it opens with a view of Angel Falls, one of the great natural wonders of the world. Makes the Niagara Falls in my neck of the woods look like a waterfall from a Six Flags Park.
Green Mansions had been kicking around Hollywood for almost thirty years before Mel Ferrer decided it would suit his wife Audrey Hepburn. It was originally bought by RKO for Dolores Del Rio who scored big in another exotic romance, Bird of Paradise.
Anthony Perkins plays an exile from a revolutionary government in Venezuela who has retreated deep into the interior jungle. He's looking for gold, but instead finds Rima the bird girl living with her grandfather, Lee J. Cobb. Perkins also finds a tribe of headhunters with Sessue Hayakawa as their chief and Henry Silva as his son. They're a suspicious lot and fear the nymph of the rain forest.
For a story set in Latin America, it's interesting that only Henry Silva is a Latino in the cast. Yet the leads have to be the sensitive types and Hepburn and Perkins do fill the bill there.
Sad to say that Green Mansions was a flop critically and financially. I think we ought to take a second look at it. My guess is that no one wanted to see Audrey Hepburn in something so radically different than what she had been doing up to that time. She's quite good, every bit as good as Jean Simmons in The Blue Lagoon which is a similar story.
Check this one out if it is shown on TCM.
Tony Perkins in tight pants, wrestling Henry Silva in loin cloth, in
lagoon, for love of jungle princess Audrey Hepburn. Yep, that's about
it. Tony and Audrey are supposed to be around 19 and 16 respectively,
even though he's really 26 and she's pushing 30. Which is almost OK,
since everything is so gauzy.
The story is silly and the production cheesy, and it all comes out like made-for-TV, which is a kind-of compliment, since it was released in 1959, which makes it ahead of its time, though, given the quality of made-for-TV, and that people had to buy a ticket to see this thing, that's not much consolation.
It's lush and ripe, and though they claim it's filmed in South America, I can see the familiar landscapes of the backlot and the flora and fauna of the San Diego Zoo. This one is borderline MST3000, so the best way to watch it is stoned.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Green Mansions" is not a very good movie, and I rate it "5" of 10.
Anthony Perkins just looks out of place, in this role a year before his
Norman Bates role in Psycho. But Audrey Hepburn is something else. I
usually think of her in glamorous roles like Breakfast at Tiffany's.
But here, she plays a beautiful girl living in the forest of Argentina
since 4 years of age with her "grandfather", who it turns out is not
really her grandfather. Years earlier, he had indirectly contributed to
the mother's death and vowed to raise and protect the girl.
The natives in a close by village, who happen to capture Perkins, are afraid to go into the forest because of the mystical "bird girl." Perkins does, however, because he thinks he may find gold there. He and the girl become close, and he does not kill her, the deed that the natives sent him in for. So, they become outraged, tie him up, hunt her down, chase her up a tree, burn the tree, and they apparently kill her.
In the last scene, Perkins is seen in the burned section looking for her body, then he hears her speaking, and sees her at the edge of the forest in a sunset. Leaving open the thought that she isn't really a mortal person.
For me the whole story did not work very well, many of the scenes looked cheesy, the "native" acting was crudely done. I only enjoyed seeing Hepburn who was beautiful in the simple skin-colored long body-clinging dress she wore through the whole movie. Otherwise I would have rated it 3 or 4.
Interestingly, the IMDb votes from females are noticeably higher than those from men, likely because of the mystical role played by Hepburn. Hepburn is unforgettable, but "Green Mansions" is easily forgettable. What was it I was writing about??
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