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The Naked Jungle

An adventure story and Harlequin romance wrapped into one, Byron Haskin's The Naked Jungle (1954) is a lush and slightly perverse Technicolor spectacle. Charlton Heston stars as Chris Leningen, a man who's made his way in the South American jungles since he was 19, and fearing loneliness has a mail-order bride, Joanna (Eleanor Parker), sent to him. She's a charming, funny, and sexy lady, but Chris becomes standoffish, and Joanna can't figure out why. In fact, it's because he doesn't understand why anyone would become someone's mail-order spouse, and he keeps looking for what faults might have brought her to the jungle. He finds it when she reveals that she was previously married, which intimidates Chris (because he's a virgin, you see). But domestic squabbles have to be set aside when an army of fire ants running 20 miles long and two miles wide head in their plantation's way, and the ants are looking to destroy everything in their path. Playing the broad-shouldered Chris, Heston is given one of his better roles; as archetypal as Heston seems to be, it should be noted that he is a peculiar actor. With his odd diction, Heston was well suited for the Biblical epics and sci-fi movies that he's remembered for; there his speech patterns seem more palatable. His rhythms work well here, and called on to be a strapping male, he more than carries his own. Byron Haskin (Robinson Crusoe on Mars) was an agreeable B-movie director, and he manages the film's adventure and romantic elements with ease. As the ants approach, Jungle quickly transforms into a siege movie, and though most of the actors look a bit silly screaming in agony while covered in ants (suspension of disbelief is nigh impossible if you're over the age of 10), it's a well-choreographed set-piece. The script was written during the blacklist, and though Phillip Yordan is credited (he was a well-known front during the era), it was Ben Maddow, best known for The Asphalt Jungle (1950), who actually wrote it, along with Ranald MacDougall. Perhaps working under pseudonyms made blacklisted writers feisty, because (like such subversive classics as Johnny Guitar and The Big Combo) the sexual elements of the film are rather shocking. Great banter is exchanged between Heston and Parker about her previous marriage and his reticence to be with anyone so sullied, while the sexual tensions reach impressive levels of ribaldry for a '50s adventure film, with Heston shakily filling his glass after being so aroused by his spouse. Paramount presents The Naked Jungle in a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—DSH



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