Big game trapper Harry Stanton (Robert Mitchum) is commissioned by a West German zoo to capture a rare breed of jungle cat called The Enchantress, a combination of tiger and leopard. Accompanying Harry on safari through the Malay jungle are professional hunter Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins) and his mistress Anna (Elsa Martinelli). Sparks fly between the rugged trapper and flirty Anna, but she resists his advances. Although Otto permits Anna an occasional dalliance with other men, his trophy girlfriend remains under his control. Aided by native guide Talib (Sabu Dastagir), the hunters net two live tigers, but Otto offends the tribal chief by carelessly firing his gun. When the team trap the Enchantress inside a cave, Otto tries to prove himself by tackling the beast and winds up badly mauled. Harry comes to his rescue, subduing the big cat with only a blazing torch. Humiliated, Otto plots his revenge.
After John Ford shot Mogambo (1953) and Howard Hawks bagged a sizeable hit with the delightful, if virtually plot-less, Hatari! (1962), safari-themed jungle romps became a minor Hollywood craze culminating in the popular TV series Daktari (1966). Lightweight and rambling, Rampage is very much a Hatari! cash-in, teaming its heroine Elsa Martinelli with an easygoing Robert Mitchum. Mitchum strolls through the picture, cool as heck, especially during his bare-knuckle brawl with the big cat. With the exception of John Wayne, how many other movie stars could so convincingly subdue a jungle predator with their bare hands? Robert Mitchum: manly man. Respect due.
Virility seems the presiding theme here. With no Wild West to tame or empires to run, the post-war generation of virile young men projected their fantasies of conquest and adventure onto the jungles of Africa and the Far East. Yet the film draws a distinction between Harry, a witty, intelligent man, respectful of native cultures and who thinks animals are most beautiful when alive, and Otto who struts around like a white god and believes death and taxidermy preserve nature in immortality. His is a tightly wound, insecure, very haute bourgeois kind of masculinity and when robbed of a gun, his mistress, and his pride he goes bonkers, precipitating the latter third which finds the Enchantress let loose in the big city. It can't top The Leopard Man (1943), but the rooftop finale wherein a gun-toting Elsa and Harry face down the beast is tense and exciting, and nicely handled by veteran Phil Karlson.
Adapting a novel by Alan Caillou, screenwriters Robert I. Holt and Marguerite Roberts (with unaccredited contributions from Twilight Zone scripter Jerome Bixby) weave in a nice line of steamy banter between Mitchum and Martinelli. Especially welcome in light of genre clichés, is how Anna is rendered a smart, capable woman, equally at home in the jungle as sashaying across the dance floor in eveningwear. She's even a better shot then the men and plays an active role in the climax. However, the plot is bookended by teeth-grinding episodes of soapy melodrama while the jungle-based mid-section ends somewhat abruptly. Karlson handles the action adeptly enough, and there is a significant role for Sabu, star of Elephant Boy (1937) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940), who sadly died from a heart attack the year this was released (his last film being: A Tiger Walks (1964)). Elmer Bernstein contributes a marvellous score that includes the sing-along safari theme song.