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  Naked Jungle, The Ant Attack
Year: 1954
Director: Byron Haskin
Stars: Charlton Heston, Eleanor Parker, William Conrad, Abraham Sofaer, John Dierkes, Douglas Fowley, Romo Vincent, Leonard Strong
Genre: Romance, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1901, and Joanna (Eleanor Parker) hails from New Orleans, but has embarked on an adventure to South America and the Amazon Jungle. The reason? She has agreed to be married to Leiningen (Charlton Heston), a plantation owner she has never met, but she knew his brother for some time, and they both arranged the union. On the boat trip there, everyone who knows her new husband is strangely reluctant to tell her what he's like, and when they finally arrive at the area of the plantation where he lives, his manservant (Abraham Sofaer) is sent to meet Joanna and take her to the house. When Leiningen finally does show up, he's not what Joanna was expecting - and vice versa.

Written by Ben Maddow (credited under Philip Yordan's name) and Ranald MacDougall, from a story by Carl Stephenson, The Naked Jungle was a mixture of romance and daring exploits in an exotic locale from the producer (George Pal) and director (Byron Haskin) team who had brought out War of the Worlds recently before. The most celebrated aspect of the film is the onslaught of millions of ants that enlivens the final act and brings the simmering sexual tension to the boil, but before we reach that there is the problem of getting Heston and Parker's characters to get along with each other. Leiningen is a man who has built up his empire of cocoa beans with his "bare hands", and is fiercely proud of his achievements; now he wants children but has to go through the tricky business of falling in love first.

Initially, Leiningen treats Joanna's presence as a business arrangement, and the story settles into a pattern of wary conversations between the two. Joanna is more independently minded than he was hoping, and Leiningen is more arrogant than she was hoping, so her efforts at friendliness towards him tend to be thrown back in her face for most of the time. She compliments the food ("It's lizard," he replies tersely), plays the piano (which needs frequent playing to keep it tune - unsubtle sexual metaphor ahoy) and tries to fit in with the alien world she has entered, but it looks as if she will never be accepted. Great play is made of the culture clash, with several scenes of Joanna failing to understand the natives' rituals, which include putting a transgressor on top of a wooden tower and firing darts at him through a blow pipe.

Joanna is disturbed by their supposed savagery, which also includes casually carrying shrunken heads around. As Parker suffers prettily, with the oppressive heat of the environment obviously getting on everyone's nerves, Heston puts in a rather one note performance, with the scenes where he philosophises about his "complex" personality unintentionally amusing. The new husband and wife are obviously attracted to each other, but are significantly unable to make a connection, as can be seen one night when Leiningen gets roaring drunk, bursts into Joanna's bedroom, smashes some perfume bottles and awkwardly tries to force himself on her. Deeply unimpressed by this, Joanna makes up her mind that the Amazonian life is not for her, and decides to leave on the next boat upriver.

However, there is something looming on the horizon that will bring them together, lots of tiny somethings, in fact. The local Commissioner (William Conrad) visits to warn Leiningen that there's a strange atmosphere in the jungle, it's quiet - too quiet. They take a trip deeper into the vegetation to discover villages have been deserted and Leiningen's rival has been reduced to a skeleton. Yes, the soldier ants are on the march, and if the film has a villain, its those critters. Now our hero has to stop the insects from laying waste to his property, a near impossible task. If watching nature documentaries about bugs makes your skin itch, then The Naked Jungle is not for you, but the rampage of ants is spectacularly handled and the highlight of the action as Heston is driven to near insanity as he battles in vain. It's almost like watching a horror film by the end as the invaders eat everything, including people, in their path. The only problem is that fans of the romantic angle might not like the ants, and fans of the ants might have a hard time sitting through the romance. Music by Daniele Amfiteatrof.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Byron Haskin  (1899 - 1984)

American director, cinematographer and special effects pioneer. Entered Hollywood in 1919 as an assistant cameraman, and was director of photography for several John Barrymore films. Haskin directed a few films in the late 1920s and worked in England as a technical advisor, and in 1937 became head of Warner's special effects department. In the 1945 he joined Paramount to resume his directing career, where he worked for the next 20 years, turning in such sci-fi classics as The War of the Worlds, From the Earth to the Moon and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, plus the adventure yarn The Naked Jungle.

 
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