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  Female Jungle Nighthawks
Year: 1954
Director: Bruno VeSota
Stars: Lawrence Tierney, John Carradine, Burt Kaiser, Jayne Mansfield, Kathleen Crowley, Duane Grey, James Kodl, Davis Roberts, Bruce Carlisle, Connie Cezan, Bruno VeSota
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: One night, an aspiring movie starlet is murdered, strangled across the street from a bar. Police sergeant Stevens (Lawrence Tierney) was drinking his cares away in that bar, and he wanders out to see what is happening while the police are investigating the crime scene. Talking with one of the bar workers, he realises that he had spent the evening with a blonde, not unlike the murdered girl, but now he can't recall anything about what he's done for the past three hours. Could he be the killer, and have blocked out all memory of the assault? He now has to solve the case in record time to clear his name...

A would-be noirish thriller from the time that police procedurals were popular, Female Jungle was written by actor Burt Kaiser and the director Bruno VeSota. It doesn't really succeed as a film noir, but it does paint a vivid picture of a three o'clock in the morning world inhabited by despairing characters, brought to life by some cult favourites and never-were stars. The title "Female Jungle" may have got it attention on a double bill if there was nothing else on, sounding sexually mysterious and alluring, but the drama is more about desperation and figures lost in the apparently never ending darkness - this is one of the few films that take place entirely at night.

There's not even dusk at the start or dawn breaking at the end to indicate that there's life during the hours of daylight. Once the murder has been introduced, we get to meet the suspects. While Stevens begins his investigations, we follow the story of Alex Voe (Kaiser, also the producer), a caricaturist who makes his meagre living drawing cartoons of people who frequent local bars. His marriage to Peggy (Kathleen Crowley) is strained, and when he returns home, he finds a mysterious stranger, actually gossip columnist Almstead (John Carradine), on his doorstep asking for a caricature.

After inviting him in, Alex has a fight with his wife, leaving her alone with the menacing writer. One thing all these characters have in common is a love of the bottle, they're all of them wondering where their next drink is coming from, so when Peggy reveals there is no alcohol in the flat, Almstead suggests they go out. Meanwhile, Stevens is piecing together an outline of who the murder victim knew and who is the most likely suspect (apart from himself, of course), and swearing off drink in the process. He ends up at the apartment of Candy, played by Jayne Mansfield, making an impression in her first notable role as a trashy mistress (and borderline nympho).

There are many odd touches to make Female Jungle stick in the mind. When Almstead takes Peggy back to his house, he asks her if she wants to hear a little music, then puts on a classical work at full volume, giving her a headache. Then there's the bar owner who continually asks whether he can close up for the night, and when a punch-up erupts between Stevens and another police sergeant, he asks whether he should call the cops. Although it ends as talky (after the violent apprehension of the killer) as the rest of the movie has been, the film's shadowy atmosphere wins out, maybe not as hardboiled as it would wish, but substantial enough for its low budget ambitions. Good for late night viewing. Music by Nicholas Carras.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Bruno VeSota  (1922 - 1976)

Tubby American character actor who became a minor cult star due to his frequent appearances in exploitation films of the 1950s and 60s, most popularly those of Roger Corman. As a director, he gave us moody thriller Female Jungle and sci-fi adventures The Brain Eaters and Invasion of the Star Creatures.

 
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