It’s 1901. At 19, tough, stubborn Christopher Leiningen came to South America and built levees to claim thousands of acres of Rio Negro river land for a chocolate plantation. Now 34, with no knowledge of women, he recruits a mail-order bride in New Orleans. She’s beautiful, independent, and arrives ready to be his stalwart helpmate; however, no one has told him she’s a widow. He rejects her. During the next week, as she awaits the boat to take her back to the US, they learn that legions of army ants will strike in a few days’ time. She joins the fight to save the plantation; their courage and his probable loss of all he’s worked for may crack his resolve to send her away.
User Reviews: The Naked Jungle is directed by Byron Haskin and based around the short story Leiningen Versus The Ants written by Carl Stephenson. It stars Charlton Heston, Eleanor Parker, Abraham Sofaer and William Conrad. Music is scored by Daniele Amfitheatrof and cinematography by Ernest Laszlo.
1901, South America, and mail order bride Joanna Selby (Parker) arrives at the plantation owned by her husband Christopher Leiningen. She is shocked to find life at the plantation is hardly idyllic, but not as shocked as Leiningen is when he finds out that Joanna was once married before. With his own hang ups gnawing away at him and he refusing to accept Joanna as his bride, the relationship appears to be heading nowhere. However, she’s made of stern stuff, and when a swarm of soldier ants is known to be heading towards the plantation, Joanna and Chris might just find that love is actually there?
Filmed in glorious Technicolor by Laszlo and produced by George Pal (Destination Moon/The War of the Worlds/The Time Machine), The Naked Jungle seems to be a forgotten movie on the CV’s of Pal and Heston. A crying shame since it’s very well mounted and carries a uniqueness worthy of further delving. Perhaps it got lost in the slipstream of Them! The other Ant movie out that year? What transpires is an hour of interesting character build up, where Heston & Parker’s characters take centre stage and benefit from literate writing (Philip Yordan). The sweaty backdrop of the jungle plantation keeps things on the simmer, but it’s the dialect and emoting of the performers that really holds the interest. True, Heston does at times over do it with some "woe is me" acting as he looks off into the distance (he has major issues we learn), but it works because it bounces off of Parker’s (a Technicolor treat for the eyes) intelligent and stoic performance.
Film then shifts to creature feature territory for the last third. Once the army of Marabunta are spied off in the distance, laying waste to everything in their path, picture has become a war involving man against nature, where if man wins? He may not only save his life, but more pertinently his soul. Heston stops the tortured emoting and sticks out is lantern jaw, squares up his shoulders and stands firm in the face of such a hostile and intelligent enemy. By his side, the wife, multi talented and brave of heart, they make quite a couple. The chemistry between the two is simmering with sexual tension, and thanks to the writing the characters are fabulously engaging and make us care about the outcome of picture. Director Haskin, too, utilises the scenery and plantation setting to frame his protagonists for maximum impact, his camera work airy and unobtrusive. While his crafting of the biblical fight against the ants is thrilling and boosted no end by marvellous effects work (John P. Fulton).
An oddity? Yes, for sure. But it’s a smart and intelligent picture that successfully manages to blend the sci-fi and nature aspects with complex human characterisations. 8/10