Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Naked Jungle

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Naked Jungle - 1954, Unrated

This year marked the passing of one of Hollywood greats - Charlton Heston.
Having already spotlighted "Soylent Green" it took a while to find the right Heston flick to honor his passing and this one delivers the goods. The last word on Heston should be that he was a stand-up guy but media outlets blew it by focusing on his support of the N.R.A. and his appearance in Roger Moore's "Bowling for Columbine". I've enjoyed Moore's films but duping Heston (who was afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease) was a low blow and not necessary within the context of that documentary. Chuck was first and foremost and actor. He was also a devoted one who would put aside his personal opinions for the sake of his art, which was evident when he fought the Hollywood machine to keep Sam Peckinpah on as director of "Major Dundee". This was done despite the fact that Heston thought the director was too hard on the crew. The man honored his contracts and made an eight-year-old girl's day when he sent my sister an autographed photo after she sent him a fan letter (after viewing "Planet of the Apes"). Heston didn't brag about his politics but he was active in the Civil Rights Movement when it wasn't a popular position among the eliteay. Let's get on with the show.
Heston stars in "The Naked Jungle" as Christopher Leningen. He's a somewhat driven dude who has carved a living out of a South American jungle by building a cocoa plantation.
When the movie begins he has been ensconced there for fifteen years and has just arranged to marry a young woman, from New Orleans, that he has never met.
We meet the bride, Joanna, as she travels down river to his location. She's a beaut but she doesn't hear anything positive about her spouse from a diplomat on board. There's an ominous undercurrent too as everyone on the boat is spooked at seeing birds flying in retreat from the area.
Things start out poorly with Joanna not being met at the dock by her new husband who, instead, sends his servants for her. He finally shows up stinking from the jungle and they get off to a poor start. He's initially taken by her beauty and the fact that she was hired to weed out the bad apples (50 in all) who applied for the position as Mrs. Leningen (she essentially pulled a Dick Cheney and decided no one was more qualified for the job than herself, and look how that turned out). Things really go south when she admits to having been married before. Leningen has a thing for new stuff and this sends him off the deep end.
They try to make a go of it but he's too stubborn and inexperienced, socially, to get over the fact that he is not her first love. Eventually he decides to send her packing but their problems multiply when they learn that an army is marching their way - an army of soldier ants. Stubborn Chuck opts to stay behind and fight while most everyone else splits except for Joanna and some devoted workers. This all despite the fact that the ant army is 2 miles wide and 20 miles long. A heated battle ensues with the bugs proving to be as powerful as monsoon season as they evade traps such as moats, fire, and stomping native feet.
The resourceful Leningen hangs in there but ultimately must decide whether to destroy everything he's built in order to defeat his six legged enemy. It all leads to an exciting finale that finds the Chuck-meister having to stagger through a mile of ants to blow up the dam that will, in turn, destroy his empire.
This is great stuff that only suffers from some stilted dialog and melodramatic music cues that actually saps the narrative of some of its power. The ant scenes are well rendered by director Byron Haskin, who started out in special effects and would go on to direct six episodes of the original "Outer Limits". Heston is in fine form as the stubborn plantation owner who's more socially challenged than Paris Hilton at a Mensa meeting. Eleanor Parker is fetching as Joanna and would go on to nab an Oscar nomination for her strong work in "Detective Story" opposite Kirk Douglas.
All in all this is the odd Lagoon film that most of the family can enjoy.
Best Line: "You're very beautiful. Intelligent. Accomplished. There must be something wrong with you."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.