The Naked Jungle (1954)


(director: Byron Haskin; screenwriters: Philip Yordan/Ranald MacDougall/Ben Maddow/story by Carl Stephenson; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Everett Douglas; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Eleanor Parker (Joanna Leiningen), Charlton Heston (Christopher Leiningen), William Conrad (Commissioner), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), Norma Calderon (Zala), John Dierkes (Gruber), Douglas Fowley (Medicine Man); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Pal; Paramount; 1954)

“A wonderfully strange jungle melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Byron Haskin (“The Power”) directs a wonderfully strange jungle melodrama set in the early 1900’s on Charlton Heston’s South American plantation. Haskins was director on War of the Worlds the previous year for celebrated special effects producer George Pal. The Naked Jungle combines a heavy dose of sexual symbolism with exotic adventure. It is lushly shot by Ernest Laszlo. The intelligent story by Carl Stephenson and understanding script by Philip Yordan is a film version of the gripping old radio show called Leiningen Versus the Ants.

The 34-year-old self-made plantation owner, Heston, battles an army of red ants and suffers through a loveless marriage with the gorgeous and sophisticated red-headed Eleanor Parker, sent for as a mail-order bride from New Orleans. The cultured lady who plays the piano and speaks several languages doesn’t quite fit into the steamy jungle scene, and Heston’s impotence leaves him despairing for himself and filled with disgust for her. The macho man hides the fact that he’s never slept with a woman before, as a result is filled with inner turmoil. As Heston rejects her and packs her off to go back home by boat, the ants attack and threaten to ruin everything he’s built for the last 15 years. Heston begins to change his mind when she stays and joins the biblical fight against the ants. The climactic scene of the invading ants is a marvel in special effects, offering some good old-fashioned thrills.