Cast & Crew
In the jungles of South America, in 1901, Joanna Leiningen of New Orleans travels by river boat to meet her new husband Christopher for the first time. As they near the Leiningen cocoa plantation, Joanna, who was married by proxy, quizzes the local commissioner about Christopher, but he divulges little. After disembarking at the plantation, Joanna meets some of Christopher's native workers, including Incacha, his "number one man" and Zala, her personal servant, who shows her to her bedroom. That night, Joanna finally meets Christopher as he comes in from the jungle, sweaty and disheveled. Christopher is startled by his beautiful, refined wife, and although she assures him that she is ready to fulfill "all her marital obligations," he is formal and abrupt with her. When Joanna reveals that she was moved by some of the lonely letters he sent to his brother, a friend who was put in charge of finding Christopher a wife, Christopher bristles at the suggestion of weakness and departs. The following evening, Christopher orders Joanna to play the new grand piano he bought for her and then asks if she speaks any foreign languages. After uttering some French, Joanna accuses Christopher of treating her like a commodity, and he complains that she is too "perfect" and must be hiding something. When Joanna admits that she is a widow and that her previous husband was a drunk, Christopher, who has lived in the jungle since he was nineteen and has no experience with women, rejects her as "used." Later, Joanna witnesses a native execution and criticizes Christopher for doing nothing to stop it. In response, Christopher gives Joanna a tour of the plantation, pointing out the prevailing cruelity of jungle life, including a shrunken head coveted by Kutina, his most loyal worker. Repulsed, Joanna retreats to the house and barely speaks to Christopher, annoying him with her silence. When she retires to her bedroom and begins undressing, he sees her silhouette through the window and becomes aroused. After drowning his confusion in drink, Christopher breaks down Joanna's bedroom door and grabs her, then sensing her revulsion, pushes her away. Christopher confesses that he cannot accept another man's "leavings," and Joanna agrees to return to New Orleans on the next boat, which is due in a few weeks. Later, the commissioner returns to the plantation with Gruber, another American planter, who has accused Christopher of stealing two of his contracted workers. To keep the sadistic Gruber from taking his men back, Christopher accuses them of murder, and the commissioner goes along with the ruse until Gruber finally leaves, angry but empty-handed. That night, the commissioner dines with the Leiningens and is saddened to learn about Joanna's departure. However, the commissioner's concerns about Christopher's emotional state are quickly overshadowed by his current mission¿to investigate why birds and monkeys have been fleeing the jungle around the Rio Negro. When the commissioner confesses his suspicion that the source of the problem is "Marabunta," Christopher insists on accompanying him to the Rio Negro and then tells Joanna that she is leaving with them in the morning and will be catching the mail boat upriver. Although Christopher apologizes to Joanna and admits he is confused and uncertain, he maintains that she will be better off in New Orleans, single again. The next morning, Joanna, Christopher and the commissioner head for the Rio Negro with a group of natives, and while camped that night, become aware of an eery silence. Sensing danger, Christopher insists they decamp immediately, and the following day, they come across an abandoned village. After Gruber's body is discovered with its face eaten away, Christopher leads the others to a hilltop overlooking a valley. Down below, the ground appears black, and Christopher informs Joanna that the valley is swarming with Marabunta, billions of soldier ants, who are eating their way across the jungle. Christopher calculates that the ants will reach his plantation in one week and declares he is fighting the invasion. At Joanna's insistence, Christopher takes her back to the plantation, then convinces his terrified workers to stay by pointing out the bravery of his "woman." With little time to spare, Christopher directs his men to create a moat around the walled-in plantation house, hoping the ants will not be able to cross the water. On the eve of the ants's anticipated arrival, Christopher and Joanna finally admit their feelings for each other and kiss. The ants arrive the next day, devouring everything in sight, and begin floating across the moat on fallen leaves. Christopher orders everyone to retreat to the plantation house and rings the walls with fire, using furniture as fuel. Although the fire diverts the ants, Christopher runs out of furniture before they have completely passed. The next day, Christopher covers himself with oil--ant repellent--and dashes with some explosives to a large dam upriver. After setting the explosives, Christopher scrambles away, then is swept up in the ensuing flood of water. The overflowing river drowns the remaining ants, and Joanna is greatly relieved when her husband stumbles out of the water and into her arms.
Ronald Alan Numkena
Jerry S. Groves
Pilar Del Rey
John E. Woodd
R. A. Blaydon
Frank Freeman Jr.
John P. Fulton
Reginald Lal Singh
The Naked Jungle
The Naked Jungle opens telling us the action takes place "somewhere in South America." It begins when the beautiful and sophisticated Joanna Leiningen (Eleanor Parker) makes her way down the Amazon River (presumably as it's never stated) on her way to meet her new husband, Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston). He's the owner of a cocoa plantation and has arranged for a marriage after 15 years in the jungle so he could leave behind a legacy. The two were married by proxy and have never met.
Joanna is accompanied by the area commissioner, played by William Conrad and when she finally meets up with Christopher, he's none too happy about it. He was looking for a woman to be a servile wife and Joanna is intelligent, witty, talented, and independent. She's also beautiful and Christopher can't believe someone like her could ever be a mail-order bride. He's right, as it turns out. She volunteered when his brother asked her for advice on a bride for Christopher. It further turns out she's a widow, to Christopher's dismay, and he a virgin. No, he doesn't actually use that word but he makes it more than clear he's never been with a woman and he was expecting the wife he got to have never been with another man.
This brings on many awkward moments for the characters, and many cringingly sexist moments for the modern day audience. Christopher can't help but imply, rather bluntly, that a widow is a used up woman. In one humorous, innuendo-filled scene, he tells her the grand piano he bought for her to play had never been used and that's what makes it special. She replies that anyone who knows music knows a piano is better if it's been played and fine-tuned. The two agree to part ways only to have nature intervene in the form of millions of army ants, herding towards his cocoa plantation and spelling sure disaster for everything he's worked for.
The Naked Jungle saves the army ants for the end but that, of course, is why everyone went to see it in the first place. No one goes to see a movie like this for the romance. They see it for the ant attack and director Byron Haskin and producer George Pal make damn sure the climax pays off. The audience gets to see men eaten alive by ants, ants devouring field after field of cocoa, explosions, massive floods, and Charlton Heston heroically saving the day. Haskin and Pal were old hands at such things by this point. They had worked together on the aforementioned The War of the Worlds and knew how to please a crowd when it came to a special effects spectacle. It was in the romance department, and the cultural sensitivity department, that they didn't exactly earn top honors.
There are a few unfortunate scenes in the movie that deride native South American cultures (though since they refuse to name the country, we can't be sure which ones) as primitive and savage. In one scene, Christopher calls over one of his men and points out that he is the most civilized and intelligent of the bunch. Christopher then asks him to show Joanna his "treasure" which turns out to be a shrunken head. He remarks that even though his ancestors were Mayan, who had achieved so much scientifically, they spent too long in the jungle and, it's implied, went simple in the head. Ugh.
Which leaves the ants and, technically, they didn't get that part right either but if they had, there wouldn't have been much of a movie. Army ants, or the Marabunta, are known for their aggressive foraging in which they can form impressively long chains of ants, stirring up small animals and insects in the process. When they forage, villages simply corral them through town, houses, and public spaces until the process is complete. Don't tell the Leiningens. Of course, that wouldn't make for a very exciting climax so the ants of The Naked Jungle don't just relocate, they destroy everything they can and require burning and flooding everything in their path just to stop them.
The Naked Jungle, along with another adventure movie that year, Secret of the Incas, cemented Heston's status as an adventure star and in a couple of years, with his role as Moses in The Ten Commandments, his legend would be secured. Byron Haskin and George Pal would work together again on The Conquest of Space (1955), but never matched the success of their earlier works. Eleanor Parker would continue her prolific career, culminating in her most famous role, that of the Baroness in The Sound of Music in 1965. And The Naked Jungle would forever instill in the minds of people that army ants swarming are an unstoppable mass of destruction that requires Heston and lots of dynamite to save the day.
Director: Byron Haskin
Producer: George Pal
Writer: Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: Everett Douglas
Art Direction: Franz Bachelin and Hal Pereira
Costume Design: Edith Head
Cast: Eleanor Parker (Joanna Leiningen), Charlton Heston (Christopher Leiningen), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), William Conrad (Commissioner), Romo Vincent (Boat Captain), Douglas Fowley (Medicine Man), John Dierkes (Gruber), Leonard Strong (Kutina), Norma Calderón (Zala).
By Greg Ferrara
The Naked Jungle
The Naked Jungle on DVD
The original short story focused on the defense against the insect army, which becomes the movie's Act 3. The screenwriters have added a lengthy subplot direct from the torrid romance pulps. Eleanor Parker is the brave woman who faces a strange new land and a hostile new husband. Both she and a young Charlton Heston do exceptionally well bringing these melodramatic cliches to life.
Synopsis: Mail order bride Joanna Leiningen (Eleanor Parker) arrives at her new husband's plantation stronghold in Brazil, only to find him a cold and heartless man. Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) is handsome enough, but he's obsessed with fighting superstition, disease and the elements to carve his kingdom out of the pitiless jungle. When he discovers that Joanna has been married before, he mutters something about 'used goods' and treats her with hostility and contempt. Joanna fights an uphill battle to get Chris's attention, until a crisis comes along that demands all the help he can get. A black tide of billions of army ants called "Marabunda" is moving toward Leiningen's delta plantation, devouring everything in its path. And there's no known way to stop it!
The Naked Jungle falls into two distinct parts, pre- and post-invasion. Like a Jane Eyre in the jungle, Joanna tries music, heavy breathing and yearning looks but still fails to communicate with her brooding Byronic hubby. Most of his conversation consists of bitter insults, and our "strong" heroine sees her role as weathering them while searching for the path to his heart. It's basic stuff, but it works well with actors as committed as these. Heston's intransigence is an early preview of his later work in much bigger epics; his Major Dundee is played almost identically.
Paramount's on-the-lot depiction of the Brazilian interior is better than the screenplay's treatment of Leiningen's native workers. Mattes and a clever dressing of the studio pond work fairly well, but the racial attitudes are strictly dime novel. Leiningen treats his Indian workers like mindless children, and struts his Anglo superiority in the old-fashioned God-in-his-domain style. Chris doesn't beat his employees like his nasty jungle neighbor Gruber (a very Nazi-like John Dierkes) so we're supposed to think he's benevolent. But Leiningen's every instruction is a threat or an insult, with the main argument being that the Indians were just savages out in the forest until he came along to make wage slaves out of them.
Joanna's effort to get Christopher's attention goes for naught until the ants finally show up, none too soon for adventure fans growing weary of soap opera. Joanna wins her man's respect by standing with him to defend the homestead: He uses her presence as the wedge to retain his skittish native workforce. "Leiningen doesn't run! Leiningen's woman doesn't run!" Yep, that's the perfect colonial wife, always in there swinging to help her man keep the natives in their place.
The ant attack is still fairly impressive, thanks to a flurry of imaginative optical shots engineered by John P. Fulton. Piles of real ants are used for close-ups, and shown swarming over foreground objects matted in front of location footage. Some brave extras allow hundreds of real ants to crawl over them, creating images that will make sensitive viewers' skin crawl. For wider shots the all-devouring ant horde is depicted with mattes showing a red-brown carpet spreading across the landscape. In medium and longer shots, it looks as though dyed oatmeal or something similar has been tossed on the actors to represent the attacking insects. Modern CGI effects would surely come up with more dynamic visuals, but these are quite good.
Leiningen ends up destroying his farm to save it, yet finds true love in the bargain. The Naked Jungle would make an excellent discussion film about manifest destiny and colonialism.
Actor William Conrad, the hit man from Robert Siodmak's The Killers has a good supporting role as a friend of the family down on the ol' Amazon. The soap opera section of The Naked Jungle has a lot in common with Paramount's Liz Taylor film Elephant Walk released the same year. I wouldn't be surprised if it were shot on a lot of the same sets, redressed, as the two plantation houses are somewhat similar.
Paramount's DVD of The Naked Jungle looks fine but has been presented full-frame even though it was a widescreen release meant to be matted for projection. Paramount has just released Pal's Science Fiction movie Conquest of Space in the proper widescreen format, so someone must have decided that the effects looked better full-frame. I screened the film cropped on a widescreen monitor and the compositions looked far better matted than flat.
There are no extras on the disc. The rumor on the street is that Paramount is preparing a deluxe special edition of Pal's War of the Worlds to accompany the upcoming Spielberg remake of that classic epic. I hope it will restore the original stereophonic mix; it showed up on laser disc in the middle 90s, but the present War of the Worlds DVD is mono.
For more information about The Naked Jungle, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order The Naked Jungle, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Naked Jungle on DVD
If you knew anything about music, you'd know that the best piano is one that's been played.- Joanna Leiningen
While preparing to shoot the sequence where Leiningen pours oil on himself to repel the ants, Charlton Heston was told that oil would ruin his wardrobe so syrup would be used instead. Heston spent a miserable day on location as the "oil" attracted every insect for miles.
William Conrad, who plays the commissioner in this movie, played the lead role of Lienigan in the 1948 radio play, "Lienigan vs. the Ants", the original story upon which this movie was based.
Charlton Heston improvised during the argument scene between 'Eleanor Parker' and himself. It was not scripted that he splash perfume all over her. This move intensified the action and a surprised Parker was able to react accordingly.
The working title of this film was Leiningen Versus the Ants. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts list the picture as widescreen, no other source mentions the process. A month before principal photography began, Byron Haskin replaced Joseph H. Lewis as director. Haskin directed producer George Pal's previous film, War of the Worlds (see below). According to a September 1953 New York Times article, Paramount cancelled a trip to photograph ants on Barros Colorado Island near Panama because the ants were in hibernation at the time. Instead, the studio used soldier ants shipped to Hollywood from the Rocky and High Sierra Mountains. According to modern sources, the flooding and explosion scenes were filmed with miniatures. On June 7, 1954, Charlton Heston reprised his role for a Lux Radio Theatre version of the story, co-starring Donna Reed.
Released in United States on Video March 1988
Released in United States Spring April 1954
Released in United States on Video March 1988
Released in United States Spring April 1954