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Paramount Studios presents
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DVD ReviewThe ants are on the march in The Naked Jungle, and only Charlton Heston can stop them. But the most fearsome creature in this 1954 jungle tale is Eleanor Parker, his mail-order bride and the only woman he's ever known.
B-movie maven George Pal produced this thriller, ostensibly about an unstoppable army of carnivorous ants bearing down on a remote jungle location. But really, the ants are an afterthought—they aren't mentioned until over an hour has passed, and they don't show up on screen until even later. Most of the screen time is spent on the potboiler romance between Heston, an explorer type who left home at a young age to conquer the jungle and never had time for women, and Eleanor Parker, a new bride with a secret, and an independent disposition that frightens her husband.
The script is engaging if pretty goofy, but Heston and Parker play it with dead seriousness and it works. The dialogue is surprisingly memorable—when Heston finds out his "perfect" woman has been married before, he complains he only likes new things, like his brand new, never been played piano. "If you knew anything about pianos, you'd know they're better if they've been played," she responds, speaking over the heads of the Hays Code censors. Heston has trouble dealing with her past, and her fiery spirit. At one point, he freaks out because she won't wear his special perfume, so he proceeds to dump the whole bottle onto her in a rage (the bit was reportedly a Heston improv). But she softens to him when she sees the caliber of books in his library, and doesn't believe him when he says he simply ordered them "by the pound." Nope, he's a sensitive, sexually frustrated jungle man, and she's going to stay and play his piano, even when the threat of ants looms large (a menace not seen in 20 years, a jungle guide says, and "a 40-foot-wide trail of death!").
There's nothing realistic about this adventure yarn—it's the kind of movie in which Eleanor Parker remains painted and well-pressed in the heat of the jungle, while the men spout sweat stains in the oddest places (at one point, Heston has a huge dark patch on his... stomach?)—but its got a lot of amusing touches. The sets never approach realism, no matter how overcranked the jungle soundtrack (Monkey screams? Check). The faithful South American natives who welcome Heston's oppression are treated with all the subtlety and cultural respect of a tribe of Ewoks (check out the "lo um packey fwey" made-up language), and I think George Lucas stole some bits from the film-ending ant siege for his little sci-fi movie. The ants themselves look sort of like a black scourge on a matte painting. That is, until Heston uses his trusty eyepiece from a mile away and is able to zoom in on individual ants crawling around ("They must have sent out a scout of some kind. Look, there it is!"). The insects can devour a man in seconds, but they only do so offscreen ("They must have caught him while he was drunk," Heston says after finding a freshly cleaned skeleton in a boat. He promptly forgets the incident, however, when his plan for defeating them banks heavily on the fact that he thinks ants can't travel over water.)
The Naked Jungle is essentially a big tease for Killer Insect fanatics, but if you like your bug horror with a nice slice of melodrama, look no further.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: According to the IMDb, The Naked Jungle screened at 1.75:1. I can't find evidence of that anywhere else, however, so I'm going to defer to Paramount's track record on this one and assume they know better. And it certainly looks liked it was framed in the Academy ratio, because I noticed neither tight cropping to indicate zooms nor a lot of space at the top and bottom of the frame.
In any case, this vintage Technicolor film looks quite nice on DVD. Colors have that saturated, old Hollywood feel throughout, despite a subtle "pulsing" effect that pops up here and there. Grain is consistent with a film of this vintage, and unobtrusive. The print is in great shape, and shows good detail, and blacks are suitably solid.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: For the most part, the original mono mix sounds pretty good. Dialogue is clear, and sound effects come across well. The bombastic musical score sounds a bit compressed, particularly during more dramatic moments, but it works well enough.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: There are, not surprisingly, no extras.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA corny, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-style adventure the likes of which we'll never see again from Hollywood (particularly since the box office failure of genre throwback Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), The Naked Jungle is a charming artifact of a bygone era. A time in which the struggle of man vs. woman was trumped only by the struggle of man vs. ANTS! And the remake (currently in production... seriously) will probably star Ice Cube and J-Lo or something, so get your fill of the original while you can.
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