Charlton Heston rubbing bug repellent on Eleanor Parker's back is the closest 1954's The Naked Jungle
gets to having nudity. But unlike most other films from the 50s and early 60s with the word "naked" in the title, there is at least some literal justification for it. It's a surprisingly provoking, albeit silly, disaster film.
It's based on a short story called "Leiningen Versus the Ants", referring to the Marabunta, South American army ants who in the movie devour every scrap of organic matter in their path leaving behind a literally naked jungle.
In the final third of the film, Christopher Leiningen defends his sprawling plantation against the ants, though most of the film concerns the arrival from New Orleans of Christopher's mail order bride, Joanna (Eleanor Parker).
Parker gets top billing in this movie though her performance isn't nearly as interesting as the one she gives in The Woman in White
. Still, her character functions well as the strong, bold, experienced woman. She's too perfect is Christopher's initial opinion which he feels is confirmed when he discovers she's been married before, to an alcoholic who died only a year into the marriage.
Christopher has a reaction when he learns this that reminded me a lot of James Caan's in Red Line 7000
--Caan had angrily pointed at his new shirt and his new shoes, Heston here points at his new piano and talks about his other new possessions, telling her only new things are good enough for him. In this case, though, the woman is given a pretty nice comeback as she tells him, "If you knew anything about music you'd know that the best piano is one that's been played."
But there's more to his reaction than she guesses as he later tells her that when he came to South America at the age of 19 he hadn't had time for women while he was making his little fiefdom. And afterwards, he wasn't the sort of man who'd "go into the villages at night". It's not hard to read between the lines to figure out he's a virgin. When she tells him his flaw is his pride we can see why this is a pretty big stumbling block.
And this is also a pretty extraordinary subject for a 1954 adventure film. I mean, when Red Line 7000
explores the same territory a decade later it seems progressive.
Of course, one can point to the dated attitudes towards race and sex when considering Christopher wouldn't think of sleeping with a South American woman. One could also point out it's actually rather hard to tell it is
South America for much of the movie. Some of the costumes and sets actually make it look more like India.
But I found myself genuinely invested in Joanna and Christopher's relationship, wanting them to work through their individual issues. Even the ant attack was pretty good, the ants making little rafts out of leaves to get across the moat doesn't seem quite realistic but it was pretty neat.