If you go into the forbidden forest, be wary, for Audrey Hepburn may be watching you. In one cool shot in 1959's Green Mansions, Hepburn peels silkily out of a shadowed hollow in a tree behind the hapless Anthony Perkins. Perkins actually gives an engaging performance as an action/adventure lead but by far the best reason to watch this otherwise poorly directed film by Mel Ferrer is Audrey Hepburn.
Based on the 1904 book by naturalist William Henry Hudson, the film opens with title cards explaining the pride the filmmakers took in being able to film in the actual South American jungles of the book. Some footage does indeed appear to have been shot in South America but there's no evidence Hepburn or Perkins were ever there. When they're not on sound stages or in distinctively southern Californian environs, the stars are often shot before incredibly obvious blue screen.
The movie follows Perkins as Abel, a refugee from war torn Venezuela who has a vague plan about finding Aztec gold to fund raising an army to retake the country. In the wilderness, he's captured by a tribe led by Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa playing a south American native.
Maybe he was one of the last to come over the Bering land bridge.
To prove his worth, Abel undergoes an endurance trial where he stands before them, endlessly talking about his backstory. The scene dissolves to him standing there at the point of exhaustion, his lips chapped, then he observes he's "outlasted the sun" which is getting low in the sky--meaning he's stood and talked 'til evening. So I guess he's kind of a lightweight, not sure what the deal is with his lips.
He's eventually tasked with going into the forbidden forest where the natives believe Rima (Hepburn) is a forest goddess of some kind who murdered the chief's son. Despite Hepburn hiding suspiciously behind foliage and communicating with the animals, she's eventually revealed to be a helpless orphan, living with an old man (Lee J. Cobb), her adoptive father, alone.
She eventually insists on going back to her birth village despite how dangerous the old man tells her the journey would be and Abel telling her how the nearby natives want her dead. She turns out, disappointingly, to be an unreasonable helpless burden. Yet, it's great listening to Hepburn talk about the animals and the plants, seeing her commune with her dead mother by lying on her stomach and speaking into the ground.
I wonder if Givenchy designed the plain sackcloth--the only thing she wears for the entire movie. Actually, it's a bit thin for sackcloth. She's so thin, it's not like seeing Marilyn Monroe or Gina Lollobrigida half naked--one feels more concerned for Hepburn. I wanted to get her a coat. But she is lovely. It's especially nice seeing her with long hair.
She does look natural as a surrogate mother to a small fawn which Hepburn raised in her home in order for the creature to exhibit genuine attachment to her in the film.