The Naked Jungle

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The Leiningen South American cocoa plantation is threatened by a 2-mile-wide, 20-mile-long column of army ants.

ACTORS  :  Charlton Heston, Eleanor Parker, Abraham Sofaer

YEAR OF RELEASE  :  1954

SHIPPING COST  :  AUSTRALIA FREE

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The Naked Jungle  It’s 1901. At 19, tough, stubborn Christopher Leiningen came to South America and built levees to claim thousands of acres of Rio Negro river land for a chocolate plantation. Now 34, with no knowledge of women, he recruits a mail-order bride in New Orleans. She’s beautiful, independent, and arrives ready to be his stalwart helpmate; however, no one has told him she’s a widow. He rejects her. During the next week, as she awaits the boat to take her back to the US, they learn that legions of army ants will strike in a few days’ time. She joins the fight to save the plantation; their courage and his probable loss of all he’s worked for may crack his resolve to send her away.

Marabunta! – when ants come, the monkeys run!

 

The Naked Jungle  An old style Hollywood adventure taking place in the Amazon jungles circa year 1901, this is a favorite of mine from TV showings dating back 30 years ago. A portion of the jungles have been tamed by Heston’s character as the story begins; he’s carved out his own little kingdom with sweat and blood, with the help of local natives, and now his new wife (Parker), married by proxy, arrives. This is one of Heston’s better characters: he’s well-suited to play this proud, often arrogant male, driven to build a personal empire to perhaps compensate for the inherent failings of such men. His main weakness is he knows nothing about women, and Parker, almost regal in her bearing, represents a kind of strength and sophistication he is obviously not accustomed to. Their meeting and slowly building towards a mutual respect after a very rough beginning is in itself an interesting story, but this exotic adventure throws in a spectacular menace to add suspense to the whole thing. The jungle, as it turns out, allows Heston only 15 years of conquest before fighting back in ‘nature-gone-amok’ style similar to all the future eco-terror pictures of the later seventies.

By now, everyone knows that this menace is the soldier ant, or ‘marabunta’ as it’s mysteriously referred to in the middle of the story. I think even audiences who saw this back in ’54 were probably aware of what the threat was beforehand, as well. But it’s not revealed during the film until after several ominous yet uninformative references by the main characters. It comes across as some huge monstrous threat – which indeed it is – billions upon billions of these ants merge together to form a monster 20 miles long and 2 miles wide. As the local commissioner (Conrad) states, with quavering voice, these ants actually think, in military fashion. Nothing stands in its way and we mean nothing. But, of course, if anyone is going to give it the all-American try, it’s Heston (yes, he’s a character who grew up in South America, but he’s strictly the U.S.of A breed – the rugged individual). This builds towards a literal war between Heston’s resources and the invading army of ants, and it’s a grand finale. It’s interesting that this came out about the same time as “Them,” a sci-fi tale about giant ants. But the ants here are real – this may make them all the more terrifying. See also “Phase IV,” twenty years later, for a different take on even more intelligent ants. The Naked Jungle

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