Ants in Your Plants of 1954

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Having enjoyed a re-viewing of George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE and found some things to enjoy in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, we wanted to check out more Pal productions. TOM THUMB wasn’t handy so we tried THE NAKED JUNGLE but couldn’t get through the damn thing.

This is the kind of film that used to be always on. Saturday night, alone and bored, I turn on the TV and there’s Chuckles Heston battling army ants with his fists and chin. The ant invasion is described as “forty square miles of agonizing death” but that’s a description better suited to the film itself.

Pal’s production, directed by former photographer and effects expert Byron Haskin, is matte paintings from the waist up. Various “natives” in shoe polish display various colonial stereotypes. The big threat, other than Heston’s obnoxious he-man characterisation, is the ant attack, only introduced halfway through but swiftly dominating everything and leaving the Eleanor Parker romance angle to bosom-heaving sighs on the sideline.

The screenwriters’ conceit is that marauding ants lay waste to everything in their path and can even skeletonize a man, in exactly the same way that piranhas can’t. As advance lookout, Chuckles selects a particularly fat native on the grounds that it will take the insects longer to devour him, but alas, being fat, dozy, and covered in shoe polish, he falls asleep on watch and gets eaten. Here I was looking forward to something equivalent to the faux time-lapse decaying Morlock in THE TIME MACHINE, but the movie gets all coy, not to mention cheap, on us, so all we get is the actor screaming “My eyes!” and then a shot of an empty suit on the floor. I was also hoping for puppetoon ants courtesy of Pal’s animator associates, even though that would be an INSANE amount of work.

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Fellow Shadowplayers, I was not disappointed — and yet I was. The puppetoon insects duly appear, stripping the leaves from a tree, but only for two shots. That’s not enough puppetoonery for a feature film. I would even have accepted those annoying elves from BROS. GRIMM, as long as Chuck could have punched their stupid lopsided faces in.

8 Responses to “Ants in Your Plants of 1954”

  1. THE NAKED JUNGLE is no more about ants than THE BIRDS is about birds. The ants are the catalyst that brings Heston’s and Parker’s characters together. The film is really about Heston’s virgin, who is incredibly attracted to Parker (who has never looked lovelier), but is intimidated by her open sexuality. It’s easily my favorite Pal pic.

  2. I recall Raymond Durgnat finding The Naked Jungle amusing for some reason or other. Must go and look it up. As for “my eyes!” it’ a precursor of

  3. La Faustin Says:

    The Siren found it amusing for MANY reasons, lovingly enumerated: http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.fr/2005/07/turkey-trot-naked-jungle-1954.html

  4. Well, it’s standard for Hollywood films to use the cataclysms they’re about on the surface as subterfuges for new romance. But I don’t think that’s the most illuminating angle to view The Birds from, since I feel it’s at least somewhat about birds, or nature, or the hostility of all creation.

    I couldn’t bring myself to care much about Heston’s surly virgin because he’s such a lout, but to the extent that the film has subtext, it’s about woman bringing civilized values and tenderness to a bleakly masculine environment. That does give it an edge over monster movies of the time, which typically faded to black wordlessly after the monster was slain, since there was nothing more to say. Here, the romantic clinch is an actual ending.

    The Siren: “They have a name for the white men who go into the villages at night,” snarls Heston. He doesn’t elaborate, but that must have been some name.

    I would propose the name might be William Conrad.

  5. Really? I’d say Paul Bowles.

  6. I was thinking of Conrad’s character in TNJ, but yes, Bowles would do. Though it’s hard to imagine a film that could contain him, Heston, and the puppetoon ant army.

  7. If Guy Maddin was the director it could.

  8. I’d buy a ticket for that.

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