George Pal

The Naked Jungle (1954, Byron Haskin)

If there are faults with The Naked Jungle, ones not the result of having to follow the Hays Code–which the film skirts thanks to Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall’s excellent dialogue, Eleanor Parker’s fantastic, intelligent performance and Charlton Heston’s brute force approach–they fall on director Haskin. The film is well-directed with Parker and Heston’s character drama, even with the special effects heavy expository shots, but Haskin refuses to get too far into any characters’ perspective, which cuts down on the thrills.

Oddly enough, I just realized the film opens on a shot from Parker’s perspective. One she even discusses with co-star William Conrad. But, even when it would serve a scene to go with the character’s perspective, Haskin does not. He’s lucky the script and actors can carry it.

But that odd directing misstep, which is most problematic in the third act, can’t overshadow Haskin’s excellent work in the rest of the picture. Parker’s a mail order bride, Heston’s her plantation owner–an extraordinarily good one, the film carefully reveals–husband. They don’t get along. Parker does some great work from her first scene (that one with Conrad); she establishes herself quickly. Heston’s more of the one with the internal character arc. Parker–and the viewer–are basically just waiting for him to grow up. And it’s a lot of fun watching him grow up. On one hand, there’s this refined (while still playful), thoughtful performance from Parker. Heston’s not refined or even playful. He’s really good at being a complete jackass. He runs with it. It works out.

It’s forty-five minutes into The Naked Jungle before the possibility of action thrills get revealed, but then the script puts it off even more. The character drama is the most important part of the film. Once it’s resolved, then Heston gets to be an action star. Somewhat late into the thrills even–by the time he comes to the rescue, The Naked Jungle has gone through many of its excellent special effects process shots. Some great matte paintings in the film.

What makes the film so peculiar is the script. Maddow and MacDougall are deliberate in how they make work Parker and Heston’s relationship. Until they’re a duo, the action barely ever plays to anything but furthering their personal conflict.

It’s rather neatly done. And beautifully acted. Heston clearly loves the role as white savior, Parker’s magnificent, Conrad’s fun as serious comic relief. Great photography from Ernest Laszlo and an effective Daniele Amfitheatrof score round it off.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by Ben Maddow and Ranald MacDougall, based on a story by Carl Stephenson; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Joanna), Charlton Heston (Leiningen), William Conrad (Commissioner), Abraham Sofaer (Incacha), Norma Calderón (Zala), Romo Vincent (Boat Captain) and John Dierkes (Gruber).


Conquest of Space (1955, Byron Haskin)

I rented Conquest of Space because–according to IMDb, Kubrick credited it as a 2001 influence. There are a handful of visual elements I noticed, one as obvious as the rotating space station, one I might be making up (repairing of the antenna tower). Besides looking for these visuals, there’s not much else to engage with. Conquest of Space is ludicrously bad for most of the film. Until William Hopper showed up, there was no one in the cast I recognized. While director Byron Haskin has done good work, he doesn’t have a good way of placing people amid Conquest’s technological surroundings. The sets seem confining, but the shots are wide open. There a number of terrible, distracting edits in the film, all to and from close-up, and I don’t know if it’s Haskin’s fault for not shooting right or the editor’s fault for not being any good.

The writing, however, eventually makes Conquest mildly interesting, at least as a historical document, which is what my greatest hopes were for it once the terrible narration began after the Paramount logo. It’s pre-Space Age, so there’s the space station before there’s a moon landing. There’s not even a moon landing, because they go straight to Mars. The film actually has some sophisticated ideas working–it doesn’t do much with them of any interest. For example, if God makes a tree and Mars is treeless, God stops at Earth while man continues on. I’ve actually never heard it laid out as such and it gives the feeling Conquest wasn’t a completely doomed idea. When the astronauts are stranded on Mars, played right, it could have been good.

The special effects, which must have been cutting edge back in 1955, aren’t good. There’s one good shot of the spaceship approaching Mars, otherwise, the model work is too two dimensional and the matte work, marrying the actors to the models, is too. No perspective in these moments. Some of the miniature work is nice though, but I was expecting more from the special effects. They just added to the film’s rushed feeling… but if it weren’t for the writing, directing, and acting, Conquest of Space might be all right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by James O’Hanlon, based on a book by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley, adaptation by Philip Yordan, Barre Lyndon and George Worthington Yates; director of photography, Lionel London; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Van Cleave; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Walter Brooke (Samuel Merritt), Eric Fleming (Barney Merritt), Mickey Shaughnessy (Mahoney), Phil Foster (Siegle), Benson Fong (Imoto) and William Hopper (Fenton).


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