Tag Archives: Charlton Heston

The Eleanor Parker Blogathon: The Naked Jungle(1954)

The Naked Jungle poster

The Naked Jungle is one wild film. There’s a vast amount of sexual tension crackling away between Eleanor Parker and Charlton Heston, something which leads to their shared scenes and dialogue delivery being so sexually suggestive that you really do have to wonder quite how those moments got approved by the infamously prudish and sharp eyed censors. Throw some oppressive jungle heat,killer ants(known as the Marabunta)and deadly native rituals into the mix, and you’ve got yourself quite the exciting and fun flick.

The Naked Jungle is directed by Byron Haskin and is based upon the short story Leiningen Versus The Ants, which was written by Carl Stephenson and published in the December 1938 issue of Esquire magazine. The story was adapted for the screen by Philip Yordan and Ranald MacDougal. The original story is more about man struggling against the elements than anything else, and while that remains the case here, the main focus of the film is really on the relationship between Leiningen and his bride, Joanna.

Joanna arrives and is greeted by Incacha and then her new husband. Screenshots by me.

The year is 1901. Joanna Leiningen(Eleanor Parker)travels from New Orleans into the sweltering heat of South America to join her husband, Christopher Leiningen(Charlton Heston) on his plantation.She is a strong willed, intelligent and cultured lady, who isn’t afraid of a challenge. She is met off the boat by Incacha(Abraham Sofaer), her husband’s right hand man. Her husband however has not come to meet her.

We very quickly learn that she and her husband have never even met before now! She is a friend of his brother and he picked her to become Christopher’s wife. Joanna married Christopher by proxy(something which I never even knew existed before seeing this film), with Christopher’s brother standing in for her husband to be at the ceremony back home.

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Eleanor Parker as Joanna. Screenshot by me.

Now, I’m pretty sure that most of my male readers would be overjoyed and punching the air upon getting Eleanor Parker as their missus, but not so Christopher Leiningen. When Joanna arrives, this dude stands around being all moody,constantly clenching his granite jaw, and trying to find fault with his lady at every opportunity. He has no desire to hold her hand, much less to move things into the bedroom. It’s clear that she likes him and admires what he has achieved and built through years of incredible hard work, although considering his attitude towards her when she first arrives it’s a bit difficult to see why she likes him.

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The piano scene. Screenshot by me.

When Christopher learns that Joanna was once married before(cue some truly epic dramatic music courtesy of Daniele Amfitheatrof)he has a meltdown because it means she isn’t untouched and ‘pure’ any longer, so he goes on a rant about all the things in his home being pristine and new because that’s how he wants them. He says “Madam, this piano you’re sitting at was never played by anyone before it came here.” This leads to Joanna delivering one of the best and most sexually suggestive lines ever written,”If you knew more about music, you’d realise that a good piano is better when it’s played”. You tell him, girl!🤣

We soon learn that Christopher has no experience whatsoever with women, and that it is Joanna who is actually the sexually experienced and more worldly of the two; this role reversal being something which is quite daring and unusual for the time the film was made. You’d struggle today to find a situation like this in a film, much less find such intimate subject matter in a flick from the classic film era.

With this development, Christopher becomes the most interesting character in the film. He left home when he was still in his teens and against the odds built up the plantation from nothing and made money. He denied himself female companionship for years,choosing instead to wait on finding a wife until he could support her and had plenty of free time to focus on his personal life.

Now that he finally has a wife, he has to come to terms with the fact that she is not inexperienced and nervous like him, but instead she knows more about love and sex than he could ever dream of. You can understand how all of this could mess the guy up a bit. It also becomes apparent that his gruffness and bad temper is a facade to hide his insecurities and worries behind, he’s really not an unpleasant person.

Who knew that applying insect repellent oil could be this sexy? Screenshot by me.

It soon becomes obvious that Christopher can’t deny his growing feelings for Joanna and he softens and opens up more to her. But will they ever get around to acting on their desire for one another? Things are further complicated by the arrival of the Marabunta, a ferocious colony of army ants. Unlike most other ants these do not build stationery nests and instead remain constantly on the move. The ants start destroying the land and nearing ever closer to the Leiningen plantation. Can they be stopped?

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Elizabeth Taylor and Dana Andrews in Elephant Walk. Image source IMDb.

The film and characters remind me very much of another film which was made just the year before, Elephant Walk. Both films feature a young woman leaving her previous life behind her to join her husband on his distant plantation; the husbands in both films are consumed by their lifelong work on their plantations and are distant from their wives, yet at the same time they love their women deeply but don’t quite know how to show it;and both films have animals and nature proving they can be stronger and more damaging than man at times. Both films also star Abraham Sofaer as the trusted long-term employee to both Charlton Heston and Peter Finch’s characters.

The difference between these two films lies in the behaviour and reactions of the female characters – Eleanor Parker’s sticks with her man throughout and puts up with a lot, whereas Elizabeth Taylor’s struggles more and finds solace and love in the arms of another man(Dana Andrews), while never losing her love for her husband(Peter Finch).

Charlton’s performance is good enough and it’s interesting seeing him play a different type of character than we’re used to seeing him portray, but it is Eleanor who single handily steals the film. I love how bold and strong she is in this. This is one of my favourite performances of hers. I love how Joanna stands up to Christopher, isn’t easily afraid, and how she won’t back down without a fight. Joanna is feisty, kind and determined. Eleanor and Charlton are terrific together and it’s difficult to imagine other actors in those roles, much less two different actors being blessed with the same chemistry shared by Eleanor and Charlton.

Sadly the rest of the characters, especially the native people, are not well developed at all which is disappointing, but everyone in the cast does their best with the material they have. The film is a lot of fun with something in it for everyone and you sure won’t forget the scenes between Charlton and Eleanor in a hurry. The film ends much too abruptly for my tastes though.

This is one of my entries for my Eleanor Parker blogathon next weekend.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Cecil B. De Mille sure knew how to put on a show. He really was the master of the big screen epic. When DeMille released a new film, audiences of the time knew full well what they were in for: large scale sets, a truly epic story, larger than life characters, and so many memorable moments. His films were what going to the cinema was supposed to be all about. You went to the cinema to be entertained and wowed. DeMille put a great deal of work into ensuring that his audiences got plenty of wow factor and entertainment. 

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Cecil B. De Mille on set. Image source IMDb. 

De Mille’s films were big events, and many of them went on to become classics that are still discussed today, several decades after DeMille’s death. I think that The Ten Commandments (which would sadly be his last film) is one of the very best films that he ever made. I also think that this particular film is a good place to begin if you are trying to get into DeMille’s work. This film shows you just what he was all about as a filmmaker. I really think he managed to perfectly blend together an intimate human story against a truly epic and stunning visual backdrop.  

De Mille’s final film has also become the film for which he has become best remembered for. The film is a partial remake of his own 1923 film of the same name. The Silent version told two stories. The first is a depiction of the biblical events, including the famous parting of the Red Sea. The second is a story set in more modern times and it concerns two brothers and their respective views on the commandments. 

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Charlton Heston as Moses. Screenshot by me.

However, for his later remake, DeMille decided to focus entirely upon the Biblical story. He shot on location out in Egypt (employing hundreds of extras to star in the mass crowd sequences)and on soundstages. His film recreates Ancient Egypt for us in great detail.  

I also love how he shows us the great contrast between the rich and the poor of the time in the film. We see the gruelling life of the slaves, toiling under the boiling sun for hours on end covered in mud and sand.

We also get to see the luxury and beauty of the royal household. The royals living there are indifferent to the plight of their slaves. To them these people are not people at all, they are simply strong backs and hands to do their bidding. 

The special effects by John P. Fulton are extraordinary and they have stood the test of time well. I especially love the creepy shot of the plague drifting through the streets. The parting of the Red Sea is also a truly masterful achievement.

The film tells the life of Moses. The newborn baby Moses (played by Charton Heston’s newborn son, Fraser) is placed in a basket by his mother (Martha Scott) and floats off down the River Nile in order to escape the murderous soldiers of the Pharaoh. 

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Princess Bithiah finds baby Moses. Screenshot by me.

The soldiers are killing all first born sons in an effort to stop a prophecy about a deliverer for the Jewish slaves. The basket drifts into the water gardens of the royal palace and is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter Princess Bithiah(Nina Foch). The Princess is childless, so she keeps baby Moses and passes him off as her own child. 

Years later we see the now grown Prince Moses (Charlton Heston)as a strong and beloved warrior. He is the favourite of the current Pharaoh, Sethi (Cedric Hardwicke) who is Bithiah’s brother. This favouritism annoys Sethi’s son Rameses (Yul Brynner)and he hates Moses.

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Princess Nefretiri. Screenshot by me.

These two men become rivals for the crown of Egypt and also for the hand in marriage of Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter). The Princess is a beautiful, scheming and very vain woman, but she genuinely loves Moses and doesn’t want to be married to Rameses.

I really love how Anne plays this role, she chews the scenery up and ends up stealing all the scenes she is in. Anne also gets the most beautiful dresses to wear throughout the film.

Everything soon changes when Moses learns the truth about his heritage. He is banished by Sethi(a decision that breaks the older mans heart)and is sent by Rameses out into the desert. Instead of dying he survives his trek and meets a tribesman and his daughters.

Moses is taken in by them and he later marries the oldest daughter, Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo). Years pass and the couple have a son. One day Moses sees a strange light on top of the mountain next to where he lives.

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Sephora, the girl who won the heart of Moses. Screenshot by me.

Climbing the slopes of the mountain he discovers God, who appears to him as a burning bush and speaks with the voice of Moses’s long dead father (Charlton Heston’s voice deepened). When Moses comes down from the mountain he is a very changed man. He now looks much older and has the appearance of one who is in some way removed from the life around him. 

Moses must now travel to the capital of Egypt and show the power of God to Rameses who has now succeeded his father as Pharaoh. Rameses is now married to Nefretiri and they have a son. Rameses refuses to accept what Moses is telling him. He thinks that things like making snakes appear or turning water to blood are nothing more than magic tricks. When the plagues arrive in Egypt and his son dies he sets out with his armies to destroy Moses. 

This leads to the famous exodus sequence and the parting of the Red Sea. These two sequences remain extremely impressive when viewed today. I own this film on Blu-ray and the effects and the sharp picture quality really do look fantastic. There are a few scenes where the effects don’t look so good(you can see the lines between the imposed backdrop and the actors for example,) but these two sequences have stood the test of time really well. 

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Moses parts the Red Sea. Image source IMDb.

I am not a religious person, but I really do enjoy watching this film and its depiction of slaves being set free and given a good life. I have no idea whether the events depicted here are accurate or not according to what religious people believe, but I do find the film to be hugely enjoyable and impressive regardless of whether or not it really happened. 

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Joshua and Lilia. Screenshot by me.

A few complaints coming up. I wish that the storyline focusing on the heroic stone cutter Joshua (John Derek)and the gentle and humble water girl Lilia (Debra Paget)had been given a greater focus. If only there had been a few more scenes before she is taken away from him so that we could really feel a greater connection to them and their relationship. Derek and Paget make the most of their roles, but I just wish they had been given larger roles. 

I also think that many of the supporting cast sadly don’t really get much substance to their roles. The actors all shine in their scenes, but many characters are not as developed as they should be. I feel that Moses and Sephora’s relationship is also very rushed. I think there should have been many more scenes between them depicting their growing feelings for one another. 

The film also features two very bizarre casting choices. Vincent Price as the master builder, Baka. Price certainly oozes malevolence but he just comes across as being out of place in this film for some reason. I am a huge fan of Price but I am quite bemused by him appearing in this. 

Moving from Price onto the second piece of strange casting in the film. Just who was responsible for putting my boy Eddie G in this film as Dathan? He was one of the finest actors of his generation, and he is a great favourite of mine, but this was not a role or film genre that he was suited to at all. His casting leaves me scratching my head. 

Quibbles aside this is a very enjoyable film. It is one I would dearly love to see on the big screen as it was intended to be seen. Have any of you seen it at the cinema? If so, please share your experiences of what that was like. 

Upon release the film quickly became one of the most financially successful films at the box office. I hope that made DeMille happy because you can see on screen how much work went into this film. De Mille suffered a massive heart attack during filming but like the pro he was, he was back on set not long after suffering it to continue working. He would suffer from problems with his heart for the rest of his life. De Mille died in 1959. 

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Rameses. Screenshot by me.

My favourite performances in the film come from Yul Brynner (sexy and strong as the crown prince). Nina Foch as the loving Bithia. Martha Scott as Yochabel, the real mother to Moses. Anne Baxter as the beautiful Nefretiri. Cedric Hardwicke as the stern but fair Sethi. Debra Paget as Lilia. Yvonne De Carlo as the humble and kind Sephora. I also enjoy seeing De Mille himself in the opening introducing the film. 

I also really like Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses. Heston has never been an actor I’ve liked very much. This film, The Naked Jungle and The Big Country are really the only films I have ever actually liked him in. I love how he conveys through his body language and expressions his transformation from Egyptian prince, to thoughtful and other worldly messenger of God. There is an authority and strength about him in the scene where Moses comes down from the mountain, and you more than believe then that he has undergone a real change. A very impressive performance. 

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Nefretiri and Moses. Image source IMDb. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Rameses kissing Nefretiri and telling her she will be his wife. Moses seeing God and coming back down from the mountain. Sephora telling Moses that all that her (poor)family have he is more than welcome to. Moses’s staff becoming a cobra. Bithiah finding Moses in the basket. Nefretiri arriving at the mudpits to find Moses. The exodus and parting of the Red Sea. Rameses and Nefretiri’s reactions after the death of their son. Sethi’s deathbed scene. The plague drifting through the streets. Moses’s adoptive and birth mother pleading with one another over his future.

I also have to praise the music by Elmer Bernstein. He replaced Victor Young as composer after Young became ill. I love the score because it’s larger than life, just like the film is. It is a dramatic, sweeping and memorable score.

What are your thoughts on this film?