BluRay/DVD Reviews

ELEPHANT WALK & THE NAKED JUNGLE

By • Jul 12th, 2005 •

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ELEPHANT WALK
(Paramount Home Entertainment) 1954
102 mins / 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / Technicolor

THE NAKED JUNGLE
(Paramount Home Entertainment) 1954
95 mins / 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio

Oh, how they could have used widescreen on ELEPHANT WALK. A pivotal year, ‘53/’54: CinemaScope was the sudden rage. That and the other large or wide screen formats really opened up the possibilities for epic filmmaking. The budget on this seemed substantial. But it didn’t get the proper spatial treatment, and despite the tepid leading men, and less-than-dazzling performance by Queen Liz, it would have been remembered differently if the format had been opened out.

In the tradition of REBECCA, about a foolish woman who marries hastily and lives to regret it as her husband (Peter Finch) becomes more tyrannical and less doting once they relocate to his estate (a life decision no one would have the least bit of sympathy for nowadays – they’d just think Liz was an idiot and deserved what she got for not exploring the situation for a while before diving in), dragged out of her element to some isolated location with hostile secondary characters, a possible romantic diversion (Dana Andrews), and a rising threat, ELEPHANT WALK was helmed by the stylish William Dieterle (A PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) but he didn’t seem to have his heart in the direction of the actors. The art direction and camera placement did seem to inspire him, and those aspects alone can take you for a lush mise-en-scenic ride through the intrinsic Hollywood tradition of mixing and matching studio sets and location photography. The sense of detail is always compelling, even when the human terrain is not.

Paramount released another film the same year with a remarkably similar plotline, done for what seems far less money, but with better casting, more motivated minds behind it, and more warmth – THE NAKED JUNGLE. In that one, Charlton Heston replaces both Dana Andrews and Peter Finch, and he’s great, wooden fun. It’s even a film he singles out in his autobiography as being a favorite. George Pal produced, and once told me how tight his budgets were at Paramount, and how happy he was to move over to MGM for TOM THUMB, THE TIME MACHINE, etc. But THE NAKED JUNGLE, based on ‘Leinengen Vs. the Ants’, is so thrilling, and so charming, that it overcomes having to save its effects for the last act (a la Richard Gordon’s FIEND WITHOUT A FACE). You need look no further: these two Paramount DVD releases, both beautifully mastered with their pavonine Technicolor palettes in fine array, are your obvious evening’s DOUBLE BILL.

Peter Finch was a fine actor, but projected weakness. Kind of like Bill Pullman or Jake Gyllenhal. Dana Andrews, with his Al Jolson voice, was too stiff to be a leading man (there was no balancing mix of stiff and energeti, as there was with Heston), yet he often was the lead, and occasionally quite effectively, particularly as the obdurate debunker in CURSE OF THE DEMON.

Both films feature Burmese/Jewish actor Abraham Sofaer in supporting roles. Sofaer was an East Indian studio staple for decades, though in his last feature, 1970’s CHISUM, he played Chief White Buffalo. My favorite film experience with him was in the Darren McGavin ‘Kolchak’ episode ‘Horror in the Heights’, where a Jewish neighborhood is being terrorized by a demon, and swastikas are appearing on the walls of buildings. Sofaer’s character owns an Indian restaurant in the area, and Kolchak makes the connection between him and the lethal occurrences. I can’t wait for that poverty row TV series to make it to DVD.

Couple of odd visual co-incidences in the Dieterle film. The man who built the plantation did so, generations ago, knowing that it was being erected across a major elephant walk, and that they would keep trying to barge through his land, regardless of what stood in their way. There’s a scene where a bunch of elephants are sneakily approaching the plantation wall by way of water, trying to find a way in, and the natives aren’t quite prepared for the marine assault. I was stunned by how much it resembled the pivotal scene in Romero’s new LAND OF THE DEAD where the zombies approach the city by water. Later, near the end, Finch and Liz escape the burning plantation and make it to the high ground where they look back at the inferno, right out of the ending of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Did Romero harvest that water shot from a childhood viewing of ELEPHANT WALK? Did Dieterle recreate the ending of BRIDE from memories that moved him, and is that why Franz Waxman was hired to compose the score, because he’d done the classic score for BRIDE? I seriously doubt it on all counts. Just a few odd co-incidences which some might try to read things into.

Both transfers are stunning, with fire and facial makeup radiating what Technicolor stood for. Paramount seems to have stored its elements with care.

The back cover on the ELEPHANT WALK DVD box, in an effort to hook buyers on the store level, gives away the ending in copious detail. It’s everything I despise and fear about coming attractions, which I never watch if they’re about films I’ve been looking forward to. NAKED JUNGLE’s description is less of a spoiler.

I can’t help wondering what ELEPHANT WALK would have been like if The Archers had written and directed it. Michael Powell’s perennial leading man, David Farrar, would have done better in either Finch’s or Andrew’s roles, and Pressburger might have given the ‘boys’ club’ sequences a more cynical bite. Besides that, Powell would have bent the Technicolor cinematography to his thematic designs. It would have been, at very least, a personal film, which this isn’t. C’est la vie.


ELEPHANT WALK
Cast: With Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch, Abraham Sofaer.
Crew: Directed by William Dieterle. Screenplay by John Lee Mahan. Based on the Novel by Robert Standish. Score by Franz Waxman.

THE NAKED JUNGLE
Cast: With Charlton Heston, Eleanor Parker, William Conrad, John Dierkes.
Crew: Directed by Byron Haskin. Produced by George Pal. Screenplay by Philip Yordan and Ranald MacDougall. Based on the short story by Carl Stephenson.

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One Response »

  1. There is an amazing coincidence in THE NAKED JUNGLE and ELEPHANT WALK. Abraham Sofaer, he’s the chap who plays Charlton Heston’s ‘ Number One Man’, is in both movies and has exactly the same dialogue in both of them. Check it out – its hilarious.

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