The Naked Jungle (1954) Put Ants In Paramount Pants
Soldier ants by billions devouring
anyone/everything in their path looked like my kind of Wednesday network movie
when NBC premiered The Naked Jungle on 2/10/65, trouble being a school night
and bedtime looming before insects began their march. Jungle held promise not
dissimilar from Warners' gi-ants of Them! (also 1954), except Paramount took longer paying off on scary
set-up. What I recall best of the broadcast was pleas made at each commercial
break to let me stay up just a few minutes more for the big attack that just
had to come before a next sponsor message. That first hour was agony, what with
a music stinger at each mention of "Marabunta," native term for the
oncoming horror, plus corpses floating down river stripped of flesh. Yes, The
Naked Jungle fell very much into chiller category for all of us starved for
shocks in primetime, but it would be years before I'd see those ants spoil
Chuck Heston's picnic.
George Pal produced The Naked Jungle for biggest
outlay ($1.5 million) so far of his Paramount
projects, Jungle a first he'd do with major stars. It returned two
million in domestic rentals, had a post-Ben-Hur reissue (w/ Heston emphasis) to
reward of $257K more,then near that much again when NBC wrote checks (twice
run in '65). Director Byron Haskin gives amusing account of basis story/resulting
script he thought was good, and how Para's
front office botched it by shoe-horning Eleanor Parker in as leading lady.
Seems she owed them a picture for money loaned her husband, Bert Friedlob, him
the indie hustler who'd later give us While The City Sleeps andBeyond A Reasonable Doubt. Haskin figured The Naked Jungle for crab grass after
that and so went through paces of yet another studio plod. Charlton
Heston thought better of the outcome and said so in his memoir. Neither imagined
impact The Naked Jungle would have on a generation of boys for whom killer ants
was greatest gift movies could give.
The Naked Jungle was set in South America, or rather
the matte paintings were set in South America.
Pre-Cinemascope 50's was still arena for charmed fakery of miniatures and
painted glass or Masonite to evoke far-off places. Paramount did all this to nines thanks to fx
crew lately off When Worlds Collideand War Of The Worlds, also for George Pal.
New to Para's screen magic department was John
P. Fulton, he of Universal horror background and a successor to recently
deceased Gordon Jennings. The "Marabunta" make a frightful noise,
which I suppose ants would if counted in millions and crawling all over you.
Actually, I looked up that word after reading Byron Haskin's claim that he
dreamed it up ("I coined the word myself") --- Marabunta is defined
as "any of several social wasps" or worse, a wasp "with a mean
sting." As for the term applied to army ants, Wikipedia suggests it, but I
wonder if that and other contemporary references aren't result of The Naked
Jungle and impact it had. The Naked Jungle streams currently on Amazon Plus in
HD, looks fine, but is full-frame where it should be 1.85. Guess Paramount will do the fix
and deliver The Naked Jungle on Blu-Ray about the time Marabunta show up at my