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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beware The Marabunta!!


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 and Beyond 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 Collide and 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 door.

5 Comments:

Blogger Dr. OTR said...

This is from a 1938 short story titled "Leiningen versus the ants." It was dramatized several times on radio, most notably on Suspense and Escape. You can find these on archive.org. The version starring William Conrad, as I recall, was quite effective in the starring role. (And he plays a supporting role in the film, apparently?)

10:32 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Chortle! Did stay up late to catch this one as a kid and, boy, those damn ants made a lasting impression. Loved 'em! On the other hand, I couldn't make head nor tails of the central plot point (Macho Heston is apparently a virgin and terrified when his mail order bride turns out to be gorgeous, 'experienced' widow Parker.) All the euphemisms and innuendo went sailing over my head and I'm sure I couldn't figure out what the hell the fuss was. I like to think NBC censors may have done some clipping that made matters even more incomprehensible, but really I suspect Pal could have used the Puppetoons to spell out the situation and twelve year old me would still have been baffled.

11:53 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

The miniature work in this is really quite good and ant attack is miles more effective than the CGI "menace" in INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULLS.

1:04 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Loved this film as a kid. The marabunta seemed even less stoppable than The Blob did. Yeah, Chuck as a virgin was wa-a-ay over my head at the time.
Later, my boss in a University situation used to laugh at the feeding frenzy of starving academics going for the food -- "Beware the Marabunta!"

5:03 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

This is one fabulous picture! Deserves a full-on Blu-ray treatment at the proper aspect-ratio.

B.

4:39 AM  

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