THE NAKED JUNGLE
LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL
(PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
When reviewing Paramount Home Video's beautiful dvd of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH earlier this year, I raved about the fact that Paramount routinely puts out some of the most stunning 3-Strip Technicolor transfers of their classics at budget prices and without any of the usual "restoration" claims so prevalent from other outfits, a tradition that I'm happy to report continues with their gorgeously accurate renditions of ARROWHEAD (1953), THE NAKED JUNGLE (1954) and, to a slightly lesser degree, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959).
When one realizes that in 1950 two groundbreakingly pro-Indian westerns, Anthony Mann's DEVIL'S DOORWAY and Delmer Dave's BROKEN ARROW, initiated a continuing trend in which the atrocities heaped on our Native Americans, previously portrayed almost exclusively as one-dimensionally deranged savages, were finally allowed to come to light, one can only stare at Paramount's ARROWHEAD, which was released three years later, in blank disbelief.
While it's an undeniable fact that ARROWHEAD moves from one action-packed incident to another with breathless abandon and is a Western show likely to please those whose tastes run in that direction, there's simply no getting around the fact that our "hero," supposedly inspired by a real character, starts the film as a rabidly Indian-hating killer, and amazingly continues in that state of mind unrepentantly through the course of the entire film, without ever changing his demented philosophy. The fact that Charlton Heston plays this zealot with unyieldingly passionate and grim believability makes the character all the more repellent, and further selling the theory that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" is the casting of Jack Palance as Apache brave Toriano, who matches Heston grimace for grimace and utters all of his dialogue with a snake-like hiss that turns Toriano into a reptilian villain of the most odious rank.
The incredible thing about ARROWHEAD is it is written, photographed and directed with such fervor and skill that it's impossible not to get completely caught up in the proceedings, provided you're able to overlook its anti-Native-American posturings.
THE NAKED JUNGLE (1954) is two distinctly different, but remarkably compelling films rolled into one great show. The first half, in which the improbably beautiful mail-order bride (Eleanor Parker) tries to adjust to life in a South American jungle plantation and its powerful, brooding owner (our Mr. Heston again!) is a surprisingly frank and adult domestic drama that allows us, courtesy of some incisive writing and consistently strong contributions from both stars, to get to know the central characters and empathize with their plight in the second half, when their very lives are threatened by billions of relentless killer ants who are making their way across the jungle--cutting a path of creeping horror which is 20 miles long and two miles wide.
For both adventure and romance-loving fans THE NAKED JUNGLE never falters in its ability to involve and engage the viewer continuously throughout its compact 95 minute running time.
LOST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL's plot is your standard western revenge saga in which a U.S. Marshall's (Kirk Douglas) vow to bring the rapist-killer of his young wife to justice is complicated by the fact that the suspect's powerful cattle baron father (Anthony Quinn) also happens to be the Marshall's longtime best friend. If you've seen it all before this is one case where familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt, thanks to John Sturges' tight direction of the two titans who pitch in with entirely reasonable if moderately predictable performances and a good, if standard, Dimitri Tiomkin score. Carolyn Jones works wonders with the film's most underwritten and illogical role to the point where her character's ever-changing motivations and actions almost make sense. While not quite in the same exalted class as 1957's similarly themed 3:10 TO YUMA, this LAST TRAIN manages to stay on track for most of its 94 minute running time.
As previously stated, Paramount has delivered two stupendously ravishing full screen 3-Strip Technicolor transfers with ARROWHEAD, and most particularly THE NAKED JUNGLE, that rival the perpetually high quality of their very best work, and LAST TRAIN's Widescreen (enhanced for 16:9 TV's) image, though not shot in the 3-Strip process, looks very good. As Paramount is second to no-one when it comes to creating high quality and vividly directional 5.1 Dolby Surround tracks from previously monaural material it is somewhat disappointing that all three soundtracks are strictly monaural, though all are flawlessly clean and distortion-free.