Question: How do you know you’re watching a John Waters film?
Answer: When the film opens with a carnival barker luring unsuspecting victims into a tent full of fetishists so he can rob them, you’re in a John Waters film.
Mr. David hawks the Cavalcade of Perversions.
Yup. Lady Divine (Divine) and her cohorts put cigarettes out on each other, sniff a topless woman’s armpits and eat vomit. Then, when the square suburbanites can take no more, Divine brandishes a revolver, robs the crowd, and shoots any dissenters, cackling all the while.
“Say what again.”
After the robbery, the gang flees and we discover that Mr. David (David Lochary), the barker and lover of Lady Divine, has fallen for another woman. David keeps the affair a secret because Lady Divine threatens to tell the police he was in on the Tate murders. It IS 1970. Lady Divine, gets word of David’s betrayal and vows to kill him.
Edith Massey drops a dime on Mr. David.
On her way to commit murder, two lowlifes accost her and drag her into an alley. Dazed from the attack, Lady Divine runs into a toddler dressed as the Pope who leads her to a church. Lady Divine prays for guidance. As she kneels in prayer, she meets Mink Stole who clearly has eyes for her. It’s a John Waters film so the two women have sex in a pew using a rosary. Now Lady Divine has an accomplice. The two lovers head to Lady Divine’s apartment to snuff Mr. David.
Lady Divine walks with a tiny Pope.
Mr. David and his oversexed lover await the pair in Lady Divine’s apartment where they’ve accidentally killed Divine’s ever-topless daughter. Now there’s no turning back. There’s a nutty bloodbath with one survivor. As Lady Divine lies on the sofa surrounded by the bodies of her enemies and crowing about crimes to come, a huge lobster crawls into her living room and rapes her. I never thought I’d write that sentence. Anyway, stuff, like a crucifixion, happens after that, but who cares? A giant lobster rapes Divine. Needless to say, the scene catches you off guard.
“Quick! Get the drawn butter!”
John Waters wrote, directed, produced, and shot MULTIPLE MANIACS in his native Baltimore. During his introduction to the film at the Provincetown International Film Festival in June of 2016, he said he filmed the Cavalcade of Perversion on his parents’ front lawn. Waters cast friends Edith Massey, Mink Stole, Pat Moran, David Lochary, and Divine in lead roles. Friendship trumped acting ability, but that’s not important. This is not so much a film as a happening. It is also, as film critic J. Hoberman notes, John Waters most overtly Catholic film. Janus/Criterion just restored the film and it looks great. It’s also weirdly entertaining. Everyone is crazily over the top and the whole film is a riot. I watched MULTIPLE MANIACS for the first time in a full theatre with John Waters in attendance and the place went nuts. It’s vile, disgusting, and fun to watch.
Rating: 4 Lobsters
Paramount released ELEPHANT WALK and THE NAKED JUNGLE within a month of one another in 1954. They often appeared in theatres on a double bill. If you see them both, you might think you’ve seen the same film twice. Both center around a rich plantation owner living in a foreign country with a beautiful wife and major psychological issues. Both leads have flawed marriages. Both battle wild animals on rampages. In ELEPHANT WALK, the creatures in questions are, you guessed it, groundhogs. OK. I can’t get anything past you. They’re elephants. In THE NAKED JUNGLE, the enemies are ants. Naked ants. They’re referred to as the Marabunta, which, as you know, mean friendsh…no. It means naked army ant. Paramount made both films partially on location. ELEPHANT WALK takes place in British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. They filmed in both Ceylon and Hollywood. THE NAKED JUNGLE is set in Brazil, but Florida served as a stand-in for the Amazon jungle. Even the structures of the two films are similar.
Edith Head did herself proud in both films.
In ELEPHANT WALK, John Wiley (Peter Finch) runs a sprawling tea plantation in British Ceylon. The plantation, Elephant Walk, got its name because John’s father, Tom, built it on the elephants’ traditional path to the river. After a whirlwind romance in England, John marries Ruth (Elizabeth Taylor) and brings her back to the family bungalow to begin her duties as the lady of the house. In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) writes long, lonely letters from Brazil to his brother in New Orleans. His brother meets Joanna (Eleanor Parker) and introduces Christopher and Joanna by mail. The two correspond and eventually marry by proxy. Joanna travels to the jungle to be Christopher’s wife and run his home.
Soon after taking up residence at Elephant Walk, Ruth notices subtle changes in her new husband. Charming and loving in England and on their honeymoon, John becomes distant, gruff, and even brutal in Ceylon. The oppressive atmosphere of Elephant Walk, along with the influence of John’s long dead father, old Tom Wiley, turn John iron-fisted and cruel. In THE NAKED JUNGLE, immediately after her arrival in Brazil, Joanna sees differences between Christopher’s letters and his demeanor. Intelligent and gentle during their correspondence, Christopher becomes insulting and downright nasty in person.
This is what John Wiley does instead of hanging out with Liz Taylor.
Leiningen’s sort of an ass.
John Wiley’s main issue is the Governor. John’s father and the builder of Elephant Walk has been dead for years, but still manages to run the show. His rules, attitudes, and methods for running the plantation and his house haven’t changed despite his death. They still celebrate his birthday each year with a big party. They even present gifts to the guests around Tom Wiley’s elaborate, marble crypt, conveniently located on the lawn just steps from the house. Handy. The combination of the ever present Tom Wiley, her husband’s hostility, and the middle-aged frat boy mentality of most of the plantation workers drives Ruth away. She plans to leave with the sympathetic and cultured Dick Carver (Dana Andrews), John’s foreman.
“I hope she picks me.”
Christopher Leiningen’s problem in THE NAKED JUNGLE is sex and his need to be the first to sleep with his new wife. Joanna, a widow, fulfills all Christopher’s requirements. She has manners, refinement, and beauty. She even plays the piano. The fact of her first marriage, however, drives him crazy. You see, Christopher has no sexual experience and he can’t stand the thought that his wife does. He won’t touch her and plans to send her back to the states.
“I’m sending you back.”
Naturally, Ruth can’t leave Elephant Walk. On her way to the boat for England, everyone gets cholera. Ruth has to stay to boil linens and burn things. The cholera epidemic strikes at the same time as a major drought so besides the stacks of dead bodies and the quarantine and all, they’re also running out of water and the elephants get antsy. Get it? Antsy? Anyway, thirsty and fed up, the elephants stampede and John races to save Ruth.
“I’m coming, Ruth!”
Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Marabunta start crawling their way through the jungle toward Christopher’s ranch and civilization in general. You see, every twenty-seven years, army ants charge through the Amazon eating everything they see. So the calendar strikes 27 and the ants come-a-runnin’. Christopher and Joanna have to curtail their trip to the boat to take her back to New Orleans to fight them some ants.
“Hold it right there, you damned, dirty ants!”
Will John Wiley rescue Ruth from elephants? Will he see the error of his ways and start his marriage again without his dead dad’s interference? Will he return the ugly elephant necklace he makes Ruth wear?
Will Christopher beat the ants? Will he decide to love Joanna despite her horrid promiscuity? Will William Conrad stop speaking with that ridiculous mystery accent?
“I’m not sure where I’m from.”
I’ll never tell.
ELEPHANT WALK did better at the box office than THE NAKED JUNGLE and it’s a better film in general. Peter Finch does a terrific job as the anguished John Wiley, who embraces his imperious father’s memory even as he fights its hold over him. He’s great when he’s angry and truly contrite while asking for forgiveness. Elizabeth Taylor’s Ruth looks spectacular in the gorgeous Edith Head gowns and dresses she wears. She’s a beautiful and sympathetic character who’s torn between her love for her husband and her fear for him and herself in this unhealthy atmosphere. Dana Andrews is convincing as John’s overseer who falls for Ruth and tries to help her escape. Abraham Sofaer plays Appuhamy, the efficient head servant at Elephant Walk whose loyalty to the old master tries Ruth’s patience. His restraint gives the character integrity and allows us to see the change in him as he finally accepts Ruth. Direction by William Dieterle along with the Franz Waxman score and the actual location shooting gives this film polish and the A-list actors deliver fine performances.
Abraham Sofaer as Appuhamy
Abraham Sofaer (in back) as Incacha.
THE NAKED JUNGLE is a less solid film than ELEPHANT WALK. Heston does a decent job as the immature Christopher. Deep down he’s a poet who hides his soft side and thinks he HAS to object to his wife’s non-virgin status. As I said, Heston does a decent job, but he lacks the subtlety his character needs. Eleanor Parker wears the Edith Head costumes brilliantly and plays the put upon wife well, but she’s far too melodramatic. She’s more subtle than Lana Turner, but that doesn’t take much. William Conrad plays his part well, but they saddled him with a goofy accent which detracts from his performance. Conrad played the Heston role in the radio version of the Carl Stephenson story. I guess they wanted to throw him a bone. Guess who plays the faithful servant/overseer? Yup. Abraham Sofaer. This time he’s Brazilian. Ernest Laszlo and George Pal did the photography and production and Byron Haskin directed.
All in all, ELEPHANT WALK and the NAKED JUNGLE will both fulfill your animals running amok needs. There’s great footage of elephants stampeding throughout ELEPHANT WALK and the scene where they wreck Wiley’s mansion is spectacular. If you’re into that disease thing, the film also has cholera!
George Pal produced THE NAKED JUNGLE and the ant effects are decent. Scenes with ants overtaking grown men are pretty cool even if they’re unbelievable.
“So many ants.”
Where THE NAKED JUNGLE fails is that ants keep killing people you don’t particularly care about. A disaster film has to allow us to learn something about its victims before flinging them off cliffs. If it doesn’t, it’s just some random SyFy film like ANTOPUS VS LOBSTELEPHANT. To sum up, ELEPHANT WALK is a terrific film with realistic performances that looks wonderful. THE NAKED JUNGLE is a pretty good film with lots of ants, which is a plus, and a so-so story. Watch them both and tell me what you think.
I wrote this piece for the Nature’s Fury Blogathon hosted by the always fascinating Barry of Cinematic Catharsis He’s a nice guy who runs a terrific film blog. Please check it out.
Until you watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN, you might not realize Vincent Price is the star. You might believe the credits and think you’re watching a Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle full of mobsters who crack wise and a beauty who sings a little.
“Is that a gun in your pocket?”
After all, up to this point, Vincent Price spent a lot of time in costume dramas or as the guy who didn’t get the girl. Gene Tierney threw him over for Dana Andrews in LAURA even after she was dead and she dumped him again the next year for Cornel Wilde in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. I’m not sure Hollywood knew what to do with the erudite actor. Handsome, articulate, and athletic, Vincent looked the part of the leading man, but had more to give. You might say he was too smart for his own good.
“Snatch this revolver from my hand, Grasshopper.”
Male ingenue parts don’t show off your sense of humor much so studios plugged him into the role of the witty, yet evil count. A few films, like SHOCK (1946) allowed him to show more range, but it wasn’t until Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe phase in the 1960s that Vincent was really allowed to shine. The exception to that is HIS KIND OF WOMAN. Vincent Price sinks his teeth into the Mark Cardigan role.
“This is going to be fun.”
Don’t get me wrong. Mitchum and Russell steam up your glasses in this film, but what brings me back to John Farrow’s 1951 crime thriller again and again is the wonderfully over-the-top performance by Vincent Price as Mark Cardigan, the biggest movie star who ever swashed a buckle.
“Did you close the garage?”
Cardigan travels from Hollywood to gorgeous, mid-century Morro’s Lodge in Baja California, Mexico to hunt and fish and woo his mistress, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell). His sporting ways do little to impress Lenore; she starts warming up to Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum). He’s in sunny Mexico for a mysterious, dangerous reason, which becomes clearer and uglier as the story progresses and we get to know the dastardly Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr). Nick’s a mobster deported by the U.S. government who wants to get back into the states. How does a famous and recognizable hoodlum get past customs, and where does the Nazi doctor fit in? Nick plans to use Dan—and I don’t mean he wants to borrow Dan’s passport. Dan, a teetotaler, still manages to intoxicate Lenore and the two begin a sexy little romance. I’ll admit: it’s fun to watch. Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell have terrific chemistry. That said, I still can’t watch this film without wishing it had more Vincent.
“My GODZILLA was the best! Say it!”
As Mark Cardigan, Vincent, full of boyish charm, tries to get his friend excited about hunting with him, but encounters only sarcasm. He has all this fancy hunting and fishing gear, but no one wants to play. He’s sure Dan will be a sport, but he has mind on other things.
Mark Cardigan: “What about tomorrow morning?
Dan Milner: “All right, what about it?”
Mark Cardigan: “The hunting. I’ve got all the equipment you need. How about me rootin’ you out about five.”
Dan Milner: “Five?”
Lenore Brent: “He shoots them as they crawl out of bed.”
“Wanna kill some stuff?”
Despite their best efforts, neither Lenore nor Dan can dampen Mark’s enthusiasm and off he goes to his favorite blind quoting Shakespeare. It’s that bigger-than-life, booming attitude that makes me smile every time I watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN. A combination of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ronald Coleman, Mark Cardigan has all the conceit of a matinee idol with some intelligence and a little humility to balance it out. Mark mentions the danger ahead of them and Dan promises that if his friend dies in battle, he’ll be sure to give him a big sendoff.
Dan: “Well, if you do get killed, I’ll make sure you get a first-rate funeral in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”
Mark: “I’ve already had it. My last picture died there.”
The interplay between Mark and the other characters continues throughout the film. Actually, he doesn’t need anyone to play off. He spends a good portion of the film soliloquizing. What separates this film from others depicting actors forced to face reality is how Mark handles it. He accepts the challenge and the risk gleefully as if he thinks he’s still on stage 6. On his way to fight the gangsters, Mark arms himself and then stops to don a black cape. Fabulous! History abounds with films about self-absorbed actors blurring the line between fantasy and reality, but this is more fun than profound. Part of the reason may be that when Mark looks deeply into his soul, he likes what he sees there. His long-winded speeches about battles and heroes aren’t just for show. Deep down he wants to believe every word and surprises even himself when the bullets start flying. It’s thrilling and joyous and fun.
“It’s 14 against 2.”
“We’ll take ’em.”
“How do you know?
“Bad guys can’t shoot.”
HIS KIND OF WOMAN has a romance with great chemistry, a twisted bad guy with a taste for torture, a Nazi, and a brilliant, but bored actor dying to prove himself to himself.
I can’t picture another actor who could do the part justice as well as Vincent Price. He has the energy, athleticism, timing, and eloquence to pull it off. Who else could wax poetic while trussing a duck?
OK. Maybe this guy.
Without delving too deeply into plot summation, I’ll say HIS KIND OF WOMAN packs a lot into two hours. There’s a love story, a mobster attempting to foil immigration, a CASABLANCA-like sub-plot with Jim Backus sitting in for Claude Rains, and a Nazi. As Joe Bob Briggs says, “…too much plot getting in the way of the story.” Fortunately, the writers, Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard along with the talented cast can handle it. I think this film’s success lies in the philosophy expressed by Jim Backus’ stockbroker when discussing movies in general. “People don’t go to movies to see how miserable the world is. They go there to eat popcorn and be happy.” Preston Sturges couldn’t have said it so well.