The Naked Jungle (1954)

One day my coworkers and I were sitting around bored, and we got to discussing movies. At one point I asked if any of them had seen The Naked Jungle.

“What’s it about?” David asked.

“It’s based on a short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants, about a man in South America who finds out that army ants are on the march and headed toward his plantation. Everyone else in the area is fleeing, but he is determined to stand his ground and fight them.”

David said that he had never heard of it, and the two other coworkers, Judy and Kevin, did not recall having seen it either.

“Well,” I continued, “this guy Leiningen tries all sorts of ways to block the path of the ants, but the ants figure out ways around those obstacles, until it looks like he will be overwhelmed by them and eaten alive.”

“Were they giant ants?” Judy asked.

“No,” I said, “just ordinary-sized ants, but millions of them.”

They all were shaking their heads, indicating that none of them had ever heard of the movie. Suddenly Kevin spoke up. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Is this the movie about a guy who has a mail-order bride, but then he finds out she has been married before, so then he doesn’t want her, because she’s been used?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, “that’s the movie.”

“Oh!” Judy said, “That’s the one with Charlton Heston and William Conrad.”

“I’ve seen that movie,” David said.

I was bewildered. “I didn’t mention that part of the movie,” I said, “because I didn’t think it was important.”

David laughed. “Yeah, John, you thought this was a movie about ants, and it was really about damaged goods in the mail.”

Well, the short story had nothing about a mail-order bride in it, so I guess that was another reason I had dismissed that part of the movie as just melodramatic filler.  But then I saw the movie again recently, and now I realize that it is not until the movie is half over before William Conrad utters the ominous word marabunta.

Leiningen (Charlton Heston) says the reason he does not want to temporarily leave his plantation until the ants are gone is that he is afraid his workers will return to the jungle and never come back.  But that seems to be a stretch.  If the workers preferred the jungle, they would have left a long time ago; if they prefer working on the farm, they will return.  Instead, we suspect that Leiningen is just stubborn, and he is using the workers as an excuse to stand his ground.

In the end, the plantation is more destroyed by his fighting the ants (all his furniture is burned to create a fire barrier, and the dam is destroyed to create a flood) than would have been the case had he simply left for a couple of weeks and then returned.

Oh, I almost forgot about what I have been given to understand is the most important part of the movie.  Leiningen manages to get past his disgust at having a previously married mail-order bride, and he and Joanna (Eleanor Parker) live happily ever after.

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