Written by: Carroll Jenkins on June 1st, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1955
Director: Bruno VeSota
Writers: Burt Kaiser, Bruno VeSota
Cast: Burt Kaiser, Kathleen Crowley, John Carradine, Lawrence Tierney, Duane Grey, Jayne Mansfield, James Kodl, Davis Roberts, Bruce Carlisle, Connie Cezan
DVD released: August 6th, 2008
Approximate running time: 73 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Dark Horse Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (Australia)
Retail Price: $12.95
The Citizen Kane of low budget independent film noir cinema. A convoluted plot, seedy locations, tawdry characters, and lots of shadows. Certainly, there is an abundance of dialog as in most low budget crime melodramas, but this one can be enjoyed just as much with the volume turned off. This is due to a mix of pre-code styled salaciousness and extraordinarily stark black and white cinematography. It’s a hard boiled crime melodrama with all the trimmings.
Jayne Mansfield, in her first film appearance, is truly captivating during her brief screen time. Her star potential is here to see before she became a parody of the blond bombshell image in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and The Girl Can’t Help It. They might have been her biggest successes, but did they wreck her career? Here the early Jayne compares favorably to the early Marilyn Monroe as her character entrances both the detective and the married man upstairs.
That married man is a frustrated artist forced to pimp his talents and do caricatures for patrons of local bars. His frustrated wife is being pursued by John Carradine in a serious role as a playboy professor. Other interesting but ancillary characters are the waitress and the Negro custodian at the bar. The waitress is shown in negligee and receives the detective in her bedroom while her husband fruitlessly tries to sleep. The custodian is presented in a dignified non-demeaning manner. Both characters dominate their scenes. The nominal comic relief is the sweaty, stubbly, cigar chomping bartender who is often shown in obvious close-up inserts, much as was the mock-up giant scorpion in the Black Scorpion.
The most memorable aspect of the film is the always ambitious and sometimes innovative noir photography. The waitress’s bedroom scene begins in stark silhouette until she turns on the bedside lamp. Many of the scenes are filmed with an ambient light effect which sometimes obscures details in an unusual manner. Cheap jack productions might do this unintentionally, but here the producers are using every trick in the book and inventing some new ones to present an exceptional entertainment on the cheap. The plot is also quite good with delicious quirks and unexpected twists, just overshadowed by the casting, performances, photography, locations, framing, direction, editing, and cheesecake presentation of the female cast. Also notable is the prominent display of Jayne Mansfield in the original poster art, a variation/altercation appears as the DVD cover art.
This is a PAL presentation of a good print. There is mild NTSC to PAL conversion blurring, and there are no subtitles or closed captioning. The print exhibits rather frequent speckles that are undoubtedly pronounced by the starkly noir presentation. Some scenes are very dark, but that is again attributable to the ultra noir aspect more than any deficiencies of the print or the transfer. In one scene Jayne’s diamond earrings almost bleed through the screen, but that, again, is original intent. Not perfect but quite enjoyable nevertheless.
Female Jungle is mostly regarded as a footnote in the bio of Jayne Mansfield, but the film is obviously a labor of love by all involved and the end result is a classic of its kind. THE classic of its kind is probably Touch Of Evil, but that came three years later.