Monday, January 24, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Green Hell (1940)

GREEN HELL is a crackerjack jungle adventure film in the tradition of the TARZAN series or KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950).

There's nothing particularly original about the movie, but it features an outstanding cast in a fast-paced, entertaining story. It's hard to beat the combination of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Bennett, and George Sanders, with an excellent supporting cast including Alan Hale, Vincent Price, John Howard, and George Bancroft.

Keith "Brandy" Brandon (Fairbanks) leads a group of explorers into the jungle on a search for Incan treasure. Weeks later, native bearers arrive unexpectedly with Stephanie Richardson (Bennett), the wife of one of the men; Stephanie is ill with jungle fever, and when she is lucid, she has to be told that her husband has died.

Stephanie's not in mourning for long; she learns her husband was two-timing her (he must have been crazy), and she's soon got both Brandy and Forrester (Sanders) in love with her. How lucky can a girl get?

Well, as it turns out she'll need a lot of luck, because murderous natives are closing in, and once the explorers' ammunition runs out, it's not going to be a pretty situation.

If one looks too closely, there's probably all sorts of things wrong with the movie, including sometimes silly depictions of the natives or how miraculously cool and lovely Stephanie looks in the humid jungle. But why look for problems when the movie's such fun? I found myself thoroughly entertained for the movie's 87-minute run time.

As Stephen H. Scheuer wrote in his 3-star review, "Fairly standard idea given bite by a fine cast and director."

The director was James Whale, who directed the first sound versions of WATERLOO BRIDGE (1931) and SHOW BOAT (1936). In 1939 he had directed Bennett in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.

Fairbanks, Bennett, and Sanders are all one would expect or want in a story such as this -- romantic, beautiful, dashing, and brave. Alan Hale, who sometimes wears out his welcome in blustery performances, is quite fine here in a restrained performance.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Karl Freund. Bennett's lovely jungle wardrobe was provided by Bernard Newman and Irene.

GREEN HELL isn't available on video or DVD, but it can be tracked down various places via the internet, including YouTube.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Laura: A very belated note to tell you how much I've enjoyed your reviews of some of these titles I've never seen, especially the Paramount ones. With TCM showing more of these I'm hoping that these titles and the Universal titles they own rights to will start be shown. (Really, really looking forward to TCM's showing of "Lucky Jordan" tomorrow night).

I've always wanted to see "Green Hell." I like pretty much everyone in the cast and its one of the few Vincent Price movies I've never seen. I do know that one of the temple sets originated in "The Mummy's Hand", also from 1940. Or maybe it was the other way around? Anyway, thanks for the heads up on these titles.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for your very nice note and the feedback, Kevin. It's my hope that by seeking out and reviewing these hard-to-find Paramount and Universal titles, I can play a role in helping keep the public aware that these movies are out there waiting to be made available and discovered by new audiences. I hope Universal will find a way to turn loose much more of the Paramount/Universal library which is such an important part of our film heritage.

Like you, I'm very excited TCM is showing LUCKY JORDAN! The other highlight of the month for me is next weekend's airing of Ray Milland in Paramount's MINISTRY OF FEAR. Let's hope for more great Paramount movies to be shown on TCM later this year. :)

Thanks for the interesting trivia about GREEN HELL. Hope you can see it soon, if you like the cast I think you're pretty certain to have fun watching it.

Best wishes,

9:47 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I haven't seen this movie in well over 20 years; even then I only caught it by chance when it popped up on TV. I'll admit I'm a bit of a sucker for these exotic jungle adventures, but this one must have been pretty good to remain lodged in my memory for so long.

The cast is fantastic and anything by James Whale is worth spending some time on. I'd dearly love to see this pop up on DVD somewhere, sometime.


12:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Love the feedback, Colin.

Perhaps TCM will consider releasing it, as they've released a handful of other Universal films, such as a Deanna Durbin set. It really deserves it, and I suspect many film fans would enjoy the chance to see it.

Best wishes,

12:47 AM  
Blogger Maura McPeak said...

I love any movie that George Sanders is in. Green Hell had some amusing moments: the two scenes where George plays the guitar and the scene where George cuts the hair of one of the other explorers.

5:22 PM  

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