Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Run Through the Jungle

Even as a fairly knowledgeable film buff I purty much only knew Cornel Wilde from his two best known roles in 1955’s The Big Combo and 1964’s The Greatest Show on Earth, and that he had forged some sort of strange secondary directorial career. His 1966 cult fave The Naked Prey (Criterion, 96 minutes, $40.00) has recently been released as a DVD, and it’s a wondrously effective yet determinedly odd and authentically primitive effort. The largely dialogue-less adventure has Wilde pursued through the jungle after a safari-gone-wrong by a passel of African tribesman. Intercut into the running, grunting, and and bang-bang bouts of brutality are bits of wildlife and landscape footage, edited in a way that actually furthers the lean narrative. Wilde, a taut physical specimen at 50, treats the natives with a decidedly nonracist eye for the mid-60’s, and the movie glides and pounds its way through a tense hour and a half before reaching a predictable, if satisfying finale. Weird and as low rent as it may be, the combo of the location shooting a minimalist acting, and faux verite can’t hide a certain sense of authorial vision, essentially urging further Wilde viewings like his war film Red Beach (1967) and his deep sea fable Shark’s Treasure (1975).

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