Monday, April 12, 2010

George in the Jungle: Green Hell (1940)

What would happen if you crossed Red Dust with a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in which five of the dwarfs were called Sweaty, one was dead and the other was George Sanders? Or to put it another way, what if you spun out the first fifteen minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to an hour and a half, and replaced the archeology and booby traps with a half a dozen emo Indiana Joneses who sit around being mooning over a chick? (Eventually the natives attack because they are sick of listening to the whining.) Well if you took either of this filmic perversions to their Nth degree and then some you'd have James Whale's Green Hell (1940).

A Friend of Cinema OCD pointed me in the direction of Green Hell, selling me on it with the information that Vincent Price considered it his worst film. Really? Worse than Theater of Blood (1973)? I'm so there! Well it turns out Green Hell is no where near as bad as Theater of Blood. It's not George Sander's worst film by a long shot either. And I'd even go so far as to say it's not even James Whale's worst film, (that honor could well belong to Wives Under Suspicion).

Warning: Spoilers will follow!

George Sanders and Vincent Price. Price dies so early in the film, I kept expecting him to come back as a zombie later on, else why would they bother to hire him?

The story follows a team of archeologist/adventurers lead by Dr. Loren (Alan Hale with a dubious European accent) and Keith "Brandy" Brandon (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Along for the ride are bigamist David "dies twenty minutes into the Film" Richardson (Vincent Price), Tex (George Bancroft), totally emo Graham (Gene Garrick), beyond emo youngster Hal Scott (John Howard) and emo for a George Sander's character, Forrester (George Sanders).

Tex and Forrester sing Home on the Range, "where the dee-ahs and the aunt-a-lope pah-lay."

After arriving at Incan ruins, they use their team of native guides to build a big house where they settle in for the long haul, excavating the ruins with dynamite and kicking over mummified remains while looking for the treasure hall. Perhaps annoyed by the mistreatment of their sacred burial sites, unfriendly natives show up and shoot Richardson with poison arrows.

"It's just a coma."

Richardson dies and not long after his wife turns up, (Joan Bennett) being carried unconscious in sedan chair and looking, to quote Forrester, "a bit of alright." When she wakes up she's mildly distressed to learn her husband is dead, but she has dreamy Fairbanks and Sanders tripping over themselves to impress her with exotic orchids and trips to the ruins. Excursions she takes in white linen dresses and three inch high white high heels, I must add. Fairbanks attempts to channel Gable from Red Dust as he attempts to remain steadfastly grumpy about this doll face turning up on his expedition and ruining everything. It's a given that he's head over heels in love with her.

Hair by George!
Forrester on the other hand, resigns whatever work he may have been doing in favor of the task of grooming himself, the other dwarfs, and fawning over the newly minted widow. He plays guitar behind his head, washes her hair and refuses to notice that she's completely in love with Brandy. That George! Perhaps it's just that I recently finished A Dreadful Man, but I can't help but see a bit of George and Benita here watching him going all out to amuse and cheer up the widow.

Enjoy the shampoo porn.

George sneaks in a Gomez Adams when Joan Bennett isn't looking.

10 out of 10 for this maneuver: a reverse guitar, straight into a dance floor cut-in, finishing with a "hold this for me will ya jack?"

A year passes and the dwarfs decide perhaps its time Snow White went back to civilization because she might not be safe in the jungle or something. Mrs. Richardson discovers that her husband was married to someone else as well, named "Helen" which gives her an excuse to admit her feelings for Brandy. She promptly represses these feelings for the good of the expedition. Then she pretends to like Forrester more than she does even though she looks like she's holding back vomit when he proposes to her.

In a painful scene, Forrester attempts to buck Brandy up a bit by asking him, "is there enough left of us to drink to 'us'." Some viewers speculate that this and several other scenes were part of Whale's diabolical plot to work gay subtext into the film. Whatever. Can't a brother make another brother really uncomfortable any more without it being a whole thing?

The Society for American Archeology called. You guys are all officially on suspension.

While the boys fight about who gets to escort Mrs. Richardson back to town the native guides suddenly disappear, a storm destroys most of the camp and the archeologists, sheltering from the weather in the ruins, finally stumble over the treasure. The hostile natives take advantage of the chaos to attack and the whole cast appear doomed.

"Well, cheerio everyone."

Eventually realizing that this film leaves him no further chances to be ten times as interesting or charming as anyone else, Forrester shoots himself. Twenty seconds later, the native guides' relatives show up as history's most ironic "cavalry" and save what's left of the expedition.

I apologize for the crummy caps made from Youtube. I just got carried away. It's a fun movie, with a great cast. Steve will yell at me if I don't mention that Karl Freund of Universal Horror fame was the DP on the film. There's at least a minute or two of horror sneaked in between the emofests. In one memorable scene the native guides get roasted alive by the unfriendly pro-Incan natives. If you look up reviews for the film you find quite a few people who saw it in the theater who remember this scene very vividly. They must have been a bit traumatized, poor souls.

And here's a weird tidbit for you: in looking for stills of this movie online, I found that it was listed in a web directory called the Shampoo Forum for people who fetishize hair washing. If only there was a forum for people who fetishize George Sanders playing the guitar behind his head. Oh wait, there is. It's called the comments section of CinemaOCD.


NoirGirl said...

Wow. WOW! I am completely convinced I must watch this film as soon as humanly possible. DFJ already made it a definite choice, but that guitar trick by the remarkable Mr Sanders is just too marvelous to deprive myself of it for another moment!

I was chuckling all the way through your comments but I particularly enjoyed the bit about George's departure from the film. How completely true!

Oh and that lead photo of DFJ & Joan Bennett is utterly dreamy. :)

rudyfan1926 said...

Oh, how can you be hating on Theatre of Blood? Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Coral Brown, Jack Hawkins, Robert Moreley? I'll have you know I not only saw this on first run (1973 as I recall) but I also saw it a drive-in. Overripe with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I love this movie!

Irena said...

Don't know about the movie, but your review is a hit! I absolutely enjoyed reading it.
"excavating the ruins with dynamite and kicking over mummified remains while looking for the treasure hall"
That's a surprisingly realistic depiction of early excavations.:)

Jennythenipper said...

Noirgirl: Do, catch it. If nothing else its on Youtube. Not the greatest quality, but hey this ain't Citizen Kane.

Rudyfan: Oh to have seen Theater of Blood in a drive-in! My husband also saw it on its first run, I think. I know its a parody and all, (which in some ways Green Hell is as well) but overripe is definitely the word for it. The gore in this was actually a bit much for me at times.

Irena: Yes, it's cringe-worthy to think that the methods in the movie aren't so far off the mark for the bad old days of archeology. Still, the archeologists in this aren't quite as clueless as David Manners in the Mummy.

SteveQ said...

I've seen this movie many times (fell asleep repeatedly, as it was always late). When I see Vincent Price, I want him drinking out of the back of his neck a la "Abominable Dr. Phibes," not just hanging about!

I've actually spent time at the "Hair We Are" fetish site... research. Yeah, research. Really.

Put up my Cavewoman film post. My readers are wondering what direction my blog's headed!

Jennythenipper said...

Steve: I haven't seen Dr. Phibes. I'd be willing to bet anything that Mr. CinemaOCD would be totally down with it though. Drinking out of the back of his neck? Wha?

I think my expectations were appropriately low for Green Hell. I'm more and more convinced that is the key to everything.

I didn't explore any of the extensive links off the shampoo porn site but I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the er, as you say, research available.

I will check out your cavewoman post. I'm sure your readers can handle it. They should be used to your eclecticism by now.

Ladybug said...

As I sit here listening to George's Lovely Lady, I decided to rewatch the guitar/dance scene from GH(with no sound). Too bad the screen caps couldn't capture the hip movements.

Thanks afor the great post.

Jennythenipper said...

Too bad Youtube can't really capture the beauty of the whole thing. I got so carried away with lovin' this movie that I couldn't wait for a better copy of the movie (and who ever knows with bootlegs whether they will suck or not) to arrive for caps. I wish I had Lovely Lady. I want the lp so that I can put the cover art in my geeksphere. It will replace "Montenegro Plays Dixie" which has a cat smoking a cigarette and wearing a lampshade on the cover.

Ladybug said...

My bootleg is slightly better than YouTube.

A Lovely Lady cd could be managed.

Cover art I'll discuss with a friend.

Jennythenipper said...

Far be it from me to stop you, but I'm sure that Mr. CinemaOCD will appreciate releasing the vinyl search hounds on this problem. If you can manage the cd easily, that would be grrrrreat, Tiger.

SteveQ said...

I don't feel like doing the Giant Spider filmfest, so here's the top 10 (in order of release date): Cat Women of the Moon, Tarantula (1955), Missile to the Moon, The Spider (1958), The Horrors of Spider Island, The Giant Spider Invasion (highly recommended!), Curse of the Black Widow, Arachnophobia, Spiders (2000) and Arachnid. Whichever Harry Potter film had one almost made the list.

Anonymous said...

Judge not a book by its cover.......................................................

species1859 said...

George Sanders was gorgeous, a fabulous actor, a brillant inventor, terrific singer, great piano player, spoke 5 languages and has no "worst movie"

species1859 said...

George Sanders is gorgeous, a fabulous actor and has no "worst film".

Jennythenipper said...

I'd agree, but if someone has a best film (All About Eve, perhaps) it follows they'd have a "worst," as well.