Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: The Naked Jungle

The Naked Jungle (1954)
: The dreaded Marabunta- army ants, Cheliomyrmex andicola
Size: Individually, less than ½ an inch long, together they’re “40 square miles agonizing death”
Modus Operandi: Destruction by tearing with sharp mandibles
How the Menace Emerges: Periodically, these ants go on the march eating everything in their path
End Goal: To turn the jungle into a wasteland

Oh, the drama…melodrama: “How do you stop them?” “You don’t, just get out of their way.”

It’s odd for me to say, but the real draw of The Naked Jungle isn’t the ants. Instead, it’s the over the top exchanges between the straight-faced and arrogant Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and his fiery, sexy mail-order bride Eleanor Parker (Caged!, The Sound of Music). While some B-movie fans have complained of the heavy hand of romance in The Naked Jungle, the tension and sheer perversity of the early exchanges between Heston and Parker, all drenched in syrupy 50s technicolor, are pure gold. Sure, once they resolve their differences, it’s as boring as any romance, but by then, the ants make their entrance.

Marabunta! The first shot we have of the dreaded Marabunta is a brilliant matte painting of bald mountaintops with ants streaming down their slopes. Soon enough, they’re crossing the moat in little leaf boats on their way to destroying everything that crazy ol’ Heston has built. The ant shots are great, if only for the sheer number of ants involved: odious masses of writhing black death, as frightening as a sentient blob in their malleable advance. Unfortunately, the reign of ants is far too brief in this flick, and before we know it, the triumphant romance music is at it again. Too bad.

The Naked Jungle may not even be a good movie, but between the campy, unsettling tension of the early dialogue and more ants than I’ve seen in any other insect-disaster flick, it’s worth a small slice of your afternoon.

Nit-picking Science: Now, Leiningen, I could be mistaken, but that ant you’re investigating sure looks like a Camponotus spp. to me.

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