Thursday, November 13, 2008

Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956)

(aka: Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald)

A good two decades before Sheena-Queen Of The Jungle, White Cannibal Queen, Diamonds Of Kilimandjaro, and Golden Temple Amazons, Austrian born director Eduard von Borsody (Corinna Darling) gave us Liane, Jungle Goddess. By now, the female Tarzan story is familiar to most. When an expedition discovers young blonde Liane living in the African jungle and idolized by the native tribes, they capture and return her to Hamburg where she is welcomed by her wealthy grandfather, ship tycoon Von Amelongen. His nephew Viktor Schoening, present head of the firm and prospective heir, tries everything in his power to stop his uncle from acknowledging her, including perjury, destruction of evidence, and eventually resorting to murder.

When first released in the U.S. in the mid-50's, Liane, Jungle Goddess was strictly considered "adults-only". A New York Times critic even declared it "virtual pornography". This is non-sense however, as most of the sparse nudity consists of topless National Geographic style footage of native women performing a ceremonial dance (six short years later, Jayne Mansfield would bare a heck-of-a-lot more in King Donovan's Promises! Promises!). The female star of Liane, Jungle Goddess was 16-year-old Marion Michael who was selected for the role of Liane out of 12,000 other prospective actresses. Michael did provide many pocked-faced adolescent 50's males a few quick glimpses of her breasts during the first half of the film, which stirred up more than a little controversy in those days. Not only due to the fact that she was only 16 at the time, but because she was only the second German actress to ever appear nude in a film (Hildegard Knef was the first to do so in the 1950 film The Sinner). By today's standards, Liane, Jungle Goddess is a very tame, yet entertaining, movie. It could easily squeak by with a PG rating. Though the film was a success at the box office, none of Ms. Michael's other dozen films, including Jungle Girl and the Slaver, a sequel of sorts of this movie, were unfortunately.

Like most 50's genre films, there are portions of Liane that are silly. Like when our handsome hero Thoren (Hardy Krüger - The Flight of the Phoenix, What The Peeper Saw) is fighting with the African natives and winds up with an arrow stuck in his hat. But all-in-all I really enjoyed this movie. It's nostalgic and entertaining. Shot on location in Africa (no cheap studio jungle sets here), I thought the photography was impressive, with lots of jungle and authentic native scenes and plenty of wild animals. Unfortunately, the master print used for the DVD transfer wasn't in great shape, and there is quite a bit of color fading and scratches throughout. Surprisingly, the acting was decent as well. Marion Michael may have come off a bit campy at times, especially when she attempts to communicate with her captor and new-found friend Thoren. But then, she spends most of the film either topless (albeit, covered with fake long blonde locks) or wearing short and sheer night gowns and bikinis, so who cares. There is an interesting little sub-plot in the movie. A love triangle (or...rectangle) between Thoren, Liana, the gorgeous Dr. Jacqueline Goddard (Irène Galter -Rome 11:00 ), and monkey-trader Tibor Teleky (Peter Mosbacher -Diabolically Yours). Thoren, who serves as Liane's paternal-like protector, is such a dimwit that he's unaware that both Jacqueline and Liane are in love with him. Meanwhile poor Tibor, after time and again trying to shield Jacqueline from Thoren's aloofness, eventually makes his feelings known to the lovely doctor.

Others in the cast include Rudolf Forster (Return Of Dr. Mabuse) as Theo Amelongen, Liane's grandfather; Rolf von Nauckhoff (Island of the Doomed) as Professor Danner; and the one and only Reggie Nalder (Mark Of The Devil, Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Salem's Lot) as the scheming and greedy Viktor. If you are a fan of female Greystoke movies or campy 50's jungle/action movies, I'd recommend Liane, Jungle Goddess. True, you won't get the endless shots of topless girls like in Franco's White Cannibal Queen or Diamonds Of Kilimandjaro, but apart from that, this is actually a better movie. I really like the story and Eduard von Borsody's direction. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, too.

Ready to buy Liane, Jungle Goddess ?

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