Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956)

More jungle girls! Because you can’t have too many jungle girl movies. And comparing Liane, Jungle Goddess to Sheena sheds some interesting light on the decline and all of the classic B-movie.

Liane, Jungle Goddess (Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald) is a 1956 German production, and it’s unashamedly a B-movie. It makes copious use of stock footage, it was made on a low budget and it cleaned up on the exploitation circuit. It made money because the jungle girl story provided the opportunity to have a cute German teenager running about the jungle (or at least a set dressed to look like a jungle) semi-naked or even, at times, completely naked. It was also successful because as well as titillation it provides a consistently entertaining little story.

The plot is simply a slight variation on the Tarzan story. A passenger liner sinks off the African coast, and one little girl survives and is brought up by an African tribe. Cut to a decade-and-a-half later and a team of German scientists studying something (we never really find out what it is they’re studying) encounter a mysterious white girl swinging through the trees. This catches their attention. The fact that she’s virtually naked also helps to attract their attention. They have no idea who she is, but they decide to capture her in a net and take her back to Germany for further study!

The story becomes big news, and a Hamburg shipping magnate suspects that the jungle girl may be his grand-daughter Liane, believed drowned years earlier. If this is so, she stands to inherit a fortune, much to the displeasure of the old man’s nephew who thought himself to be the sole heir. Several of the scientists have accompanied the girl back to Germany, and in the meantime the girl has fallen hopelessly in love with handsome young scientist Thoren (Hardy Krüger). He’s been trying to teach her the ways of civilisation, with very limited success.

It starts out as straight exploitation, with lots of topless African women and one topless white jungle girl. Then it switches gears, surprisingly successfully, and becomes a gently whimsical romantic comedy as it follows Liane’s misadventures in the modern world. There’s a crime sub-plot involving the machinations of the old man’s wicked nephew as he endeavours by assorted nefarious methods to hang on to the fortune that he believes is rightfully his. There’s also a romantic sub-plot centred on the hopeless passion of the expedition’s female doctor for Thoren, and one of the male scientist’s equally hopeless passion for her.

All these disparate elements come together rather well, mainly because the movie never tries too hard. It’s light entertainment, and doesn’t try to be more than that. Like most German B-movies of that era it benefits from a very competent supporting cast, but its greatest asset is the charm of the two leads. Hardy Krüger is good-natured and slightly baffled, and thoroughly likeable. It’s the kind of role he was always able to carry off with ease. Even more of a plus is the 16-year-old Marion Michael as Liane. Compared to Tanya Roberts in Sheena she is much prettier and has an actual personality. And a very charming personality it is. It’s impossible not to like her. Whether Ms Michael was a great actress or not is difficult to gauge from a role such as this, but her acting is certainly more than adequate. We care what happens to Liane. And she has real chemistry with Hardy Krüger.

Director Eduard von Borsody doesn’t let the pace drag at any point. Unexpectedly, for a 1956 German film, it’s in colour. And like a proper jungle movie, it has all the wrong animals. There are South American toucans in the African treetops, and tribesmen wearing tiger-skins. The makers of Sheena foolishly went on location and so their movie has actual African animals in Africa, which spoils all the fun in this genre of movie. And Liane insists on taking her pet lion cub with her everywhere, which adds an extra cuteness factor.

The mix of gentle humour, romance and bare female flesh made this one a nice little earner in its day, and while Sheena has a very dated 80s quality to it Liane, Jungle Goddess remains fresh and is still thoroughly enjoyable.

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