Wednesday 11 November 2020

Movie Review: Four Frightened People (1934)

A jungle survival adventure, Four Frightened People is a fitful and ultimately just inane story about coping with adversity.

The bubonic plague spreads among passengers on-board a ship sailing off the Malayan coast. Four of the travellers decide to take matters into their own hands, jumping into a small lifeboat and fleeing to a nearby jungle island.

The four are Judy Jones (Claudette Colbert), a meek and dowdy geography teacher, Mrs. Mardick (Mary Boland), a jovial socialite with interest in empowering women to control birth rates, Arnold Ainger (Herbert Marshall), an introverted chemist, and Stewart Corder (William Gargan) a loudmouth celebrity newspaperman.

On the island they connect with English speaking native Montague (Leo Carrillo), who offers to guide them to safety on a three day trek across the terrain. But he is soon lost, and the group is stranded for weeks in the jungle. They have to contend with dangerous wildlife, hostile tribes, and interpersonal rivalries, resulting in shifting power dynamics and explosions of lust and love.

A choppy mix of survival drama, attempted comedy and commentary on the human condition, Four Frightened People never finds a firm footing and is often busy shooting itself in the foot. Despite weeks lost in the jungle (filmed on location in Hawaii), the women never lose their make-up, and indeed Judy Jones just becomes more ravishing with the passing days. The men never lose weight, and late in the adventure somehow everyone finds form-fitting, and frequently changing, outfits to wear.

Director and producer Cecil B. DeMille, in one of his decidedly less epic outings, is most interested in Judy's transformation from docile and helpless to confident and alluring, survival in the jungle jumbling all civilized human attributes and allowing Judy the freedom to find the lioness within. Her nude shower in a waterfall (a very long shot with a body double) is the final trigger for Arnold and Stewart to notice she is, indeed, a woman. A monkey conveniently runs off with her tattered clothes, a cue for the costume department to conjure up a succession of well-tailored figure-hugging leopard skins, because a nude Claudette Colbert is sufficient inspiration for a journalist and a chemist to hunt and skin a leopard. 

Elsewhere the women's shrieks are loud and frequent, encounters with snakes and tribals unleashing high decibel emoting. The humour comes courtesy of Mary Boland's unflappable attitude as Mrs. Mardick maintains her sense of self and eventually turns a native village into her women's education headquarters. 

Somewhere a blundering love triangle erupts with the boorish and easily excitable Stewart losing out to the more sensitive Arnold in winning Judy's heart. And for all her burgeoning confidence and awakened sexuality, Judy still dissolves into a puddle of sentimentality at the thought of a man committing to her.

Four Frightened People is bad enough to be enjoyable for fun, any sense of logic lost in the jungle along with everything else.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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