Back into the Malaysian jungles we go again for Cecil B. DeMille's early survival pic, Four Frightened People. Released just under the wire before the studios started fully enforcing the Hays Code in 1934, the movie retains a few spicy Pre-Code moments, even in its edited-down theatrical release form (the studio hacked it down from 95 minutes to 78, most of the cuts seemingly not eliminating juicy or saucy material, but mostly unnecessary backstory for the four main characters.) The film starts out like gangbusters, full of lots of witty banter and some fun character interactions, but becomes increasingly ridiculous and melodramatic the more it goes on.
The four people in the title are Claudette Colbert, as Judy, a mousy spinster of a schoolteacher no one takes seriously - at least at first, until she loses her glasses and goes all nature girl sexpot later in the film; the refined Herbert Marshall, believably snarky if hard to buy as a downtrodden rubber chemist and henpecked corporate schlub named Ainger; Mary Boland as Mrs. Marsdick, a cheerful (and surprisingly tough and resilient) society grand dame and wife of a British official, on a mission to educate the East about the dangers of overpopulation; and William Gargan as a brassy, boorish newspaper reporter named Corder.
The movie opens with our protagonists sneaking off ship to escape an outbreak of bubonic plague on their steamer. No sooner do they arrive on shore in the wilds of Malaya (once again, Hawaii acts as a substitute) then they find themselves tramping through the jungle to get to the port on the other side of the peninsula, led by an amiable native guide, Montague (Leo Carillo), who thinks of himself as a "white man" (fittingly, as he's played by one) and wears a necktie over his bare, barrel chest.
The "Great White Hunter" subgenre was on the wane by the early-to-mid 1960s, and Rampage was part of that last gasp, trying to bridge the old-fashioned jungle adventure yarn with more modern sensibilities about the appropriateness of big game hunting and sexual politics amongst the decadent European jet set. In a reverse twist on Mogambo (1953), here it's one woman who finds herself torn between two men, but unlike the earlier John Ford film, the romantic triangle this time out is far less interesting. Rampage does have several things in its favor, however, including some great scenery (Hawaii standing in for Malaysia), a nifty title tune and memorable score courtesy of Elmer Bernstein, a couple of nice, tense stand-offs between man and beast, the alluring presence of Elsa Martinelli and one of the last appearances by the one-and-only Sabu.
Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Stanton, commissioned by a German zoo to head to Malaysia and capture two tigers and, especially, the elusive "Enchantress," a local legend purported to be a combination of a leopard and a tiger. Zoo manager Schelling (Emile Genest) has also hired aging big game hunter Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins) to accompany Stanton. Otto has experience in the Malay territory and knows the local tribal dialect; he also has a stunning young mistress, Anna (Elsa Martinelli), who, it's rather salaciously implied, he took under his wing when he found her wandering alone as a war orphan at age 14. Harry gets one good look at Anna (and she him) and the game is on (you can practically see Mitchum's nostrils flare). Since Anna is Otto's "general staff," she'll be going along on the expedition. Otto is amused by the sparks flying between the two, as well as Stanton's preference for catching animals alive rather than killing them. The dichotomy in their personal philosophies is summed up in an early exchange, in Otto's vast trophy room:
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