Four Frightened People (1934)
This deliciously fun Cecil B. DeMille film mixes great adventure with high camp and a stunningly beautiful Claudette Colbert.
Four strangers are tossed together off the Malayan coast when the ship they are on comes down with plague. William Gargan, Herbert Marshall and Mary Boland make there getaway by rowboat and take along mousy school teacher Colbert after she discovers their plot. They make their way to the nearest island but find natives and no sign of civilized life. What they do come up with is a guide played by Leo Carrillo to take them through jungles and swamps to find a shipping port and a way back to the Unites States.
The terrain is both deadly and beautiful for our group and in fine pre-code fashion Claudette points out, “it’s practically virgin territory.” Boland is quick to respond, “Perhaps that’s why Mr. Corder doesn’t like it.” This conversation after it`s clear that both Marshall and Gargan look at Colbert as dead weight holding them back from making good time through the jungle with absolutely no sex appeal about her. Even Colbert pauses to think over the comment.
Eventually our guide Leo admits he has lost his way and the clothing on our leads are quickly becoming frayed and ragged looking. Every noise and animal cry in the jungle adds to the uneasiness of both the men and the women.
Colbert is about to go through a metamorphosis when her anger takes over as she finally stands up for herself against the constant insults thrown her way. Mainly from Gargan. Becoming a pillar of strength like a woman possessed she charges off on her own into the jungle determined to find help and safety. Not so fast Miss Colbert.
Natives move in on our group with spears and threats of violence taking Boland prisoner. It`s Colbert once again who steps up when Gargan and Marshall are at each others throats over what their next move should be.
Time for a bizarre turn as only DeMille can give us. A nude waterfall scene where Claudette runs into Johnny Weissmuller`s favorite pet chimp who promptly runs off with her clothing. No worries as Marshall charges into the waterfall and scoops her into his arms. As she struggles he`s quick to point out, “Shut up! Your beautiful.” Yes sir. I laughed out loud.
No clothes, no problem. Colbert whips up the sexiest outfit from palm leaves imaginable and at long last our two would be heroes take notice of the blossoming woman in their midst. The hell with poor Mary Boland the prisoner or seeking civilization. It`s become a battle for the hand of sexy Claudette.
I`ll stop here as is my practice not wanting to spoil the finale. I will say that the ending would never make it past the code once it was in place.
Colbert really is captivating here once she sheds the spectacles and lets her hair down. No wonder the two leading actors are bewitched by her jungle look hoping to play Tarzan to her Jane.
DeMille captures some great shots on screen in this early talkie. One that stands out must have terrified crowds when a body is thrown to the waters nearly hitting our escaping row boat at the films opening. He also combines some great angles and jungle shots of our actors as they make their way through swamps and webs of bamboo in what must have been a physically demanding film for both cast and crew.
While I frequently caught myself giggling at the groups on screen trials including Boland bringing women`s liberation to the natives and a very Gilligan`s Island creativity at times I would think that audiences of the day were riveted to their seats which is just what they would expect from a DeMille production in 1934.
This is Claudette`s film all the way which is available as part of a DeMille collection on DVD from Universal.