Byron Haskin | The Naked Jungle
| Robinson Crusoe on Mars | The Power
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
Byron Haskin was a Hollywood film director. He worked in several genres, and is best known today for his
science fiction films.
The Naked Jungle
The Naked Jungle (1954) is very similar in mood, theme,
characters and photography to Haskin's later The Power
(1967). Although the films were made over a decade apart, they
could be a matched set of works. Both films were also produced
by the same man, special effects king George Pal, and this also
might have an effect on their common approaches.
Both films take place on large, beautiful pastel colored sets.
Both films sets' represent affluent upper class living. The pastel
worlds of these films are the opposite of noir. There is no urban
atmosphere - the films instead take place in suburban areas and
the countryside. The menaces in the films have little to do with
urban crime, either.
Both have a successful well dressed hero at their core. Both men
are dynamic winners who are the center of a whole world - the
chocolate plantation of The Naked Jungle, the science lab
of The Power. Both men are dressed to the teeth in suits,
and both are affluent and successful within their mini-worlds.
But there is considerable question about the public value of these
little kingdoms - neither man has a relationship with the world
outside. Both men deal with older male authority figures who come
to visit their world. Such middle aged men are a lot more normal
and less obsessed than the hero. Also, both worlds are threatened
by nearly overwhelming menaces, which threaten to destroy them
- and which gradually do wreck almost everything - the soldier
ants in The Naked Jungle, and the mutant superman in The
If the men are good at their jobs, they are struggling with severe
problems in their personal lives.
Men in Haskin's films transform themselves:
These films describe a male process of socialization. Men in them
learn to mold personas which allow them to cope successfully with
the world. They also try to express their own inner feelings,
which often center on such intellectual subjects as the poetry
Heston loves in The Naked Jungle, and the science research
performed by the men in The Power. Both of these Haskin
films talk about this process, and the divided men it produces,
much more openly than do other films.
- Heston's character in The Naked Jungle is a self-made
man. His appearance, his house, his assumed personality: all are
things he has invented because they correspond to his ideas of
an ideal man. It is a completely self-created persona. Behind
all of this he is terrified and frightened. But he also has a
lot of intellectual gifts, as well as good feelings towards other
- The Earl Holliman character in The Power is similarly
self-invented. He describes his own experiences developing a polished
persona for himself. In Holliman's case, he has modeled himself
on another man, the hero played by George Hamilton.
- One suspects that underneath Hamilton's polished exterior,
a similar process of invention has taken place. No one becomes
such a smooth looking organization man without huge effort.
Many of the men are struggling with ambiguity in their lives:
All of this ambiguity is very unusual in male characterization
- The macho, dominating Heston is concealing the fact that he
has never been with a woman, and is very scared of the whole process.
- Holliman's character has perhaps similar ambiguities.
- Hamilton's experiments suggest that he too is involved with
strange, overwhelming feelings.
The women in Haskin's films are much more authentic than the men.
These women tend to be courageous. They explicitly demand to share
in all the hero's struggles with the menaces involved. In both
films, much of the story shows the hero and heroine coping with
the menace. They share everything through the course of the film,
and gradually come to bond as a couple. What starts out as pure
attraction by the hero, turns into a real relationship. The relationship
is completely egalitarian. The heroine is the man's equal in every
way, both intellectually, and in her courageous sharing of risk.
Both heroines in fact risk much more than the men. Their steadfastness
and giving nature allows them to penetrate the defenses that the
men have built up around themselves.
Both women are intellectually gifted - Eleanor Parker in The
Naked Jungle plays the piano and speaks several languages;
Suzanne Pleshette is a brainy scientist at the lab. Such brilliant
woman were created here long before the feminist movement really
took hold, and Haskin and Pal deserve credit for being ahead of
their time. These brainy, accomplished women are perhaps in the
tradition of scientist-heroines in the sf films of the 1950's.
The Mini-dramas: Emotion + Genre
Haskin constructs his films out of long scenes. These scenes are
rich in emotional content. Each tends to reveal a great deal about
his characters' feelings. They are full of symbols that suggest
inner emotional states. These long, sustained mini-dramas remind
one of the long scenes in Akira Kurosawa.
Haskin also resembles Kurosawa in his mixtures of high brow dramatic
material with allegedly low brow thriller and genre material.
This gives a fully developed quality to most of the scenes in
both directors' films. They have been imagined in at least two
directions, the emotional and the thriller plot. Andrew Sarris
in The American Cinema noticed this two-sided approach
in Haskin, both the genre and the emotional drama. It seems more
conspicuous than ever today, when many action films have much
violence and no emotional plot. By contrast, there are many scenes
in The Naked Jungle that deal entirely with the personal
lives of the hero and heroine.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) is a science fiction film.
Relations Between Men
Female characters are absent from Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
This is unusual for a Hollywood film, especially one from the studio era.
Instead, the film shows relationships between the hero, and two very different men.
The Power (1968) is a science fiction thriller. It takes
place entirely on Earth, and in the very near future: "Tomorrow"
as the title says. This means that all of its settings are regular,
1960's locations near Los Angeles. The picture has a villain,
but he is unseen and operating through mental telepathy through
most of the movie. This means that the film is not a monster movie:
there are no on-screen monsters. It is one sf film that takes
place in our world.
The Power has limitations in its treatment of the female
characters. None seem to show any great cleverness, although Suzanne
Pleshette is supposed to be a major scientist.
Influence from Hitchcock
The Power is strongly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock.
We are used to hearing such claims in ads and reviews: a "thriller
in the style of Hitchcock!" they proclaim. Of course, it
never is: today's films tend very rarely to show any direct Hitchcock
influence. The Power is completely different. It actually
is a Hitchcock like film, one of the few I've seen directed by
someone other than Alfred.
The Power consists of a long series of suspense sequences.
Each one strongly resembles the suspense set pieces in Hitchcock's
films. In Hitchcock, there tends to be one or at most two such
set pieces per film. The rest of the film is in a different style,
or set of styles. By contrast, The Power is almost all
set pieces, at least a dozen of them, one after another in the
picture. Each is very Hitchcock like. Many of them tend to actually
imitate similar sequences in various Hitchcock films:
The scenes in The Power are hardly slavish imitations.
They are usually very well done and exciting.
- The desert scene in The Power recalls the crop dusting
scene in North by Northwest.
- The scene at the convention, where Hamilton and friends are
trying to stay in public to avoid being murdered, remind one of
the public murder at the UN in North by Northwest.
- The speeding carousel scene in The Power recalls the
finale of Strangers on a Train.
- The attempted murder in the kitchen recalls in general terms
both the kitchen murder in Torn Curtain, and the bathroom
scene in Psycho.
- The auditorium revisits the many theatrical suspense sequences
in Hitchcock, such as Mr. Memory in The 39 Steps, and Stage
- The way that the hero is constantly on the run, and suspected
by the police of the crimes he has merely unfortunately witnessed,
is also Hitchcock like.
- So is the urbanity of the sophisticated, affluent looking
settings: we are a long way from noir here.
- Even the bedroom scenes follow Hitchcock's Psycho formula
of showing the woman covered and the man stripped to the waist,
although perhaps both filmmakers are simply responding to what
the censors of the time would allow.
The filmmakers have not picked up on other aspects of Hitchcock's
style. There are no great staircase scenes, and no complex mix
of camera movement and cutting within dialogue scenes. The film
is not a complete pastiche: it simply picks up on one aspect of
Hitchcock's style. However, it does that superbly, and one should
not underestimate The Power as a film making achievement.
Influence from Gog
Gog (Herbert L. Strock, 1954) is a science fiction film,
showing preparations for future US space travel at a top secret government lab.
Gog is perhaps an influence on the later film The Power. Both:
Gog is a joyless horror film, showing nasty experiments and relentless disasters. It is not much fun.
I think it is quite inferior to The Power.
- Take place at high-prestige US laboratories conducting advanced experiments to research space travel.
- Have experiments that are sabotaged by an unknown power, leading to disaster and people getting killed.
- Both show experiments designed to test humans under extreme conditions: experiments which verge on "sick material".
- Have a classy older British actor in charge of this US lab.
The sets of The Power are remarkably beautiful. There are
full of rich color, often pastels, and are far more vibrant that
today's films, which often seem to be deliberately desaturated
of any color, in order to make them look more "realistic".
The Power is more in the tradition of old Technicolor musicals,
suggesting that the audience would enjoy a richly colorful, carefully
designed visual experience. I sure do, and watching this film
is a delightful treat.