Byron Haskin | The Naked Jungle | Robinson Crusoe on Mars | The Power

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Byron Haskin

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.

Sets

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.

Self-made Men

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 Power.

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.

Many of the men are struggling with ambiguity in their lives:

All of this ambiguity is very unusual in male characterization in film.

The Women

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

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 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.

Sets

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.