Forgotten Film: Green Mansions (1959)

Green Mansions has some fun moments, but it marred by its casting.

This is the 160th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Green Mansions had been waiting on my DVR queue since November while the novel has been in my Forgotten Books to-be-read stack since last summer. Since the film takes less time to complete, guess which one won the race?

I have been a fan for W. H. Hudson and his fabulous works of South America for quite a few years and when last I saw this film (20 years or so ago) I really enjoyed it. So, when it came on TCM last year, I recorded it. I started to watch it about 2 months ago but got interrupted and did not immediately return, much like my viewing of Jessica Jones on Netflix. (What I saw I enjoyed, but I have not been compelled to finish it up yet.)

This is an odd film for MGM. I am not sure of the casting of Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins as a romantic couple. Audrey, yes! Tony? Well, I keep hearkening back to Psycho, which came out the following year. It might have worked for audiences in 1959, but I found it a little tense.

Abel (Perkins) is a young Venezuelan man who is connected by his parents to the government. Revolution is in the air and he finds that he needs to leave town fast with only his clothes and little else. He travels down the river to a small trading post where he acquires a map which might lead to some gold that can finance his revenge. Along the way, his guides desert him and his canoe crashed over a small waterfall. He finds himself captured by a village of natives led by Runi, portrayed by that most South American actor (and I’m being sarcastic here) Sessue Hayakawa. Unable to communicate but knowing that the natives respect courage and the ability to stand and talk for hours, Abel stands for many hours reciting anything he can think of until the arrival of Kua-Ko (Henry Silva), the son of the chief who has spent time with missionaries and can speak English.

Abel is respected for his performance and becomes part of the tribe. One day, he notices a small forest across the savannah. When he asks about it and the possibility of what game (and gold) it might contain, he is told that it is taboo. Undeterred, Abel visits the forest and is haunted by its beauty and the trilling bird-like songs he hears. When he returns, he is taken to Runi who praises his bravery, because the wood is haunted by the “Daughter of the Didi,” a spirit that has killed the chief’s favorite son and Kua-Ko’s older brother. Abel is sent back to kill the spirit.

Upon his return, he is confronted by the vision of Rima, the bird girl (Hepburn). While watching her, he is bitten by a coral snake and passes out. He awakens two days later in a hut occupied by Nuflo (Lee J. Cobb), who reveals that Rima is his granddaughter.

Abel begins to fall for Rima but is concerned that Runi and Kua-Ko will come to kill her. He tells her something of the outside world and Rima wants to go to Riolama, a village she has some residual memories of. This causes a rift with Nuflo. Abel returns to the native village where is again taken captive. Kua-Ko proves himself a mighty warrior by surviving a nest of wasps and bees stinging him without evidencing pain or screams. A mighty party ensues to celebrate his endurance. Abel escapes and takes Rima and Nuflo out to avoid the raiding party.

There is more action after they escape, and eventually they return to face the vicious mob. But I will leave that for you to see.

I liked this film better the last time I saw it. This time, several things that bothered me, not the least were the casting of Sessue Hayakawa, Anthony Perkins and Lee. J. Cobb, who was mostly annoying in his incessant complaining. And somehow Audrey Hepburn just did not seem to be into the role. She was beautiful to look at and she delivered her lines well, but there was something missing.

So, Green Mansions has a good story but not an exceptional cast. Also to it’s credit, the music is interesting. Apparently MGM hired famed composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to do the score but did not like the results. The studio then had Bronislau Kaper create a score that used some of Villa-Lobos’ themes and some new original music. There are times when it is brilliant and times when it is jarring and intrusive.

And the film was directed by Mel Ferrer who was married to Audrey Hepburn at the time. It wasn’t his first time directing a feature film nor was it his last but he did not do very many. None that I have seen are outstanding.

Overall, I am glad to have seen Green Mansions again but I may not be in such a hurry the next time it shows. If you have not seen it, it is worth a viewing.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.