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.


Forgotten Book: The Will to Kill by Robert Bloch (1954)

Robert Bloch's The Will to Kill is full of twists and turns.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 172nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

After enjoying a Fredric Brown book last week, I thought it might be nice to try a novel from another classic writer. So I pulled my copy of Screams by Robert Bloch off the shelf. That volume contains three early suspense novels by the Psycho master, so I decided to go with the earliest novel, The Will to Kill.

I had read a lot of Bloch over the years, mostly his short fiction. His horror for Weird Tales was spectacular and he was an early acolyte/friend of H. P. Lovecraft. In fact, the two writers each did a story where they killed the other off by horrific means. Such a fun group.

The Will to Kill was, for many years, a legendary Bloch novel, available only as an Ace paperback original that was very hard to come by. Over the years, I searched for copies of this novel in many states. I did eventually find one in the late 90’s in Springfield, Missouri, at a small paperback house. I locates a lot of great titles that day, including the first five 84th Precinct novels by Ed McBain. I was about to check out when I saw this one behind the counter. The clerk said they were holding it for some customer but he had never come in. I asked when he was going to pick it up and the clerk said if it was still available on Friday, I could have it for $2. Come Friday I picked it up.

Screams collects three early Robert Bloch novels, including The Will to Kill.

I never got around to reading it before my Big Book Sale of 2007, when it went away to land on someone else’s shelves. So this last week, I decided to remedy that situation.

Tom Keller is a Korean War veteran suffering from PTSD, even though that phrase did not exist at the time. He has come home from the war to a loving wife. Sometimes Keller suffers from blackouts, fugue states where he wanders and does things that he does not remember. Following one of those episodes, he wakes up with scissors in his hand and a dead wife at his feet. Her throat had been cut … by scissors. He is jailed but eventually released when forensics prove he could not have performed the murder.

Now in another town, he runs a stamp, coin and book store where he works with his new girlfriend. He wants to be with her, but he still has his own doubts about the murder of his first wife. As the novel opens, Keller is recovering from a blackout and has no idea what he has done. He soon finds that he has told his girlfriend Kit about his fears and this drives her away.

While Kit is gone, Keller deals with a fat man with an obviously stolen stamp collection. He chooses the high road and does not buy the material, even though he could turn it into a quick profit. The seller is upset and leaves.

Soon, Keller encounters the fat man again at a bar, where he is abusing a woman and making threats. When Keller steps in, a knife comes out. But Keller is a veteran and disarms the man, ejecting him from the bar.

The girl he has saved, Trixie, invites him over and frantic sex happens at her place. Keller falls asleep, and when he wakes up, Trixie is dead. In circumstances similar to the previous murder he was involved with.

Keller is, of course, arrested and the earlier case is brought up. A blind man identifies Keller by his walk and the taps on his shoes as the killer. The murder weapon is identified as a poniard, a French style stiletto. And, of course, Tom has one in a case at his store. Or, had one, since the store has been broken into and the knife taken. The only possible lead is Trixie’s roommate. When the police go to ask her questions, she is found dead also. But, Tom was in police custody when the roommate was killed. And, of course, the same knife was used.

Kit shows up with a lawyer, Anthony Mingo, for whom she used to work and had been romantically involved. Tom, already unsure of himself, takes this new twist poorly and begins to doubt Kit’s affection for him.

The story takes several good turns and eventually resolves itself, but not before several unusual items from Tom’s and Kit’s past are revealed.

I really enjoyed this novel and read it in one sitting. And, with Screams, I still have two more early Bloch novels waiting for my attention, specifically Firebug and The Star Stalker. Bloch was really crafting his style at this point, leading up to his 1959 novel Psycho.

So, if you can find the Ace paperback, buy it. If not, get Screams and have three fun books. And, as with all such titles, your mileage may vary, but I doubt it. Bloch is fabulous.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week Todd Mason is hosting the listing.


First Frights: From Sesame Street to The Shining

Howdy Doody prepares to tear open the jugular of an unsuspecting victim.

I’m a member of the author panel at, and every so often, we’re asked to weigh in on questions about horror, dark literature and the macabre.

Recently, the site compiled a list of First Frights, or the first movies, books or TV shows that terrified us when we were young. It was a fascinating sampling that ranged from the expected classics — “Jaws,” “The Shining” and “Dracula” — to some rather unconventional choices, including “Sesame Street,” “Howdy Doody” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon.”

I ended up coming down on the more expected side, listing Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” as my early scare. The realistic brutality, especially the Bernard Herrmann-charged shower scene, left a deep scar on a young psyche more accustomed to the gothic creepiness of the old Universal monster movies. Norman Bates wasn’t Dracula or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He was a real-life monster, and his violence flashed across the screen in unrelenting detail.

While it was fun to nod in agreement with those who listed books and movies that also gave me an early jolt, I was ultimately more intrigued to read about the apparently mundane works others found completely horrifying. I hadn’t really thought about “Harold and the Purple Crayon” as a “solipsist hell” until Nancy Etchemendy pointed it out here. Or that, as Will Judy points out, some of the animated bits on “Sesame Street” were rather dark.

And John Shirley was right on target when he called out the nightmarish Howdy Doody: “The puppet was terrifying.”