24 July 2001 | Charles Garbage
The classy side of AIP
Lawrence Tierney was given numerous low-life/tough-guy roles throughout the 40's in such noirs as BORN TO KILL (1947) and THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (1948), until he gained himself a bad name in Hollywood for his constant bar-brawls and arrests. The Tierney architype was resurected in the 50's when minor studios decided to milk the one-time noir icon for what he was worth. His only 50's come-back films I know of are THE HOODLUM (1951-United Artists) and THE FEMALE JUNGLE (1956-ARC), directed by the very under-rated Bruno VeSota right after DAUGHTER OF HORROR.
Lawrence plays a bum alcoholic detective who investigates in the murder of an actress committed outside the same bar he was drinking in. The plot unfolds itself from flashbacks. Producer, Burt Kaiser plays an alcoholic and unemployed artist, married to waitress, Kathleen Crowley. Kaiser is asked one night by a mysterious gossip columnist (the wonderfully sinister John Carradine, looking suave as ever in white tie and tails) to have his characature painted. Kaiser and Tierney both have affairs with Candy, a deliciously slutty bombshell (Jayne Mansfield, looking stunning in her film debut). Other suspects include George, the black janitor, James Kodl providing some intentional laughs as Joe, the bar owner and Cornelius Keefe (billed as Jack Hill!) as the Chief.
During World War 2, anyone who went to the movies had no choice but to pay money and view low-budget black-and-white quickies beacuse of the restrictions. Bottom-of-the-barrel studios like PRC and Monogram were in their element turning 'em out faster than they ever did before. This also gave film noir (considered lowbrow entertainment back then) an opportunity to be shown to wider audiences. The 50's saw just about every cinema-goer heading for the 70mm CinemaScope epics and big-name blockbusters leaving all other kinds of films to be viewed by nonexistent crowds at either art-house or drive-in theatres. It also saw the very last of the film noir echoeing it's way through the minor studio system. FEMALE JUNGLE, a great noir by many standards, was sold to Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson for ARC (pre-AIP) in 1956 and was dumped on a drive-in double-bill with OKLAHOMA WOMAN, a western directed by Roger Corman! I still don't think that FEMALE JUNGLE has got the appreciation it deserves. It is a superior film noir full of interesting low-life characters and dimly lit side-streets which all of us noir-lovers crave for in a film.
In an interview, Jayne Mansfield said that FEMALE JUNGLE "was filmed in two weeks and led to nothing". She was paid $150 for starring and then returned to her job as a popcorn-girl in a cinema before returning to the screen again in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? Lawrence Tierney wound up driving a taxi cab in Central Park before being resurected again (!) to play his tough-guy role in John Huston's PRIZZI'S HONOR (1985) and again in Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1993). Bruno VeSota later directed THE BRAIN EATERS (1958) and INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962), starred in numerous drive-in features throughout the late-50's and 60's (TEENAGE DOLL, A BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE CHOPPERS...) before dying of a heart attack in 1976 aged 54.