I was about twelve when I first learned that movies could be about something other than Lassie making it home. My sister Helen and I were sitting in the little Prairie du Sac theater, comfortably settled in with our Junior Mints. We were watching a movie called THE NAKED JUNGLE, with the young Charlton (my father called him Charlatan) Heston and gorgeous Eleanor Parker. My innocent parents thought it was a nature film about South American fauna. However, Helen and I couldn't help but notice that Charlatan was very hot, barging around the plantation in his ass-kicking boots, bossing the natives and flailing whips. You thought Heston was always a pompous old geezer, shilling for the NRA? Just believe me: back in the day, the man was fine.In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Heston and Eleanor slept in separate bedrooms and he was very mad at her, we didn't know why. She showed up for dinner every night in magnificent ballgowns which had huge bustles, but no top. He ground his teeth and cracked walnuts with his bare hands. Finally there was a scene where Charlatan kicked down Eleanor's bedroom door and fell on her like a thunderbolt, flinging bottles of perfume over her cleavage and giving her lock-and-load kisses. Little Helen and I looked at each other, big-eyed: WHOA!
It seemed they were headed for the divorce court, but then a huge horde of giant red killer ants overran the plantation, devouring Heston's peons. Heston and Eleanor bonded over fighting the ants, but I thought that part was almost anti-climactic.
Thousands of romantic movie scenes later, I still believe THE NAKED JUNGLE might win for sheer door-busting energy. But the grand old silent THE SHEIK is a close second, and in that case, the hero had to use title cards to declare his intent to ravish.
In THE SHEIK, Ahmed (Rudolph Valentino) is a powerful and sexy Arab lord of the desert who kidnaps beautiful but cold English aristocrat, Lady Diane (Agnes Ayres). She's arrogant, icy, and according to the title cards, asking for trouble. Ahmed snatches her, and charges across the desert sands with her flung across his saddle like a bag of feed. Finally he reaches his desert kingdom.
We know that Diane is in over her head when we see Ahmed's opulent tent. It is filled with voluptuous Oriental fabrics, suggestively tasseled and bobbled. He strides back and forth with a pantherlike tread, gloating over Lady Diane with slitted eyes as she cowers before him.
Finally she asks what may be the most stupid question in all cinema: "Why--why have you brought me here?" At this he flares both his nostrils and the whites of his eyes at her and famously replies, "Are you not woman enough--to know?"
This scene still sizzles, although the alert viewer will notice that both Ahmed and Diane are wearing numerous layers of clothing. Diane is sweltering in a full white linen riding suit with hat, ascot scarf, gloves and boots. Ahmed struts around in turban, cummerbund, jeweled dagger, embroidered waistcoat, huge pantaloons, a puff-sleeved shirt and more boots. Realistically, it would take Ahmed at least half an hour to fight his way through to skin.
But to this day, Valentino packs such a punch that we are never, ever in any doubt:
Rudy/Ahmed can do it! By the end of the movie, we're not surprised that not only is Lady Diane happily sporting harem pants, but in their romantic scene, her lovingly submissive title card really should read, "Have mercy, Ahmed...or not!" And they become formally engaged. It's sort of outrageous, given the circumstances, but what can you do? Personally, I raise my glass to the adorable couple.