Much of the hatred piled on this vilfied quickie is down to the fact that its trailer and (fantastic) poster promise a Creature From the Black Lagoon-style jungle monster movie, but the film finally reveals that its beast – which resembles a giant parrot with fangs and feathery claws – is actually an understandably pissed-off tribesman trying to scare whitey out of the jungle. If its had a title like Adventure in the Amazon, it probably wouldn’t be so despised – but no one would much like it either. Novelist-screenwriter Curt Siodmak (Donovan’s Brain, The Wolf Man) had a brief career as a writer-director in the 1950s, apparently through sibling rivalry with his much more talented brother Robert (Phantom Lady, Cry of the City, etc). Here, trekking all the way to Brazil, he delivers all-cliché characters, a ton of wildlife footage and colourful on-location scenery but nothing much exciting.
When the beast slashes natives who work for an American concern deep in the Amazon, trouble-shooter Rock Dean (John Bromfield) is hired to investigate. Rock is one of the most unreconstructed, unlikeable macho thugs in the cinema – told that heroine Andrea Romar (Beverly Garland) is a qualified nurse, he snarls ‘I know the type … can’t get a man, so she chooses a career’ before he even meets her. Surprisingly, she agrees to a date with the caveman, which is an excuse for a lengthy cabaret number from Larri Thomas, and he spends a whole evening putting smarmy moves on her while yawning when she tries to talk about her important research. Prefiguring Medicine Man, Andrea wants to come along on the expedition in search of drugs that might be useful in cancer treatment. He puts up a token resistance (‘I can think of a lot of places to take a woman … the jungle isn’t one of them’) before consenting. Most of the film consists of encounters with Amazon denizens – piranha, spiders, buffaloes, a snake – and Garland gets to do a lot of screaming, not to mention a very real-looking tussle with the snake. The monster business is undramatically resolved when Rock bonks the beast on the head and the mask is doffed to reveal native guide Tupanico (Tom Payne), who gets one hilarious line (‘I’m sorry I can’t offer you both a chair, but my tribe doesn’t know how to weave chairs’) before patiently explaining that contact with civilisation has been nothing but a disaster for his people.
It does have lurid bits: an arm dangled into the river is eaten to the bones by piranha, and the punchline finds a good Indian, whose life the heroine has saved with an appendectomy, giving Rock and Andrea a series of exotic presents, culminating in Tupanico’s severed shrunken head. On this trip, Siodmak also made Love-Slaves of the Amazon.