Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde, 1966)

EFFIGY.2 - What's cookin'?

Cornell Wilde throbbed many a heart on the silver screen thru-out the 1940's and early '50's --

And while he was always a sturdy, if a trace bland, actor --

-- by the time the mid-'50's rolled around, Wilde had pivoted himself behind the camera as well.

The films directed by Wilde are always a treat. Tough-minded -- even tougher-bodied -- all are molded with a sharp intellectual insight into the nature of competitive cultural co-existence.

In The Naked Prey, the set-up is terse and immediate: a safari guide -- played by Wilde --

-- is put through a trial of survival by a group of indigenous tribesmen -- friendly at first --

-- who are rebuffed by the leader of Wilde's safari --

-- played by Gert Van den Bergh --

-- after they ask for trinkets to present to their chief.

Soon after, the members of the safari eagerly slaughter a herd of elephants for their ivory --

-- and a little something extra...

Hinted "transformations" occur within the first 20 minutes of the film -- signaling a harsher irony to come.

Wilde depicts the slaughtered elephants as massive sculptures of meat to be cored out and consumed and ivory to be extracted and ornamented.

They visually become inanimate objects of bounty and symbolic examples of white man's bloodthirsty competitive desires and greed.

The arrogant safari leader doesn't recognize his own self-destructive hypocrisy -- he is willing to slaughter an innocent animal and butcher it, not just for cash, but for the thrill of power --

-- but he will deny giving gifts to the local tribe, whose land they are on and brands them beggars. His superiority (i.e. racism) blinds him to a sense of fairness and equitability necessary for his own survival.

So it is this sense of equitability that is used in the punishment meted out against the members of the safari when they are captured by the tribe and brought before the insulted and outraged tribal chief.

The safari leader is staked to the ground --

-- and introduced to a cobra --

-- literally pitting snake --

-- against snake.

Another is dressed as a bird and chased with spears by the tribal women.

And another is given a punishment that places this film firmly near the top of DESTRUCTIBLE MAN's "Effigy" list --

-- he is coated in pottery -- mimicking the ornamental transformation imposed on the helpless elephant by the barbaric appropriation of its' tusks --

-- and cooked slowly on an open rotisserie --

-- to mock the unnecessary gutting and cooking of the elephant innards -- more of a humiliating gesture of power by the hunters directed at the elephant, than one out of a desperate need for food.

The film's last hour is preoccupied with Wilde's punishment --

-- a grueling run for his life as he is chased by tribal warriors of equal physical strength.

A test of honor and endurance, not a competition of superiority.

It is in this sustained climax that proves Wilde's character is truly no dummy --

-- but most definitely the "Man" he is credited as being.

post © Howard S. Berger & Kevin Marr/THE NAKED PREY © Paramount Pictures


Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I love this film so damn much and I'm really looking forward to the Criterion DVD release. I first saw it when I was a kid and it knocked me out.

malachi8 said...

Great post about a great film. Very insightful.