|Feb 11 2024
Everything out there wants to kill you—including the people.
We've shown you many magazines and books on the subject of headhunters (check here and here for our absolute favorites). Mid-century interest in the subject made its way to the silver screen more than once, in this case with Jivaro, which premiered today in 1954. The title references hunter-gatherer cultures centered in the northwestern Amazon rainforest across Ecuador and Peru who shrank human heads for ceremonial reasons. The movie was a 3-D production, a fact that becomes apparent as pottery, chairs, spears, and occasional flaming arrows fly toward the camera, and it was shot in Technicolor. For those reasons, we wouldn't call it a b-movie exactly, but it still could have used a boost in budget.
Fernando Lamas plays a rough and tumble trader who plies the Amazon River in a rat trap boat. This is a rough gig. People are mean as hell down there. Even the local priest knows martial arts. Lamas agrees to conduct hot redhead Rhonda Fleming to meet her fiancée, who has ventured far from the nearest trading post in search of gold. She's fresh from California and has no idea her man has turned into a drunk and is canoodling with a local girl played by Rita Moreno.
Fleming's fiancée goes incommunicado, and eventually Lamas decides to trek into the forbidden Valley of the Winds (cue wind machine and sound effects) in order to find him. There isn't much upside to this quest, but something has developed between Lamas and Fleming, and if they don't know whether her fiancée is dead or alive, he'll always stand between them. Or something like that. They head into the wilds, endure struggles that will look familiar to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in due time find answers to all their questions, if perfunctorily.
For us, the movie raised new ones, such as where was the screenwriter during all this? Lost in the jungle too, we guess. But we can't say Jivaro is bad. While shot entirely in Hollywood with second unit footage from South America added to fill in the margins, it's actually somewhat convincing in its setting. And Fleming is good, though with her red hair we can't believe the Jivaro we able to miss her with so many arrows. But that's film tradition for you—even today, using better weapons, villains still have terrible aim. If you aim to watch Jivaro, we recommend drinking some firewater to make it a more entertaining diversion, and keeping your expectations in reasonable territory.
EcuadorPeruJivaroFernando LamasRhonda FlemingBrian KeithLon Chaney Jr.Rita Morenocinemaposter artmovie review