Jungle Book (1942)

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JUNGLE BOOK—the classic 1942 Technicolor version of Rudyard Kipling’s enduring stories boasts a wealth of visual glory, artisans imagination and sublime poetic simplicity. Composer genius Miklós Rózsa’s soundtrack captures in melodic amber the timeless majesty and fragile grandeur of the setting, highlighted by a piece titled “Song Of The Jungle”, included below. As we now live in a time when the natural World vanishes under human onslaught before our very eyes, Rózsa’s interior vision of Kipling’s extolling of innocence seems more prescient and precious than ever.

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He was hired for this job on the strength of his marvelous work back-dropping the exotic vistas of The Four Feathers and The Thief Of Bagdad, adventure tales brought to the screen by fellow Hungarian showstoppers, the Korda brothers.  For this, their third foray into Kiplingland (they had already done Elephant Boy and The Drum), Zoltan directed, Alexander produced (achieving wonders with $300,000) and the rapturous art direction was handled by Vincent.  Laurence Stallings adapted (freely) four of Kipling’s fifteen stories from his two anthologies, working into the 108-minute plot “Tiger! Tiger!”, “Mowgli’s Brothers”, “How Fear Came” and “The King’s Ankus”.  Behind the camera (and presumably ducking the bounding, snarling wildlife) were Lee Garmes and W. Howard Greene.

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WW2 prevented location filming, so Kipling’s beloved, fanciful India was recreated north of L.A. at Lake Sherwood and back in Hollywood on sound stages.  Animals tame and wild were brought in—tigers, panthers, bears, wolves, elephants, deer, monkeys and mocked-up cobras, pythons and crocodiles.  Part of the charm comes from the storybook faking of the model work, part from the “how-did-they-get-that-shot-and-not-lose-an-arm?” real-life marauding of the creatures.

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Humans on view include the unique Sabu (then 18), the great Joseph Calleia, John Qualen, Frank Puglia and Rosemary DeCamp.  A hit, it took in $2,850,000 and pulled Oscar nominations for Cinematography, Art Direction, Music Score and Special Effects.

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Lapsing into the scorched earth of Public Domain, prints screened for decades were faded, frequently terrible, but recent rescue has it once more available to twinkle the eyes of young and old with a riot of Technicolor.  Those who know only the 1967 animated version or the 2016 CGI extravaganza (pretty fab) will be in for a treat when they discover this enchanting oldie in its proper presentation. The film has heart.

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