Green Mansions Review
Green Mansions, the 1959 Mel Ferrer-directed adaptation of William Henry Hudson's popular novel, might be the single worst film I've gotten myself into reviewing here at DVD Times. It's poorly made and acted, mildly offensive, at times incoherent, and just as dull as it could possibly be considering what should have been an intriguing premise. Some quick research also reveals Green Mansions to be the final holdout among Audrey Hepburn's post-Roman Holiday theatrical features to find a DVD release in either the UK or North America. Sometimes the last really is the least. The film's theatrical bow came in the same year as The Nun's Story, for which Hepburn was Oscar-nominated. That was an heroic achievement, really, as Green Mansions must have been a Norbit-like albatross hanging around Hepburn's frail neck.
While Hepburn's involvement could likely be owed to director Ferrer being her husband (and this was his first and only major studio directing gig), it doesn't fully let her off the hook. Her performance and presence only look adequate in comparison to how poor everyone else in the cast is. She hasn't an ounce of movie star charisma in this film, nor does she evince any capacity as an actor. The picture's lead Anthony Perkins, just a year away from being Norman Bates, fares even worse. He's on screen the vast majority of the time, but carries no weight as a performer. The audience understands nothing about either his character, a prissily angry young man in the jungles of South America, or the true conviction of his ideas. As Abel, Perkins could not seem more out of place, and he really struggles to convey any sense of strength in someone who comes off as a completely unprepared, naive fool, though one we're apparently supposed to accept and even applaud.
There's a fairly long tradition of movies where a well-to-do male enters a foreign land he's unfamiliar with that's occupied by often uncivilized natives. He's typically the hero, as Perkins is here, and often white, which the character of Abel is not supposed to be though Perkins obviously would struggle to pass as Venezuelan away from a movie set. Frankly, this makes me uneasy. Some of these films at least have the benefit of being entertaining outside of ideological concerns, though Green Mansions is not one of them and, to me, it's brazenly irresponsible to depict tribal members - the "Indians" - as such savage creatures. Henry Silva plays the one native who speaks broken English and can understand Perkins. He also just happens to be crazy, and intent on impressing his father (Sessue Hayakawa). Incidentally, Hayakawa has absolutely zero lines of English dialogue and mostly glares with a healthy degree of anger in the film, but I still found him to be the most effective performer by a considerable margin. How embarrassing, though, to simply portray these "Indians" as savages, making it presumably acceptable to eradicate them as necessary, without any attempt to justify or explain why they might not take so well to outsiders. This is a shallow, disgraceful depiction where the audience is instructed to identify with and support potential gold thief Perkins.
The ethnocentric clash is hardly the extent of my complaints. As the grandfather of forest nymph Rima (Hepburn), Lee J. Cobb doesn't even seem to be trying. He has one sequence of sheer, comically out of place shouting that attaches a probably unwanted camp value to the film. Ferrer's direction lacks passion and creativity. He'd been on film sets headed by John Ford, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and King Vidor so it's disappointing to see such a bland result from someone who ideally should've known better. The CinemaScope framing, too, is just wasted. Green Mansions is set in a South American jungle, with at least a portion of location work reportedly in the picture, but, aside from obvious stock footage of waterfalls and such, most of the film looks like it was shot on a soundstage. There's no feeling of authenticity in the setting. This hampers the movie considerably, making it seem theatrical and lacking any basis in reality. I've not read the source novel (though just scanning the Wikipedia synopsis was more exciting than watching Ferrer's version), but essentially removing the appeal of such a lush setting and replacing it with what looks like the potted plant section of a big box store was a terrible idea.
There's a photograph of Hepburn in a cowboy hat credited as being taken on location during the shooting of Green Mansions. It really piqued my interest in the movie because of how stunning Hepburn looks in the picture, like an actual woman instead of a Cinderella figure or a pixieish waif. Nothing remotely resembles that image on screen, unfortunately, and Hepburn is fully enmeshed in a role that would seem to suit her yet ultimately proves incompatible. The Rima character is little more than a kook, a teenage orphan who talks to the forest and who's believed to control various fauna and flora by the natives. Hepburn, too old and tall for the part, runs around in a form-fitting gown that accentuates her skeleton. Her role seems undeveloped, and an important shading in of the backstory lacks any resonance partly because of how nonsensically abridged screenwriter Dorothy Kingsley (or whoever was actually responsible) made the story. The romance between Perkins and Hepburn, too, feels false and almost insulting to think these two, mostly based off of Rima's unseen venom removal, would so quickly become inseparable. The wham-bang movie love works sometimes, but it doesn't here. Neither does the movie as a whole. I couldn't recommend a single aspect of this hugely disappointing and deservedly forgotten film.
Made by MGM and now owned by Warner Bros., Green Mansions was one of a small number of films licensed and released by the outfit Digital Classics. The single-layered DVD-R review copy I watched is PAL but region-free, as would probably be the case with the retail copies.
The good news is that the 2.39:1 widescreen image has been preserved in an anamorphic transfer. Some combing is evident until just before the 9-minute mark, but doesn't occur again in the remaining hour and a half. Hardly any damage, just the occasional speckles of dirt and reel change markers, is on the print. Detail is not as impressive as one might like. Things can look somewhat soft at times, and sharpness overall seems inconsistent. Colors, by which I mean greens, are bright and decent, but tend to get almost smeared along with the moderate lack of detail. The few scenes of obvious stock footage or rear projection stand out, though you can't blame the transfer for that.
Not thrilled with the audio. The two-channel English mono has the dialogue mixed somewhat low. An enthusiastic score sounds out of place in the early portions of the picture, but seems to even out as things progress. What's really disappointing is the omission of the four-track stereo audio that Green Mansions was originally outfitted with in cinemas. No subtitles are offered on the disc either, an unfortunate omission.
The only extra feature is a trailer (2:54) for the movie.