The Twilight Zone - The Jungle

I REALLY like The Jungle. I think it shares that wonderful quiet eeriness of Val Lewton where a character walks about alone in the dark of night (or early morning) as something sinister seemingly awaits. In fact, this episode could be considered the closest to Val Lewton as you might ever see in The Twilight Zone. I am certainly a BIG fan of Lewton. And I felt Lewton all over this episode. I just love this. To some it will be a bit uneventful perhaps. To some it will be considered maybe full of dull air. Because John Dehner’s engineer does spend a great deal of time in New York City (never more empty which might be critiqued as unrealistic, but I can extend the disbelief for what the direction provides me) at 3 in the morning, trying to get back to his apartment. He hears sounds that resemble animals from the jungles of Africa where his company of businessman are building a hydroelectric dam. This project stirred a hornet’s nest, though. A tribe of witchdoctors put a curse on those behind it. That includes Dehner’s Alan Richards and his wife, Doris (Emily McLaughlin), just returning to New York from Africa.

After exposition during a meeting with the board of executives involved with Richards on the project where he confronts their laughter on the supposed witchdoctor curse on them by pointing out their own reliance on superstitions (knocking on wood, wearing a rabbit’s foot, not walking under a ladder, salt over the shoulder), Richards heads out to get a drink with Chad Cooper (Walter Brooke). Chad laughed the curse off like his fellow partners on the project, while Richards tries to defy the obvious fear that is developing no matter how he wishes to hide it behind a veneer of skepticism. The left behind lion’s tooth Doris put in his coat pocket and the artifacts (specific stone, teeth, a finger) of “protection” he tosses in the fireplace, Richards rids himself of these items that represent what he detests…symbols of what he considers ignorance. That is until he’s walking the city as the sounds of the jungle emerge to unsettle him into anxiety and encourage getting back to his apartment as quickly as possible.

The cabbie that keels over, the car that won’t start, the bum he gives some bills to that just vanishes, the warrior with a spear in a costume store window (I must admit that this is more than a bit racist…surely folks aren’t about to don the garb of an African warrior, right?), increasingly louder animal sounds (even sounding from a telephone in a booth as he attempts to call for assistance), with him retreating accidentally towards a park, eventually a nervous wreck; the episode builds and builds until the surreal climax of a charging lion from the bed as a Doris lies dead towards Dehner. The curse comes alive but before the emerging lion at the very end, this episode is pure Lewton in that it takes the absolute less-is-more approach.

It could all be in his mind, fear and anxiety giving birth to something that doesn’t exist. It is there. Doris in her paranoia begs Alan not to get rid of the protection devices, with him not allowing that curse to infiltrate their lives. But no matter how he might not want the curse to infiltrate their lives, it obviously does.

I think the majority of the episode plays on that…the bum doesn’t hear any animal sounds despite how Alan insists he should. So if that is what appeals to you, I think this episode will meet the Lewton standards.