Friday, November 15, 2013

Liane, Jungle Goddess

Jungle girl movies were a staple in theatres way back in the days when you could see two movies for the price of one, along with a serial, a cartoon and a news reel, with stars such as Dorothy Lamour, Maria Montez, Frances Gifford, Maureen O'Sullivan and Brenda Joyce swinging from one potted plant to another.  Not to be overlooked in all this Hollywood slickness is a lesser-known (and late) entry in the field, LIANE, JUNGLE GODDESS (1956), a four-star film out of Germany (the four stars being Marion Michael, Hardy Kruger, Irene Galter and Reggie Nalder).

Marion Michael in the Swingin' Fifties.

The film garnered some notoriety because the star, pulchritudinous Marion Michael, wore a skimpy loincloth made of shells and beads -- and nothing else.  In addition, much has been made about her age being 16 at the time of filming.  Viewers needn't concern themselves with that erroneous claim -- she was actually 15.  (Marion Michael was born October 17, 1940; the movie was released October 4, 1956.)

Marion Ilonka Michaela Delonge was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia, a German province.  (The Russians captured Konigsberg at the end of the war and renamed it Kaliningrad.)  Marion fled with her mother to the tiny island of Hiddensee, and then to Berlin.  They eventually settled in West Berlin, while Marion's father, a surgeon, remained in East Berlin.

Marion enrolled in Tatjana Gosovsky's ballet school around the age of ten, and, in 1955, her penchant for the stage brought her to compete with 11,800 other girls for the lead role in a movie called LIANE, DAS MADCHEN AUS DEM URWALD (Liane, The Girl From The Jungle).  The producers, Arca-Filmproduktion, were looking for an unknown actress, and Marion, with her incredible figure honed by years of dancing, won the part of Liane.  Gero Wecker, who'd founded Arca in 1953 as an outlet for his low-budget exploitation films, signed Marion to an exclusive 7-year contract, with the intention of producing a series of Liane films.  She was marketed as "Germany's answer to Brigitte Bardot".

LIANE film programme.
Wecker hired Eduard von Borsody to direct.  Borsody, who started his movie career in the early 1920s as a cameraman, went on to write and direct an impressive number of films, starting in the 1930s.  Being a photographer, it was only natural that he made sure the lens was pointed in the right direction for this particular film!


The movie opens with the clatter of tribal drums and a horn section reminiscent of trumpeting elephants, the theme playing over stock footage of an African tribal dance.  Stock footage of wildlife confirms the African setting, though it was more likely intended as filler material.  It takes five minutes for the actual story to get under way.

It begins at the campsite of the Danner expedition, where we're introduced to a group of explorers.  The team's photographer, Thoren (Hardy Kruger), is out photographing wildlife.  He stumbles upon a lion cub, which he intends to take with him, but is immediately attacked by warriors.  His assistants flee, leaving Thoren to fend for himself.

He doesn't do so well.  Thoren is held down, about to have his head removed, when a young girl whom the natives call Chia-Hee (pronounced Key-a-hee) shows up, blonde, blue-eyed, nude but for a scant loincloth of shells and beads, carrying the lion cub.  She sets it down upon noticing their captive, taking interest in what may be the first white man she's ever seen.  The warrior chief (wearing a stove pipe hat which a previous victim obviously had no further use for) is intent on doing his grim work, but the girl orders Thoren's release, and they all disappear into the forest, to Thoren's bewilderment (and, no doubt, relief).

Best to keep your head in these situations.  Liane spares Thoren's life.

Chia-Hee and the warriors return to their village, where bare-breasted women justify the white girl's own nudity.  (A clever device; after all, she's one of the Wo-Do tribe, and can't be expected to dress any differently.)  Chia-Hee gives a few commands in her native tongue, then climbs a rope up to her small tree house, where she lives high above the mud huts, as befits a white goddess.

White jungle goddesses deserve more than just a few beans.

Back at camp, Thoren relates his story of a savage white girl roaming the jungle.  They doubt his senses.  He intends to bring back photographic proof of her existence.

The next morning, Chia-Hee is swinging from a vine above a pool.  Fortunately, Thoren has his camera set up right near that very spot and takes photos of her swimming around.  Her friend Tanga arrives to tease her, but she shoos him away.  When she notices Thoren, she leaves.

Thoren (Hardy Kruger) with Liane in a promotional photo.  The scene is non-existent, as it was actually a big lout named Keller who captured this enchanting creature.

The girl doesn't get far.  A hulking brute named Keller, out hunting deer, spots the girl, captures her in a net and carries her back to camp.

Still tied up and tangled in the net, Chia-Hee is kept in one of the tents.  Thoren takes the net from over her head, and she bites his arm.  But the girl's fear is abated by Thoren's gentle approach, and he rather suggestively feeds her a banana.

The wild-eyed Liane, queen of the jungle.

While Chia-Hee sleeps, Thoren and Dr. Jacqueline Goddard notice that amongst the baubles of her necklace is a charm (later described as a pendant, then a medal) engraved with an "L", and wonder at its significance.

In the morning, Jacqueline gives Chia-Hee a shower, then crops her mane.  She's given a blouse, tied in a knot at her midriff, and a pair of short shorts.  "Ah, that looks so much better now," opines Jacqueline.  They make some progress when the girl recognises the German word for "mother".

Who wears short shorts?

Meanwhile, in Hamburg, shipbuilder Theo Amelongen shows his nephew Viktor a newspaper article reporting the discovery of a white girl in the African jungle.  Amelongen believes it could be Liane, his long-lost granddaughter.  "Why couldn't it be she?  The age is right.  It was 18 years ago the ship went down..."  Liane was 2 years old then, making her 20 in the film (at least in the English-dubbed version; those numbers might have been used for legal reasons for exhibition abroad).  Amelongen is convinced that Liane may have survived the shipwreck, and that her nanny might have brought her to live amongst her people.

Jacqueline, having already received a message that she was accepted by the Tropical Institute, must return to Hamburg, along with Tibor and his monkey specimens.  Chia-Hee is being sent with them, to be restored to civilisation.  Thoren is forced to join the travellers, as the frightened girl refuses to go without him.

Liane and Tanga

While the ship is being loaded, Tanga arrives with Chia-Hee's lion cub, and stows away.  When he's discovered, they agree to pay for his passport, and Chia-Hee is overjoyed to have her pet, Simba, back.  Thoren comes across a newspaper report about Amelongen's claim, and they rechristen the girl "Liane".  During the boat trip, Liane begins to learn German (English, in the dubbed version).

The ship arrives at Port Said, Egypt, met by a throng of reporters.  Viktor shows up, ostensibly to fly Liane back to Germany, but Thoren suspects that Amelongen's rat-faced nephew has a more nefarious scheme in mind, and refuses to let Liane go without him.  Viktor reluctantly agrees, and the three of them catch the next flight to Hamburg.

Liane and Simba

Viktor, until now Amelongen's sole surviving heir, fears for his inheritance, and will stop at nothing to disprove the theory that the wild girl is Amelongen's granddaughter.

At Amelongen's mansion, all are given a warm welcome from the old shipbuilder.  That evening Liane is given a babydoll nightgown and a luxurious bedroom, but in the morning she's found in Thoren's room, sleeping on the floor beside his bed.

"So, it wasn't a dream!"  Thoren wakes up to a surprise.

Dressed in the latest mid-'50s fashions, Liane is taken for a visit downtown, where she throws her high heels into the middle of the street, having little use for shoes.

She's more at home on the grounds of Amelongen's estate, climbing trees in a bikini and diving into the pond.  She takes a liking to her grandfather, and calls him "Long-Long".  A child's finger print left in jam on a letter to Amelongen from Liane's mother offers conclusive proof of the girl's lineage.  The letter is shown to Viktor, who crumples it up and throws it on the ground for the dog to chew on, hoping to get rid of the evidence.  He's unaware that Thoren noticed in time, and rescued it from the mutt's slavering jaws.

From the men's sweat mag, MAN'S CONQUEST (June 1958).

German postcard.

The next morning, Amelongen is found murdered at his desk, slain by Tanga's knife.  The police are sent for.  As the room was locked from inside, Tanga is the only one capable of scaling the 30-foot wall.  However, an astute observation proves that Viktor is the killer, and that he had cleverly locked the door from outside using a pencil and string.  He escapes, but during the ensuing car chase his vehicle runs off a bridge, and he plummets to his doom.

In Africa, the Danner expedition gets word that Liane has inherited the Amelongen fortune, and that she and Thoren will be returning to the jungle.  The tribe is happy to see Chia-Hee again.

The film ends with Liane discarding her clothes before diving into her favourite swimming hole.  Thoren joins her.  The end.

LIANE, LA SAUVAGEONNE; painted poster for the French market.

Remarkably, Liane never carried a knife or a spear, and, despite her wild upbringing, was rather helpless in every situation.  Unlike the great Nyoka of movie serials, and comic book predecessors Sheena, Camilla, Rulah, Tiger Girl, Princess Pantha, Taanda (the White Princess), Zegra, Judy of the Jungle, and others, Liane didn't do battle with natives, poachers, cults, crocodiles, gorillas or lions.  That would have required a budget Arca Films didn't have.  In fact, LIANE wasn't filmed in the wilds of Africa, as reported, but in the milds of a tropical park in Italy -- with Marion's mother keeping a watchful eye.

But most of Marion Michael's epidermis was exposed on the big screen, and the movie was a hit!  (Some foreign versions exclude footage cut from the original German release, mostly of Marion's exposed breasts.)  That it was almost scandalous helped boost ticket sales, and Marion became a star overnight.  A sequel, LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN (Liane, the White Slave, 1957), was inevitable.

The movie was submitted for review to the censor board October 1, 1956, and it was recommended for those 12 years of age and over, but a revision in the code February 13, 1957 earned it a "16" label, and then another revision on April 10, 1958 found the movie suitable for 10-year-olds.

Above: LIANE, DAS MADCHEN AUS DEM URWALD, film programme.  Judging by the cover, you'd think it was a Disney movie.  Below: Okay, so it's not a Disney movie.

How this movie came about is a bit of a mystery.  Later movie posters will tell you that it was based on a novel by Anne Day-Helveg -- a novel that wasn't published until 1958, two years after the movie was released.  One suspects that the novel was actually a novelization of the movie.  In fact, there were three Liane books issued in 1958: Liane, das Madchen aus dem Urwald Books 1 and 2, and Liane, Zwischen Zwei Welten (Liane, Between Two Worlds, though it's actually an adaptation of the film LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN).  The movie posters claimed that the book had been read by 15,000,000 people, which is preposterous.

From the back cover of STAR REVUE #17 (1957)

Anne Day-Helveg is something of a puzzle herself.  She was born Anna Lydia Popper in 1898.  Her younger brother was the philosopher Karl Popper.  Anna was married a few times and changed her name accordingly, and wrote under a number of aliases, often for obscure pulp magazines, so an account of her work would be difficult.  She married a man known only as Helveg, and went by the name Anna Gruner-Helveg.  She later married Fred Lothringer, a writer, but wrote as Anne Day-Helveg, which, according to some sources, was actually a pseudonym for Anna and Fred's collaborative efforts.  Try untangling that mess!




Ernst von Salomon, who wrote the screenplays for both Liane movies, had collaborated with director Eduard von Borsody on several movies in the late 1930s, and two of them, KAUTSCHUK (1938) and KONGO EXPRESS (1939) had a tropical setting.  Gero Wecker somehow managed to hire the services of these two prolific veterans.

Liane also comes from a long line of lost-and-found jungle girls, many of whom were heiresses.  There was the serial JUNGLE GODDESS (1922), LORRAINE OF THE LIONS (1925), TRADER HORN (1931), THE SAVAGE GIRL (1932), QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE (1935), THE JUNGLE PRINCESS (1936), BLONDE SAVAGE (1947), JUNGLE GODDESS (1948), DAUGHTER OF THE JUNGLE (1949), and CAPTIVE GIRL (1950), part of Johnny Weissmuller's Jungle Jim series of movies.  There was also THE TIGER WOMAN (1944), a 12-chapter Republic serial.  The list goes on.

LIANE may not be CITIZEN KANE, but it's a competent, entertaining production, and Marion Michael is effortlessly charming throughout.  The young beauty appeared on dozens of magazine covers.

BRAVO (March 24, 1957)

FUNK UND FILM (December 1, 1956)

FROU FROU #53 (1958)

Liane featured in CAPER, 1959

Unfortunately, Marion Michael's exclusive contract prevented her from working for any other film studio for the next seven years, and she had to keep churning out movies for Gero Wecker, though she was free to perform on stage or television.  If there were any offers from Hollywood, she was out of luck.  After fulfilling her obligation to Arca Films in 1963, Marion appeared in a few TV movies and stage performances, then more or less retired from acting, a promising career quelled by the same people that created it.

QUICK (May 2, 1959).

After filming DER TOLLE BOMBERG (The Mad Bomberg, 1957), she returned as Liane in LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN (Liane, the White Slave, 1957, also known as Jungle Girl and the Slaver and Nature Girl and the Slaver).  In the sequel, Liane is once again the long-haired jungle maiden, still indifferent to clothing, though some of the shells of her necklace seem to be immobile, as if wardrobe was instructed to paste them to her boobs; and at 22 minutes into the film she dons the familiar shirt and shorts from the first movie, just in time for some perils in the desert.  Jean Pierre Faye and Rolf von Nauckhoff resume their roles as Tanga and Professor Danner.  The movie was also a box office success.  LIANE, JUNGLE GODDESS and, to a lesser extent, the sequel, were to be Marion Michael's only real claim to fame.

LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN film programme, 1957.


Belgian poster.

What unmitigated idiot gave Marion Michael second billing for the LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN premiere?

When LIANE, THE JUNGLE GODDESS started playing North America in the fall of 1958, it was mainly shown in grindhouse theatres, often on the same bill as Brigitte Bardot and Diana Dors movies.  In the U.S. the National Legion of Decency rendered their verdict on LIANE: "Objection: This film seriously offends Christian and traditional standards of decency by reason of gross suggestiveness in costuming."  At some theatres it was titled LIANE, THE NAKED GODDESS.  Soon JUNGLE/NATURE GIRL AND THE SLAVER made the rounds, and the movie posters were even more lurid.  They weren't doing Marion Michael any favours.

A truly unfortunate poster for LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN for the American market.

Still, Marion Michael enjoyed a few years of popularity in Europe, and was the subject of countless celebrity trading cards and postcards, most featuring publicity shots and movie stills from LIANE.  Aside from the three Anne Day-Helveg books, there were also the Roman Film Color photonovel adaptations of both movies: Liana, la Fille de la Foret (#6, October 20, 1958) and Liana, la Schiava Bianca (#9, January 20, 1959).  Essentially, they were Italian comic books comprised of photos from the movies.


ROMAN FILM COLOR #9 (January 20, 1959), adapting LIANE, DIE WEISSE SKLAVIN.

ERBANIA #7 (June 1959).
But Liane didn't go completely unknown or unappreciated elsewhere.  ERBANIA, a fanzine devoted to Edgar Rice Burroughs and related interests, reviewed LIANE, JUNGLE GODDESS in issue #7 (June 1959), which also featured her on the cover.  The movie would certainly have been of interest to Burroughs fans.

One of a zillion Marion Michael postcards.

"Liane", a 90-minute German television special, was shown in 1996, with three different actresses portraying Marion Michael in different stages of her life, told in musical form.  Marion herself made an appearance.

Marion Michael passed away in 2007, just shy of her 67th birthday, but she forever lives on as Liane!