After Wyler, Wilder, Vidor & Donen; before Zinnemann, Huston, Edwards & Cukor; Audrey Hepburn’s charmed directorial fortunes took a hit when actor/husband Mel Ferrer grabbed the reins on this . . . romantic adventure?; magical-realism fable?; sub-symbolist drama a la Maurice Maeterlinck? Ferrer never made another Hollywood feature after this, so it’s hard to know just what he was going after. It’s not exactly bad, just odd, as may well befit W. H. Hudson’s once popular novel and Dorothy Kingsley’s fluttery, inadequate script. A pre-PSYCHO Anthony Perkins, with neck & jawbone to match Hepburn, is met fleeing a South American revolution. He’s out for Mayan gold and dares to search in the native’s forbidden jungle. But he finds no danger, instead, a dazzling forest spirit shaped just like Audrey Hepburn, an innocent beauty with a complicated backstory grumpily related to us by putative grandpa Lee J. Cobb. Ferrer uses real locations for much of the film, switching to soundstage artificiality in the forbidden zone, an idea that’s defeated far more experienced directors. (See Scorsese, NEW YORK, NEW YORK/’77.) Yet, even when it’s dying on screen (most of the time), it holds a certain morbid interest. Entertaining too, what with all the exceedingly fit indigenous types as entomological eye-candy in war dance rituals. Loads of music, too. Perkins sings a folk tune that might be a trial run for ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ and some of the sweeter jungle rhythms are from Brazilian great Heitor Villa-Lobos who runs with the Maeterlinck connection, leaning on Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MELISANDE as style guide.
DOUBLE-BILL: From Ghibli Animation, Takahata’s THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA/’13 gets a lot closer to bringing this kind of thing off.