Plot: colonists discover a white girl living in the jungles of Kenya.
The noble savage is a literary convention as old as time. After the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller in the thirties and forties had made Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most enduring creation one of the heroes of the big screen, imitations were bound to follow. In Golden Age comics and serials Nyoka, Sheena, Rulah, Rima, Princess Pantha, and Judy of the Jungle were regulars in the various comic households. This meant that there was a built-in audience for a jungle goddess character. Through the forties the jungle goddess was immortalized on the big screen with as dubious highlight Lewis D. Collins’ Jungle Goddess (1948). Italy had Gungala, Virgin Of the Jungle (1967) and Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968). America had Eve (1968). Argentina had Laura from Captive Of the Jungle (1969). Spain had Kilma, Queen of the Jungle (1975) and in Hong Kong there was Soviet import Evelyne Kraft in Shaw Bros giant monster epic The Mighty Peking Man (1977). What is almost forgotten today is that Germany got there first with Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald (or Liane, the Girl from the Jungle, released in the English-speaking world as simply Liane, Jungle Goddess). It made a star of Marion Michael overnight and was lucrative enough to warrant a sequel with Liane: White Slave (1957), the composite Liane, Daughter of the Jungle (1961) and even a television remake by Horst Königstein simply called Liane (1996) with Ina Paule Klink inheriting Michael’s most famous role and her iconic micro-loincloth.
Liane, Jungle Goddess boasts two of the most recognizable stars of the day. Hardy Krüger and Marion Michael. Krüger was a mainstay in French, German, and Italian cinema as well as German television. In the Anglo-Saxon world he’s known for his roles in The One That Got Away (1957), Howard Hawks’ African action-adventure Hatari! (1962) with John Wayne, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Stanley Kubrick’s multiple Academy Award winning period costume epic Barry Lyndon (1975), and the Richard Attenborough World War II ensemble piece A Bridge Too Far (1977). Today, or at least since the late eighties, Krüger has reinvented himself as a prolific writer and documentary maker.
The other was Marion Michael. Michael was born in Königsberg (modern day Kaliningrad in Russia) in 1940 and she was the second German actress to appear nude in a film preceded only by Hildegarde Knef from Die Sünderin (1950) (or The Sinner) a decade and a half before. At the tender age of 15 Marion was selected out of 12,000 candidates by Gero Wecker from Arca-Filmproduktion for the lead role in the company’s big jungle adventure, later famously novelized by Anne Day-Helveg. The role was initially promised to Christiane König from the Heimatfilm The Girls from Immenhof (1955). However, König’s contract was voided when she refused to enter into a relationship with Wecker and Michael was installed in her stead. Marion was touted as “the German Brigitte Bardot” and signed to an exclusive 7-year contract with Arca-Filmproduktion who were looking to make a Liane franchise. Liane, Jungle Goddess was a domestic box office success, but none of the 10 movies that Michael appeared in over the next six years would come close to eclipsing her first big hit. Obviously Marion Michael would define the blonde jungle goddess archetype for decades to come…
On an unspecified expedition in Kenya a group of colonist scientists – rugged adventurer Thoren (Hardy Krüger), French anthropologist Dr. Jacqueline Goddard (Irene Galter, as Irène Galter), their aide Kersten (Edward Tierney, as Ed Tracy), and their mentor Prof. Danner (Rolf von Nauckhoff) – happen upon savage white girl Liane (Marion Michael, as Marion Michaels) when the men of science capture her pet lion cub Simba (Simba is, after all, the Swahili word for lion and king). Liane has been living with Botos tribesmen who venerate her as their white goddess. The scientists ship their latest discovery to Hamburg, Germany for further observation and study. There her presence comes to the attention of industrialist Theo Amelongen (Rudolf Forster) who’s on the verge of signing away his vast shipbuilding empire to his overzealous, scheming, and morbidly ambitious nephew Viktor Schöninck (Reggie Nalder). The sudden surfacing of the sole known heir to the Amelongen industrial estate stirs the sleeping giant that is Schöninck. In order to preserve the inheritance that he worked his entire life for Schöninck does not shy away from discrediting the scientists’ findings that Liane is indeed the biological granddaughter of old man Theo Amelongen. In a fit of blind rage and rank desperation Schöninck kills Amelongen and tries to frame Liane’s tribesman Tibor Teleky (Peter Mosbacher) for the cold-blooded murder. Thoren sees through the deception and exposes Schöninck for the criminal he is. Liane, fearing that she will never acclimate to the urban jungle, returns to the safety of the Kenyan wilds.
While hardly novel in any significant way Liane, Jungle Goddess reinvented the well-trodden jungle safari subgenre by injecting it with a dose of old-fashioned violence and situational nudity. That Marion was both a minor and almost wore a tiny loincloth (hopelessly tame and innocent by today’s standards) for most of the time. All of which caused a ruckus with moral arbiters and child protective services the controversy all but ensuring that Liane, Jungle Goddess would be a sure-fire box office smash. Producer Wecker knew a success formula when he saw it and besides Heimatfilme and Schlagerfilme his Arca-Filmproduktion was behind 7 (!!) Oswalt Kolle Aufklärungsfilme, 9 (!!) sequels to The Girls from Immenhof (1955), and after the Sexual Revolution helped sire a new more permissive era of the Germany sex comedy the same way that Alfred Vohrer's Sweetheart or How Do I Tell my Daughter? (1969) (with a 16-year-old and frequently nude Mascha Gonska) did with his The Love Mad Baronesses (1969) (with the delectable trio of Andrea Rau, Barbara Capell, and Ingrid Steeger). Perhaps we’re slightly exaggerating the importance of The Love Mad Baronesses (1969) - especially since it’s something of an anomaly in Wecker’s otherwise respectable filmography – but without him Alois Brummer, Hubert Frank, Franz Josef Gottlieb, and Franz Marischka wouldn’t have been able to turn the wholesome and optimist Heimatfilme on its head and create the farcical Tiroler sex comedy as we know it.
If chroniclers of the day and promotional slogans are to be believed Liane, Jungle Goddess was supposedly, allegedly shot on location in Kenya. Nothing could be further from the truth as Wecker was an exploitation producer, first and foremost. And why risk the expensive move of shooting on location in Africa when much of the required scenery could be found in the much closer Italy and Spain? The brunt of the feature was filmed at Circeo National Park and Lago di Fogliano in Lazio, Rome but perceptive viewers might or will recognize that very familiar looking dunes and palm tree forest of Maspalomas in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria standing in for what we are told are the Kenyan jungles. Indeed, it’s the same stretch of Washingtonia - and Canary Island date palms and pampas grass later used as a prominent location in the spaghetti war movie Heroes Without Glory (1971) and Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) as well as the Jess Franco Eurociné trashtaculars The Devil Came From Akasava (1971), Cannibals (1980), Cannibal Terror (1980), Devil Hunter (1980), Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) and Franco’s own perverted takes on Liane, Diamonds Of Kilimandjaro (1983) (complete with an almost permanently undressed actress that hadn’t yet reached majority age) and Eurociné’s lurid and botched attempt at a family adventure, Golden Temple Amazons (1986) (with a permanently topless Analía Ivars).
In the dying days of the Italian cannibal/zombie gutmuncher cycle the jungle safari subgenre would briefly flicker up again some three decades later with William C. Faure’s prestigious big budget British-South African-German historical mini-series Shaka Zulu (1986) and the advent of Indiana Jones in popular culture before coming to a grinding and much deserved halt. For all intents and purposes Liane, Jungle Goddess is a relic of a much less enlightened and more innocent age. If nothing else, there’s at least one scene that was spoofed thirty-plus years later. At one point the colonists are obligated to communicate their findings back home. They do so by means of a bicycle-powered generator for a Morse code radio. Yeah, exactly like Larry Laffer does with the computer on Nontoonyt island in Sierra’s 1988 point-and-click adventure Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places). Truth be told did it not only spoof the jungle goddess subgenre but also the James Bond franchise at large. It has to count for something. If Al Lowe knows who you are, you must have done something right in the annals of pulp cinema history. Few are immortalized this way.