Starring: Glenn Saxson, Evi Marandi, Pietro Tordi, Al Thomas, and Mei Cheng
Director: Roberto Infascelli
Rating: One of Ten Stars
Isabella (Marandi) hires a burned-out jungle explorer (Saxson)--who is amusingly named George--to take into the remote jungle where her father's plane crashed 15 years earlier. Will they find any survivors? And just who is that mysterious, mostly-naked girl (Cheng) who keeps grinning at them from the underbrush? Could it be the title character?!
"Luana" is one of those films that sounds like it can't possibly go wrong, at least if you're a fan of Tarzan movies and babes in scant clothing. The Russ Manning-illustrated comic strip makes the film look even more appealing, so Big Kudos to the marketeers who cooked up that promotion. Of course, the drawback to the strip is that it tells virtually the entire story of the movie. Yeah... that's how empty and devoid of any action or even activity this film is... it can be summarized in its entirety in a handful of four panel strips. The Manning strips even give away most of what passes for plot twists in the film.
Something else the Manning strip does, although this is only clear in retrospect, is provide a preview of the fact that Luana is the most passive action heroine to ever appear on screen (on in any media for that matter). She does little more than lurk in the bushes and grin stupidly at... well, just about anything. The most action we get from her is during a storm when smarter humans and animals take shelter, but she goes prancing around in the rain, somehow managing to avoid being struck the the falling branches that are injuring other people and animals alike. I'm sure there are movies out there with more passive title characters--hell, Bernie was a more active character in the sequel to "Weekend at Bernie's" and he was dead for the entire movie.
The passivity of Luana is made all the more irritating, because the rest of the film is empty of interesting content, except for underbaked cookie-cutter characters portrayed by actors who seem like they are rehearsing instead of actually performing with cameras rolling, jungle sets that at times make "Gilligan's Island" seem gritty, and plot twists so lame one has to wonder why they even bothered. And then there's the climactic encounter between the heroes and the bad guys--for which Luana once again just stands around and grins stupidly--during which someone falls into a mutant carnivorous plant and is slowly, slo-o-o-o-w-ly devoured. One wonders why he didn't just roll out, or why one of his allies didn't just reach in and pull him out. Heck, this might even have been a moment where Luana could have developed some personality and have stepped in and rescued him. It would have explained why the natives think she's a goddess.
Finally, there's the ending. The heroes leave the jungle waving to Luana who stands alone and watches them go. We, the viewers, can't see if she's grinning stupidly or not, but the jungle explorer blathers on about how Luana is happy in the jungle and it's best to leave her there. If she was so happy, why did she seek the explorers out? Why did she keep following them? Why did she stand and watch them leave, perhaps even sadly? Had the Italian/German cinematic geniuses behind this film bothered to read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels (or perhaps even one of the comic book adaptations of "Tarzan" or "The Return of Tarzan", of which several were available by the late 1960s, some even illustrated by the artist for the "Luana" strip, Russ Manning) they would have seen that Tarzan was given a choice between living in the jungle and living in civilization. That's one of the reasons the Tarzan story works. The ending to "Luana" is lame, and it makes characters we are supposed to feel positively toward come across like arrogant and collous assholes. What evidence does George of the Jungle have that Luana is happy in her isolation? And why could he not give her the opportunity to make an informed choice about how she wanted her life to be? The writers and directors manage to end their already bad movie on the most abysmal note possible. (Yes, I know the run-time probably wouldn't have allowed for us to see how things turned out for Luana, but it would have made a far better ended if the main characters had either chosen to stay and educate her, or if she had otherwise gone with them, with viewers having the understanding that she would be coming back to the jungle down the road.)
There are only two kinds of viewers this movie will appeal to, but I doubt it will even satisfy them.
The first are those who love everything that has even a slight whiff of classic Tarzan/jungle action movies to it. The film does has bizarre, spear-chucking tribesmen, a silly duel between the heroic explorer and one of the villains that involves stakes in the ground and scorpions, and it's got a "savage white man" (who in this case happens to be a savage Asian girl, but you know what I mean); if you are jonesing for a jungle fix and NOTHING else is available, maybe this movie will take the edge off.
The second kind are "men" like Gary Glitter and Roman Polanski... the sort of men who who like hanging around girl's schools in dirty rain coats and who subscribe to the theory "if it's more than a handful, it's too big." They will have a great time watching the diminutive Mei Cheng swing on vines and frolic in the rain wearing nothing but a small loin cloth and her long hair. They will watch enraptured as they discover that Cheng's hair is NOT has carefully glued down as Brooke Shields' hair was in "The Blue Lagoon". The film will undoubtedly seem to fly by, as they eagerly look for glimpses of Cheng's breasts (or even better)... and there is a single, very brief shot where their hopes are rewarded. (Of course, they might not be able to fully enjoy the picture, since the point is made that Luana is at least 18 years old when this story takes place.)