"A thousand mile search for treasure...deep in the jungle kingdom of the headhunter Jivaro savages...and the last man alive wins the gold and the girl!"

An In-Depth Look at JIVARO

by Hillary Hess

“Jivaro” was to be the third jewel in the Pine-Thomas 3-D crown.  After sweeping audiences to post-Revolutionary War Savannah in “Sangaree,” and serenading them to Gold Rush era Yukon in “Those Redheads from Seattle,” the successful Paramount production team planned to invest their modern-day tale an exotic element in the form of a South American jungle setting. 

What became of it is a tale of a lost treasure of sorts which has taken over sixty years to rediscover and properly appreciate as a solid example of Hollywood craftsmanship during the Golden Age of 3-D.

The adventure began in 1952, when, as reported by Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times, Pine-Thomas “have invaded the book mart” to purchase the rights to a new novel by David Duncan, entitled “Morro Treasure,” a story of the jungles of Colombia and the native Jivaro (pronounced “he-va-ro”) head-hunters.  Duncan was to create a screenplay from his own novel, with production to be made in 1952.  Schallert speculated the leads were likely to be John Payne and, with educated prescience, Rhonda Fleming.  By December 1952, the title had been changed to “Lost Treasure of the Amazon,” slated for production in 1953, and to be filmed “entirely abroad.”

By February 1953, the project literally took on a new dimension as Variety reported on the 26th, “Lost Treasure of the Amazon” as being Hollywood's first three-dimensional feature to be shot outside the U.S.  It's “skedded for lensing” in South America starting July 15.  “Pic replaces 'High Voltage' (dramatizing the electrification of atomic submarines) on the P-T roster and reported to be helmed by Lewis R. Foster, who is writing the screenplay.” No mention was made on why David Duncan was no longer involved.

For the role of Rio Galdez, enterprising skipper of a small launch and proprietor of what appears to be the only restaurant/bar in his stretch of the Amazon, Fernando Lamas was once again loaned out from M-G-M for the new film, “rolling May 18 in 3-D Technicolor.”  His bare-chested swagger and compelling screen presence having proved itself a chief asset in “Sangaree,”, Lamas once again brings his own brand of panache to the role, this time of a man who feels he will never escape a tragic past.

Variety suggested a possibility Lamas could be re-teamed with Arlene Dahl for “Lost Treasure.”  The location ambitions begin scaling back, as the report added, “Part of the Paramount release will be shot on location in South America.”  Note, “part.”  Well, even if the announced location work was never to be so extensive in the first place, the production team surely intended to invest their film with a genuine tropical feel.  As reported by Variety on April 9, 1953, production manager Howard Pine (son of Bill), and art director Earl Hedrick were to fly the following day to Tampa, Florida to scout locations, with plans to “hop to Brazil and Colombia for further site-scouting afterwards.” 

Aside from some hand-held insert shots which may have been taken “on location,” the closest the production got to the equator was the Silver Springs attraction in Florida, famous for its glass-bottom boats.  With a three-strip Technicolor camera and doubles for main cast members, various exotic establishing shots, inserts, and background plates were filmed without ever needing a passport.  Because this 2nd unit work was photographed from a distance, the lack of 3-D is not obtrusive.

Lamas' co-star was revealed by Hedda Hopper in her April 11th column with, “Rhonda Fleming steps right out of 'Those Sisters from Seattle' and into another Pine and Thomas picture, 'Lost Treasure of the Amazon.'”  In addition to “Redheads,” Miss Fleming would soon be seen in another 3-D feature, 20th Century-Fox's “Inferno,” as a flaming red-head femme fatale.  In “Jivaro,” her role as Alice Parker is considerably less cynical, as a perfectly coiffed and attired fish out of water, eager to visit her fiancé who has been greatly exaggerating his success in the wilds of the jungle.

Cast as Miss Fleming's fiancé Jerry Russell, whose success appears as real as his quest for a fabled lost treasure, and less attainable than his next bottle, was Richard Denning.  Another busy actor, Mr. Denning was best known at the time for his television series, “Mr. and Mrs. North.”

On April 17, the role of Tony, the prospector whose lust was not always for gold, was assigned to the sturdy Paramount contractee Brian Keith.  Son of familiar character actor, Robert Keith, it was around this time, the younger Keith was transitioning his professional name from Robert Keith Jr. to Brian. 

Adding to the roster of welcome familiar faces is Lon Chaney. The Master Character Creator had dropped “Jr.” from his credits with release of "The Wolf Man" in 1941.  Though only in one scene, Chaney makes quite an impact, figuratively and literally, as Pedro Martinez, a jovially unscrupulous merchant for whom retail is a contact sport and complaints are handled with bare knuckles. 

In what seems like a bit of ironic casting, Marvin Miller, well-known radio announcer and performer, best known as the voice of Robby the Robot from the film “Forbidden Planet,” appears as the native-tongued Jivaro Chief Kovanti. An articulate master of the English language, Miller attempted to research the Jivaro lingo at the local library, but without success.  It was suggested by the librarian there is so little known about the head-hunting tribe's language because so few researchers have returned to share their findings. Ominous.

And the diminutive Maroa, vying for boozehound Jerry Russell's affections?  That is Rita Moreno, nearly two years after her bit part in “Singin' In the Rain,” and eight years away from her Oscar-winning turn in “West Side Story.”  Maroa is one of many exotic roles she would have during this era.  

The able crew behind the camera deserves equal mention as well.  Once again wielding the Paravision camera was Lionel Lindon, who brought impressive 3-D cinematography experience with him, having shot both “Sangaree” and “Those Redheads from Seattle” for Pine-Thomas.  Another alum of those previous films was art director Earl Hedrick, whose job of creating a lush rainforest in depth on the Paramount backlot was no small feat. 

Gregory Stone was assigned to score the film, adding a rich musical atmosphere to complement the visuals. Speaking of visuals, Paramount effects wizard, John P. Fulton, best known for parting the Red Sea in the 1956 “The Ten Commandments” supplied two effective matte paintings of the treasure hunters' destination, Valley of the Winds.

Edith Head designed the costumes and at the helm as director was Edward Ludwig, who with “Sangaree,” not only demonstrated a deft handling of 3-D mise-en-scene but of Lamas' screen persona as well.  

Possibly as a hedge against all the anticipated gossip featuring Lamas and Fleming likely to appear in the trades, columnist Louella Parsons gave Arlene Dahl some ink with tantalizing talk of another on-screen pairing with her real-life paramour. “Arlene Dahl, on the telephone, happily chatted about her next picture for Pine-Thomas, 'Chubasco.'  'I can't even pronounce it,' she said, 'But it's another three-D and Fernando Lamas will be my co-star. We're going to make it in Magallan, Mexico.” she added.  This time, Arlene plays an angelic beauty who turns out to be as wicked as they come.  'Chubasco' will be made as soon as Fernando finishes 'Valley of the Winds' (another of several working titles for 'Jivaro') with another redhead, Rhonda Fleming." 

Edwin Schallert later reported Fernando Lamas was petitioning to direct the proposed film, which would be his first such assignment in the states, and one he would return to later in his career.  Hedda Hopper added to the interest in 'Chubasco,' reporting Pine-Thomas were attempting to lure Greta Garbo out of retirement with a tailor-made role.  As we've seen, the Pine-Thomas publicity machine could crank out fanciful hype, but the mind reels at such a possibility.

Not surprisingly it didn't take long for the gossip to begin, albeit with a sly wink, as Army Archerd reported in Variety, “(Lamas is) making music with Rhonda Fleming on “Lost Treasure of the Amazon.”  They discovered their voices harmonize...”  Even Hedda Hopper threw some fuel onto the fire with, “When Rhonda started “Lost Treasure of the Amazon,” she got a room full of posies. The biggest bunch came from Fernando Lamas.”  Later, Archerd would report, “Arlene Dahl visited 'Lost Treasure of the Amazon' set coincidentally when Fernando was doing his love scenes with Rhonda Fleming.” 

Lamas was a hot property for sure, but Miss Fleming took great stock in her fans.  She had a piece of fan mail framed and hanging in her dressing room which says, “I think you're the most beautiful actress in Hollywood.  I'd rather be kicked by you than be kissed by Marilyn Monroe.”

As production sailed on, the industry waters were becoming choppy in a way which would have repercussions upstream.  As quoted in the June 15, 1953 Film Bulletin, William Pine said, “Too many gripes are due to faulty projection of 3-D films, urging exhibitors to give special attention to proper booth procedure.”  A lot of critical comments, he felt, could be attributed to improper projection.  As for the future of 3-D, let the public decide, he said.  It must have been challenging to have consummate professionals such as Lindon and crew taking pains to produce the most effective and visually pleasing stereo cinematography only to have it thoroughly diminished at the exhibition stage.

In spite of such vexations. Pine-Thomas expected the 3-D “Sangaree” to quadruple the profits of any of their previous pictures, and enthusiasm for the current production was high.  Harrison Carroll's June 16 “Behind the Scenes” column paints a vivid picture of studio production at its most efficient and confident: “For 'Lost Treasure of the Amazon,' Paramount's tank set has been transformed into a small river trading post on the upper reaches of the Amazon.  Indians are unloading supplies from a weather-beaten launch tied up to a dock.  All around, the background is lushly tropical.  Rising from the water's edge are cypress trees. The folds in their trunks stand out like gray tendons.  Several huts and storage buildings line the banks.  They are thatched with straw.  Even the sides are covered with the same material.  They look like fat, untended palm trees with drooping and matted yellow skirts.  In the scene that Director Edward Ludwig is about to shoot, Rhonda Fleming watches from the bank while river trader Fernando Lamas, stripped to the waist works on the engine of the launch.  With her pale white skin and flaming red hair, Rhonda herself looks as exotic as a jungle orchid.  Fernando, in faded denims and with grease smudges all over his tanned and muscular arms, waves a greeting from the bowels of the launch.  He calls to me, 'I'm playing a South American and I'm dressed like a bum.  I feel like I was back home!'”

However, filming an action-adventure isn't always so postcard pretty.  Only a few days later, as Mr. Carroll describes, “Pine-Thomas had the scare of their lives about Fernando Lamas.  Running down a hill for a scene in “Lost Treasure of the Amazon,” Fernando looked back to fire a revolver and ran head on into a rock. Knocked himself cold.” Rita Moreno suffered a less severe sprained thumb during a fight scene, and an incident between Rhonda Fleming and director Ludwig created an awkward stir.  As described in the production report by 2nd Unit Director Clem Jones, “Had a half-hour’s delay but everything is okay now. Director and Rhonda Fleming had a tiff and Fleming’s make-up had to be repaired but all is serene now.” 

A behind the scenes publicity still hints to the nature of the tiff.  In the film, Miss Fleming is required to run through an intense studio-created tropic rainstorm, and her legs become muddy as expected.  However, in the photo below, the mud extends to her face, suggesting Ludwig had put her through more than she had bargained for, and which would have required the reported make-up repair, but not after the stills photographer secured the evidence.  The incident was followed up in the press describing Miss Fleming as “...almost in tears after words with director Eddie Ludwig” and “Rhonda Fleming hasn't spoken to director Edward Ludwig since he flared up at her on the “Lost Treasure of the Amazon” set,” so it may have taken more than a half-hour for that return to serenity.

By the fall of 1953, the film was completed and ready for unveiling, though it's doubtful any previews were shown in 3-D.  What is known is tweaking was still going on, as evidenced in this Inside Hollywood report from September 28, “Following sneak preview of 'Lost Treasure of the Amazon' at the Picwood Theater, Pine & Thomas has scissored from the film Fernando Lamas singing “This Night.”  According to Thomas, it wasn't that Lamas' larking didn't measure up, but that the song didn't fit.  'Treasure' is an action adventure film.”

Additionally, on October 27, it was decreed after numerous title changes throughout production, the film would be released in the states as “Jivaro,” with “Lost Treasure of the Amazon” retained for foreign release.

As previously mentioned, 3-D had been taking a hit due to unsatisfactory projection and for many in the industry, the format's days were numbered.  Anyone, including Pine-Thomas, would be following the exhibition trends with a watchful eye (or in this case, eyes), with consideration of the additional costs incurred from releasing in 3-D.  The situation was even more concerning when all the extra effort and expense becomes a liability rather than the “plus factor” Pine-Thomas originally intended. 

After what appeared to be a steady decline in interest throughout 1953, the Motion Picture Herald reported on November 28 that 3-D was far from dead, and was in fact poised for a resurgence in the near future with high profile titles such as M-G-M's “Kiss Me Kate,” Columbia's “Miss Sadie Thompson” starring Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer, and Paramount's own “Money From Home” with Martin and Lewis, and produced by Hal Wallis.  Wallis' “Cease Fire” was also mentioned, along with John Wayne in “Hondo,” and a host of others, including Alfred Hitchcock's “Dial M for Murder,” carrying the 3-D release schedule well into 1954.  “Jivaro” was also counted as part of the anticipated 3-D revival.

December 19, 1953 trade advertisement

Paramount continued to promote the film as a 3-D release in various industry trade ads up through December 19. Hollywood Reporter noted that producers William H. Pine and William C. Thomas were to fly to New York on December 21 to show Paramount home office executives the first 3-D print of “Jivaro,” however, for some unexplained reason, the trip was postponed until after Christmas. 

We know Pine-Thomas previously had difficulty in getting prints delivered from Technicolor in time.  Could this have been the reason for the postponement? 

In the meantime, the producers received a petition inked by several hundred residents of Billings, Montana, hometown of the picture's author, David Duncan, to hold the world premiere of “Jivaro” there. 

And this is where the treasure of the film's meticulous stereo cinematography is lost in a shroud of mystery.  There would be no world premiere, no stars handing out special 3-D glasses, in fact no verified 3-D release at all.  Paramount dropped any mention of 3-D in the 1954 trade ads and “Jivaro” opened flat with little fanfare at the Loew's Stillman in Cleveland, Ohio on January 22, 1954, undoubtedly not the first choice of Pine-Thomas.  

So, what happened? In spite of numerous available records, on this we can only speculate. 

Despite the anticipated 3-D resurgence, many titles would go out primarily in 2-D in the early months of 1954, most often due to the well-reported difficulties in projection as previously noted by William Pine.  It is also possible the producers and/or studio didn't feel the expense of left/right dual 35mm prints would provide a suitable return on their investment, even if Technicolor could deliver on schedule.  Reviews, such as this one from Boxoffice, add to the confusion, “The picture is available in 3-D (this appraisal is predicated on the conventional version – but the film's gimmick photography is easily recognizable), which is further assurance of business in bookings where the stereoscopic process is still a magnetic novelty." 

Other reviews contained no mention of any 3-D release, yet are often positive, even if one had to open the Shamokin (Pa.) News-Dispatch to find them: “'Jivaro' emerges as an exceptional film in all departments.  The acting is top-notch with Miss Fleming and Fernando Lamas carrying on their restrained love affair in a manner that is both appealing and compelling.  Brian Keith shows the proper amount of virile robustness in his part as the rogue who is after all the women and gold he can get his hands on.  'Jivaro' is wonderful entertainment perfectly suited for every member of the family.”

January 23, 1954 trade advertisement

February 6, 1954 trade advertisement

Whatever the reason for the decision to eschew 3-D, it cost “Jivaro” one of its most appealing elements and a significant portion of its entertainment value.  Imagine the reviews if it had been seen in 3-D!  In its diminished form however, the film basically foundered, as the June 19, 1954 Film Buyer Rating survey illustrates: “Of 36 reported theaters running “Jivaro,” 20 report below average performance.  With only 10 showing performance average and above.”

The lackluster box-office performance of “Jivaro” in 2-D spelled the end of 3-D production for Pine-Thomas. Paravision was dead. There would be no “Chubasco,” nor “High-Voltage.”  William Pine would pass away a year later at age 59, on April 29, 1955, ending the successful partnership with William Thomas, who remained relatively active in the industry for over twenty more years, himself passing on April 3, 1984 at the age of 80.

The rich visual treasure of “Jivaro” in 3-D lay dormant and unappreciated for over half a century until the second 3-D Film Expo in 2006, but the full luster of its 3-dimensional photography will finally be seen in the 3-D Film Archive restoration with a precision befitting the original artistry, and unattainable until now. 

“Jivaro” may not be groundbreaking drama but is an entertaining and rousing adventure yarn from the Hollywood dream factory, and when seen in widescreen 3-D as intended, the experience is delightfully immersive and engaging. 


Special thanks to Mike Ballew for sharing his illustrations of the Paravision 3-D camera rig.

Some exhibitors paired "Jivaro" with Paramount's "Alaska Seas" for a Brian Keith double-feature.

Despite an advance exhibitors trade ad in The Cinema on February 2, 1954 offering the film in both 3-D and
2-D versions, "Jivaro" was released flat only in the UK on February 12 as "Lost Treasure of the Amazon."

When the 3-D release was hastily dropped in late December 1953, lobbycards and posters were left with a

blank space originally designed for the 3-D logo. However, the National Screen Service ID number in the

lower right corner (54 21 3D) still carried the 3-D release designation.

Restoration by 3-D Film Archive

Project Supervisor: Bob Furmanek

Stereoscopic Alignment: Greg Kintz

Color Correction: Jack Theakston, Greg Kintz

Dirt/Damage Clean Up: Thad Komorowski

Audio Sweetening: Mark Mathews

The widescreen 3-D Blu-ray features a supplemental audio track commentary by Hillary Hess and
Jack Theakston (left) with special guest appearances by Mike Ballew and Greg Kintz.

Another bonus feature is an eight minute detailed analysis of the outstanding stereoscopic
cinematography. Two scenes are documented with precise details of the lens focal length;
individual convergence and interocular settings and more.

Click here to pre-order the March 26, 2019 3-D Blu-ray release directly from Kino Lorber. 

Special thanks to Helge Bernhardt, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, 
Zoran Sinobad and Geo Willeman.