On assignment as part of an ad campaign for a cosmetics company, American photographer Ben Morris (James Garner) arrives in a Guadagil, a remote village in South America. His job is to take photos of model Alison Duquesne (Eva Renzi) but belligerent police chief Colonel Celaya (Fabrizio Mioni) is certain Ben works for the C.I.A. Shortly after being welcomed by Raul Ortega (Michael Ansara), a shifty representative of the tourist board, Ben and Alison have their helicopter is stolen by fortune hunter Sammy Ryderbeit (George Kennedy), which leaves them stranded. Later while exploring the local nightlife the pair run into Sammy again when he hijacks their car at gunpoint. It so happens Sammy is on the trail of a map leading to a valuable diamond mine and ropes Ben and Alison along on a hair-raising adventure with thrills, spills and romance.
There is more desert than jungle on screen in this lightweight if amiable jungle romp. In fact the title refers to a particular shade of lipstick in Alison's carry-case, yet curiously not the one Ben uses at the climax to pull a trick on the villain. Bit of a missed opportunity there. Adapted from the 1965 novel 'Snake Water' by British author Alan Williams The Pink Jungle typifies the sort of frothy confection James Garner routinely headlined towards the tail end of the Sixties. Garner, arguably among the most charismatic leading men of all time, had a knack for making this whole thing look effortless. Yet few others could so convincingly embody both a hapless fish out of water comedy lead and simultaneously play the action hero able to floor bad guys with a single punch. When his film career briefly petered out in the early Seventies, Garner took his stock persona to television and found immortality in The Rockford Files (though he continued to reinvent himself well into the next century). Yet the seeds of Jim Rockford can be found in Garner's many easygoing antiheroes of the Sixties, like Ben Morris.
Modern viewers may balk at the first act wherein Ben and Alison wander around Guadagil in search of something to alleviate their boredom. The script (by Charles Williams - a notable thriller novelist in his own right) slings a lot of barbs at 'primitive' foreign cultures, 'savages' and 'backward' countries that now seem cringe-worthy and patronizing. To underline the 'joke' when Ortega describes his homeland as 'progressive' and 'peaceful' the film immediately cuts to man being shot dead. Dated xenophobia aside The Pink Jungle plays like a charming precursor to Romancing the Stone (1984) as adversity allows buttoned-down urban sophisticates Ben and Allison to unearth their inner adventurer. And find love along the way. Matching Garner's sparkling charm, Italian actress Eva Renzi (recognizable to giallo fans for her unforgettable role in Dario Argento's classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969)) impresses as a refreshingly gutsy and forthright heroine for the period. When Ben makes a clumsy pass at her she shoots him down with class and wit. Rather than shrink from rough and tumble wild terrain Alison revels in the opportunity to show off her riding skills. While not even remotely convincing as a South African a cigar-chomping George Kennedy brings swarthy vigour to an otherwise meandering storyline. And has a delightful dance scene with Eva Renzi.
Once Nigel Green joins the group as an Aussie accented villain the film becomes a very lightweight take on The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948). Paranoia, suspense, double and triple crosses seep their way into the plot but director Delbert Mann - who won an Oscar for the drastically different Marty (1955) and here reunited with Garner after the more ambitious Mister Buddwing (1966) – lightens the tone with Ben and Allison's genuinely sweet love story. Plus a final silly twist that re-contextualizes the plot in line with the then hugely popular spy spoof genre. A finger-snapping easy listening score by Ernie Freeman is another of the film's assets.