THE PINK JUNGLE. Universal, 1968. James Garner, Eva Renzi, George Kennedy, and Nigel Greene. Screenplay by Charles Williams, based on the novel Snake Water by Alan Williams. Directed by Delbert Mann.

   James Garner plays a two-fisted fashion photographer who can flatten a man with one punch and hit two tossed cans in mid-air, shooting from the hip.

   Let me repeat that: James Garner plays a two-fisted fashion photographer who can flatten a man with one punch and hit two tossed cans in mid-air, shooting from the hip.

   I really should end the review right there, but since this was Charles Williams’ only filmed screenplay, and they do explain (sort of) our hero’s prowess at the end, it really deserves a bit more attention. So here it is.

   For purposes of plot, Garner starts out the movie stuck in a backward South-or-Central American nation doing a photoshoot with super-model Eva Renzi. A convenient helicopter is just as conveniently stolen by lovable bad-guy George Kennedy (fresh from his Supporting Actor Oscar in Cool Hand Luke) who soon gets the couple involved in a search for a lost diamond mine.

   En route to the treasure, the actors and camera crew leave the Universal backlot jungle for the arid vistas of Nevada, but they can’t shake off the hackneyed plot. They encounter another colorful rogue (Nigel Greene) and end up in a rather tame gun battle with a mousey little guy from earlier in the movie who wants all the diamonds for himself. (SPOILER ALERT!) He doesn’t get them. (END OF SPOILER ALERT!) A couple double-crosses later, it all comes to a merciful end.

   Universal ground out a number of B-movies like this in the late 1960s, all seemingly put together with the same formula: A leading man past his prime, a dependable character actor, and an eye-catching actress to play carnal cat-and-mouse with the fading male lead. Stir in a modicum of action, a dollop of whatever passes for romance, and a hint of humor, let it stew among the familiar Universal studio sets and “exteriors” and….

   And it worked quite well in PJ and Coogan’s Bluff. Less so — much less so — in things like The Hell with Heroes, A Lovely Way to Die, Jigsaw, and others too lame to name, by which standard, Pink Jungle is a Wheelchair Case.

   To his credit, Charles Williams does what he can with it, throwing a knowing wink into the dialogue when the clichés pile up, but even he can’t get this one up on its feet. Hell, it’d take divine intervention to pull this cinematic Lazarus from its celluloid tomb, and while I can’t say for sure that angels feared to tread the Universal backlot, they never seemed to show up there in significant numbers.

   I shall add that James Garner manages to grin and look light-hearted through all this, Nigel Greene projects his accustomed authority in too little screen time, and Eva Renzi, memorable in The Quiller Memorandum (or was it Funeral in Berlin? I forget which.) fills her forgettable part more than adequately.

   But it’s all for naught under Daniel Mann’s leaden direction. How they kept his obvious disinterest from spreading to the rest of the cast I can’t figure — perhaps they quarantined him — but The Pink Jungle just isn’t worth that much deep thought.