Four Frightened People (1933) **

Though considerably less exuberant and excessive than his earlier talkies, this satire on how the smart set conduct themselves in the wilderness, is equally perfect a snapshot of its time.
It is another of DeMille’s weird 'anti-genre' films, part survival melodrama, part sex comedy, part action film, and part parody. In plot it looks back overtly to Male and Female, but with a much less didactic and more playful agenda. Instead of allowing the shipwreck to reorder the power structures within the escapees, it instead acts as a Freudian liberator, releasing sexual jealousies within the men and turning Claudette Colbert's prim, horn-rimmed schoolmistress into a vampish jungle goddess. With each successive day in the jungle, and as each layer of clothing is jettisoned and replaced with animal skins, the true natures of the characters are more and more revealed.
The film seems to take its inspiration from one throwaway scene in the earlier movie, the one where one-time mistress Swanson and one-time maid Lila Lee kitten-fight first over who has access to the pan they use as a mirror and then over who is going to serve one-time butler Thomas Meighan. The absurdity of the shifting roles, the innate humour of this kind of pettiness thriving in such desperate straits and the suggestion that in everyday society animal passions lie beneath the most fragile of surfaces are what interest DeMille here - that and the skimpy costumes, obviously.
Sadly but usurprisingly the film fell between stools for audiences, who took it to be a rugged survival drama, and were alienated by some of the broad comedy. Not even much-trumpeted authentic location photography and a nude swim for Colbert were enough to make it a hit. Its frivolity is unusual even for a DeMille film of this time, but while it lacks the sheer extravagance of Dynamite and Madam Satan it shares with them an overt exploitation of every license available to the pre-Code filmmaker.