There are murky goings on in the jungle as giant crawfish attack a native village but, as luck would have it, Panther Girl is in the neighbourhood. Phyllis Coates had previous as Lois Lane to George Reeves’ Superman so she knows how to deal in this 12 chapter serial from Republic Pictures. Sadly, she doesn’t actually turn into a panther but once shot at one – hence the name.
Coates wears a fetching (but respectable) costume, swings through the trees, rides Tantor the elephant, kills a crocodile and dusts Numa the lion with a knife. Or at least Frances Gifford’s stunt double did 14 years earlier. You see, most of the action footage is from the old Republic serial ‘Jungle Girl’ (1941) and it must have been quite a writing task to get Coates from one old set piece to the next.
The giant crawfish are the creation of a local chemist who seems permanently attached to his apron and has discovered an unknown diamond mine. The monsters are real creatures filmed on miniature sets then blown up and back projected behind the actors. I’ve seen worse but the couple of giant claws shown in close up are painfully unconvincing.
Apron Man is obviously a serious scientist. He has an apron. His lab on the other hand consists entirely of a table and a couple of test tubes. Of course he’s hired two heavies to help him out in his nefarious schemes but Panther Girl has rugged hunter Myron Healey on her team. The quintet indulge in endless gun battles in the jungle (in which only natives are killed but hardly any of them have any lines anyway and when they do it’s usually just ‘Yes, Bwana Lady’). When Panther Girl tries to join in with the inevitable fisticuffs she’s always pushed to the ground and knocked out immediately. She’s hardly ‘Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.’
Of course there’s the obligatory recap episode (‘Why don’t you tell the Commissioner all about it, Jean? Some clips from earlier episodes will probably help’) but Apron Man’s plan to use the crawfish to scare the natives away from the diamond mine is not exactly complicated. In fact, he hasn’t any other strategy at all. As a result the plot just repeats itself endlessly with the writers desperately trying to come up with a different cliffhanger for each episode – and not always succeeding.
As you can tell, Republic were very money conscious by this time (i.e. cheap). Although we probably could have done with them running the UK economy a few years back – maybe we wouldn’t be in the deep shit the greed merchants have left us in! Anyway ‘Panther Girl’ was the studio’s penultimate serial. They slogged on to the end of the 1950’s reissuing old material but it was all over but the yard sale.
I guess it’s telling that the only character that changes her clothes over the entire 12 episodes is Panther Girl. And that’s probably because the costume was a bit whiffy about hanging in the Republic wardrobe for 14 years!