Jungle Moon Men (1955)

Jungle_Moon_Men_(1955)‘Yes, Marro ran away. Up where the sun god rules. Always it is Ra who defeats me!’

Johnny Weismuller agrees to take a pretty academic deep into the jungle to prove her unconventional theories on ancient civilisations. Along the way they encounter native tribesmen, villainous diamond hunters and a tribe of Moon Men, who are slaves to an Egyptian goddess.

The phenomenally successful M.G.M. ‘Tarzan’ series with Johnny Weismuller had moved into the ‘B’ arena by the early 1940s and finally gave up the ghost with the surprisingly decent ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids’ (1948). Not one to mess with a winning formula, Weismuller became ‘Jungle Jim’ in a series of 16 low budget pictures for the Columbia Studio. Essentially, the character was a middle-aged Tarzan dressed in a safari suit. Weismuller still had an impressive physique in his early 50s, but obviously was no longer up to wrestling crocodiles or swinging through the trees.

‘Jungle Jim’ had first appeared in a comic strip created by Alex Raymond, the man behind Flash Gordon. For the last 3 films in the Columbia series, the studio lost the rights to use the character; perhaps because the producer was Sam Katzman, who was never known to spend a dollar when he could avoid it. Litigation was avoided by simply having Weissmuller play the same part as Johnny Weissmuller; a fictionalised version of himself! All very post-modern for the 1950s!

This entry kicks off with a 5-minute stock footage travelogue about the jungle, accompanied by helpful Voiceover Man, who tells us all about it, in case we weren’t sure what a jungle actually was. Then we’re off to Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan’s Californian ranch, where it’s still kill or be killed, or it would be if there were any jungle animals about apart from comic relief chimpanzee Kimba (filling in for Cheetah). Soon Johnny’s off to Baku country, accompanied by pretty Jean Byron, Myron Healy (‘Panther Girl of the Congo’ (1946)) and more bad white hunters, whose participation is assured by the inevitable presence of fabulous diamonds. Native tribesmen (actual black actors!) are looking for their chief’s son and then to avenge his death when he turns up croaked, apparently by a lost tribe of ‘Moon Men’.

These ‘Moon Men’ are played by a group of dwarves (all white!) with furry ear-muffs and long togas. Unfortunately, a couple of them seem to have suffered a wardrobe malfunction, and instead wear what look suspiciously like beach towels below their belts. They keep intruders at bay with blowpipes and poison darts, but look about as threatening as Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas. Chief Moon Man Damu (the only one who gets any lines) is played by Billy Curtis, who grits his teeth around the stupid dialogue and looks completely pissed off by the whole thing. Understandably so, really. He’s more familiar now as the hero of ‘midget western’ ‘The Terror of Tiny Town’ (1938) (absolutely dreadful) and for his appearance as Moredcai in Clint Eastwood’s ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973).

Jungle_Moon_Men_(1955)

After 20 years in Hollywood, Johnny had finally perfected the art of staring at things that weren’t there…

The Moon men are in thrall to the goddess Oma, played by fetching blonde Helene Stanton. Apparently, she legged it from Egypt centuries earlier when their civilisation went tits up, and ended up living in a cave in deepest Africa. Perfectly feasible and all in line with Byron’s crackpot theories. Stanton’s got the whole ’Ayesha’ act down fine, but ‘She who must be obeyed’ needs a high priest to serve at her side. It’s all very familiar territory to anyone who’s read ‘Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar’ or any other of the other jungle adventure penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs (and there were quite a few!)

Anyway, Oma is happy to take one of the younger captives as her new man, until Weismuller offers to take on the role himself! Of course, he’s not really interested (she’s beautiful, but doesn’t look like a lot of laughs) and the story then plays out completely as expected, involving some tepid action with lions and a severe case of sunburn.

This is obviously rather a feeble effort; a collection of third-hand ideas wedded to a tired and obvious formula. Having said that, it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as some of the earlier entries in the series, such as the tragic ‘Killer Ape’ (1953) where Weismuller wrestled with a stuntmen dressed in the top half of an ape costume and a pair of furry wellington boots.

‘Jungle Jim’ (legal issues sorted) became a TV show the same year that this movie came out and ran for 26 episodes. Weismuller returned but Kimba was replaced by Tamba in a crucial casting change. One more movie followed; ‘Devil Goddess’ (1956) and then Weismuller quit the jungle for good, sailing off into the sunset of a long and well-earned retirement. Umgawa!

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