The Call of the Savage (1935)

The_Call_of_the_Savage_(1935)‘Look, Jan, an iguana!’

Jan grows up wild in the jungle after his parent’s scientific expedition is destroyed in deepest Africa. Fifteen years later, his father’s rivals return to try and steal the secret formula that he discovered while Jan rescues the daughter of a trading post owner who actually happens to be the Princess of the Lost Kingdom of Mu.

Any resemblance to MGM’s hit ‘Tarzan’ series is completely coincidental in this 12 Chapter serial starring that bloke who used to play James Garner’s old dad on ‘The Rockford Files’. Noah Beery Jr swings through the jungle with faithful Chitma the Chimpanzee in tow (copyright alert), has no idea who his parents are, wrestles various deadly stuffed animals, and spends most of the time grinning like the village idiot. He also falls in a strictly platonic way for pretty young modern girl Dorothy Smart, and visits a lost kingdom filled with fabulous treasure. Sound familiar? Yes, we’re in dodgy territory that would probably have prompted legal action in more modern times.

This is cheap and cheerful stuff at best, with Beery Jr completely miscast as our Jungle Boy. His father, Noah Beery Senior, was a huge star in silent pictures, playing mostly physical roles, which probably explains the casting decision here. Unfortunately, Junior doesn’t have anything approaching the necessary physique to give his character an ounce of credibility. Heroine Smart spends a lot of time running and screaming, or cowering against rocks, although she does have a nice way of pointing at unseen things off screen. ‘Look Jan, flamingos!’ she cries, before we cut to some scratchy library footage of those particular birds.

The Call of the Savage (1935)

‘Look, Jan, a duck-billed platypus!’

Our villains are a motley bunch led by nasty Walter Miller from ‘The Vanishing Shadow’ (1934). Sadly for him, his thunder gets stolen by John Davidson as the evil, but rather silly, Prince Sarma of Mu. But everyone has to get to the lost kingdom before that happens and that takes until the end of Chapter 10. If they’d only got a move on, it would have been far better for everyone. Especially the audience.

Having said that, you could hardly accuse this jungle of being a boring place. You can hardly turn around without bumping into some old film of an angry lion, or a tribe of hungry cannibals, or an iguana fighting a giraffe. Or a tiger. Yes, tigers! The African jungle is teeming with them. But, hold on, put away your cynicism! These beasts are the offspring of the experimental animals that escaped when the scientific camp burned down 15 years before. So that’s ok, then. Just what Jan’s father was doing bringing tigers in from India when he was researching a cure for infantile paralysis is unknown, but I’m sure it was based on sound scientific principles.

The suspicion that this is all a no-budget rip-off is thankfully dispelled when we reach the land of Mu. There are tall buildings, mounted soldiers, crowds of people; all the hallmarks of a busy metropolis. But, hang on, why do all the native soldiers wear turbans, carry swords, and look like refugees from the British Raj? Could it possibly be that they’ve dressed to fit in with some more stock footage from another film entirely? Perish the thought.

It’s surprising to see Universal Studios attached to such a bargain basement serial, but it is good for a few laughs on a rainy afternoon.


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