Jungle Goddess (1948)

Jungle Goddess (1948)‘They’re hats…women’s hats. I can’t tell you any more than that.’

Two hard up pilots try to make their fortune by finding an heiress whose plane went down in the African jungle at the start of World War 2. However, locating her proves to be the easy part…

Jungle pictures were a staple of the Hollywood machine throughout the life of the studio system. Like Westerns they were cheap to make; a quick trip to the Los Angeles Botanical Gardens or filling a rented soundstage with a selection of pot plants were all that was required in terms of a location, and pith helmets and leopard skin bikinis were readily available from the local costume shop. Fill your jungle with a few black extras from central casting, some animal stock footage, a pretty girl and a couple of slices of handsome beefcake and you were all set to go. The picture practically made itself.

Our testosterone jockeys in this particular example are actually pretty big ‘names’ for this kind of low budget enterprise. The principal square jaw and bulging muscles belong to none other than George Reeves, an actor who had been featured in ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939), but found lasting fame as TV’s first ‘Superman’. His shooting-related death in 1959 remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries. Playing opposite him is Ralph Byrd, the entertainment world’s most successful ‘Dick Tracy’ who played the detective in a series of films and on the small screen in the early days of popular television. Sadly, the two have little chemistry here, but their identikit characters (the white bread hero and the smug chancer) aren’t much of a help. Conflict between them arises from the (completely inevitable) discovery of precious minerals in the vicinity of the native village.

The other point in our dramatic triangle is blonde Wanda McKay. It’s not a love triangle, though, as Byrd’s only interest is in the precious minerals! McKay was an ex-model who got her ‘big’ break opposite a declining Bela Lugosi in surprisingly half decent horror cheapie ‘Bowery At Midnight’ (1942), but never rose above turns for ‘poverty row’ studios like PRC in films such as ‘The Black Raven’ (1943) and ‘The Monster Maker’ (1944). Her career was all but over by the end of the decade, although she did do a few small roles on TV before retirement.

Like Reeves and Byrd, McKay is pretty stilted here, but it’s perhaps inevitable given the lifeless dialogue and non-existent character development. Such as it is, the ‘action’ is confined to a couple of rounds of lacklustre fisticuffs between the two men, and some brief, mismatched aeroplane models standing in for SFX. The occasional lion or monkey makes a background appearance, but obviously the budget didn’t even stretch to frequent trips to the local film library to buy a decent amount of stock footage.

‘I’m not sure. It’s could be a bird, or it might be a plane…?’

Director Lewis D Collins can most kindly be described as ‘prolific’. He’s a filmmaker with 123 credits, but very few titles will be familiar to even the most hardened lover of ‘classic period’ Hollywood. He started in crime pictures, graduating to dozens of Westerns via a couple of movie serials: ‘The Mysterious Mr M’ (1946) and ‘Lost City of the Jungle’ (1946), which featured the final appearance of a dying Lionel Atwill.

Writer Jo Pagano was also responsible for a very similar film; the Johnny Weismuller vehicle ‘Jungle Moon Men’ (1955) in which an immortal Egyptian priestess ruled a mysterious African tribe played by white dwarves wearing beach towels. That wasn’t good, but it was a lot better than this.

The story develops exactly as predicted: Reeves and McKay make goo-goo eyes at each other, the local witchdoctor jumps about shouting claptrap and Byrd waves his revolver about a bit. Production values touch zero, but hopefully everyone got to punch their time cards at the end of the shoot and collect their (no doubt rather insubstantial) paycheques.

Dreary, mechanical B-picture, delivered with no discernible effort on the part of anyone involved, and destined for the bottom of the bill at a thousand small town fleapits across America.


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