An American photographer on assignment in the African jungle mounts an expedition to find a white jungle boy and bring him back to civilisation. The local Emir is also interested in finding the lad, but for far less altruistic reasons…
lf there ever was an actor who was a greater victim of typecasting than Johnny Sheffield, l would be hard pressed to name them. With only one bit part behind him, the 8 year old landed one of the title roles in ‘Tarzan Finds A Son’ (1939), the other featured player being Johnny Weismuller, of course. The picture was a runaway success and, after juvenile roles in 5 other films came and went, Sheffield returned to the series and barely left the jungle again for the remainder of his 21 film career.
First, there were seven more appearances as the adopted child of the King of the Jungle and his mate, Jane. He couldn’t be their natural offspring, of course, because they weren’t married (gasp!) By the time of the final entry in the series, the surprisingly interesting ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids’ (1948), Sheffield’s character was, according to the screenplay, ‘away at school’. In reality, he was deemed too old at 17 to play the role and had been let go by the studio. But cut-price Monogram disagreed with the MGM execs, and stepped in to star Sheffield in a series of 12 films as, you guessed it, Bomba the Jungle Boy.
This entry was the fourth in the series, although I think it’s unlikely they need to be watched in sequential order. Here we find Sheffield tangling with Paul Guilfoyle and Charles La Torre as the local Emir and his murderous sidekick, whose political machinations are about as generic as it gets, which is a shame as they are the driving force behind the story. There is also a fairly dumb subplot about a wounded Bomba being cared for by local beauty Zita (Sue England), who, you’ll not be surprised to hear, is also the focus of Guilfoyle’s less than honourable intentions. For someone who has allegedly spent her whole life living in a jungle village, our heroine is unbelievably hopeless. She can’t swim, she’s afraid of the dark, doesn’t want to get muddy and gets trapped when her dress catches on a plant. Oh dear.
As this was a production from legendary cheapskate Sam Katzman, obviously there’s not a lot of budget flying about, although this was apparently the first of the series to be filmed outdoors. Some of the process shots of Sheffield swinging through the trees lack a certain authenticity (snigger), but, having said that, there is less recourse to the local film library for wildlife shots than might be expected. Matters finally come to a head with a tremendously unconvincing skirmish in a storeroom after Bomba is captured and severely beaten. But there’s no need to worry, folks! His bare back is completely unmarked in the next scene!
Like the rest of the series, this effort was directed by Ford Beebe, a veteran of movie serials. He also wrote this one and about half the rest of the series. The character was based on popular books by Roy Rockwood, published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. That they bear a passing resemblance to something by Edgar Rice Burroughs seems a reasonable assumption, and Rockwood wasn’t even a real person, being an alias for a stable of staff writers.
The only good news here is that the cast are competent, if hardly inspired, and do their best to prop up Sheffield, who seems to have difficulty in summoning a huge amount of interest in the proceedings. He even manages to look wooden when he’s not delivering dialogue which is quite an achievement. Guilfoyle was actually a distinguished character actor with appearances in John Ford’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1940) and Cagney’s hit picture ‘White Heat’ (1948) among his numerous credits. Supporting actor Smoki Whitﬁeld was a fixture in the ‘Bomba’ series and thankfully escapes the usual eye-rolling, comedy schtick regularly imposed on black actors at that time.
But probably the biggest disappointment here comes from the film’s title. The so-called ‘Hidden City’ isn’t hidden at all! Everyone knows about it, and it’s just a run of the mill, local settlement with a handful of buildings and a gate. Oh, Mr Katzman, how could you?!