Devil Goddess (1955)

Devil Goddess (1955)‘This land taboo! You go!’

Screen legend Johnny Weismuller is recruited by a scientist and his daughter to help find an old colleague who has been lost in the African jungle for seven years. Rumour has it that he is being worshipped as a god by one of the tribes deep in the interior, and that he is conducting experiments of a supernatural nature…

After turning in his loincloth at the MGM gates in 1948, it would have been no surprise if Johnny Weismuller had backed away from the movie business and gracefully retired. He’d enjoyed 17 years as the undisputed ‘King of the Jungle’ and he certainly was no actor. He proved as much when mixing it up with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe in Cajun confrontation potboiler ‘Swamp Fire’ (1946), his one attempt at a different kind of role. Unfortunately, Weismuller had considerable financial commitments (four ex-wives may have been involved!) and so it was off to Columbia to star in a series of 16 pictures as ‘Jungle Jim’ with legendary skinflint Sam Katzman producing. By the time this final entry rolled around, Katzman had even lost the rights to the character’s name so Weismuller played exactly the same part…only as Johnny Weismuller!

Typically, this picture strays very little from the previous ones in the series; they had a formula and they were sticking to it. Weismuller is roped in to a mission by a beautiful woman (in this case Angela Stevens) which involves travelling to somewhere forbidden where the locals are aggressive but misguided, usually by superstition or the villain of the piece. There is always something valuable hidden nearby (it’s usually jewels but, almost as often it’s Nazi treasure) and there’s some faceless and unscrupulous white men out to get it. There’s some fisticuffs and a gunfight or two as Jim (sorry, Johnny!) tangles with them and everything is tied up just as the local Commissioner and his native troopers arrive.

On this occasion the natives are in thrall to Ed Hinton and his collection of smoke bombs as he lives it up as the local volcano god. He’s no longer playing with a full test tube, but does at least look after the string of nubiles that the local witchdoctor insists on providing, rather than using them as his personal harem. At least, we assume he doesn’t do anything untoward. Perhaps best not to go there. The film certainly doesn’t. Anyway, he has a few beakers on a bench in a cave so he must be doing experiments. Or something. Although there’s no evidence of anything supernatural, of course.

Devil Goddess (1955)

‘Wipe that stupid smirk of your face, you big ape!’

Production values aren’t high, which is no surprise on a Katzman picture, and the sacrificial ceremony bears an uncanny resemblance to the one carried out in ‘Voodoo Tiger’ (1952), the 9th film in the series (although it could have been lifted from something even earlier, I guess!) Johnny is assisted by chimpanzee Kimba (replacing Tamba in a crucial casting change), although it is fair to say that neither is fit to pick the fleas off Cheetah.

Hinton inevitably reminds the audience of ‘Tim the Enchanter’ from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975), even if he doesn’t possess such impressive headwear, and none of the library of wildlife stock shots are as deadly as the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Columbia had already moved into television by the mid-1950s and so the decision was made to relocate the character to the small screen. Katzman was not involved, so the rights to use the character’s true name were successfully renegotiated with King Features, and ‘Jungle Jim’ debuted a few months later, running for 26 episodes. When it was over, Wiesmuller finally called it a day and worked his celebrity into a long career of making personal appearances.

Oh, and the title of this film? Completely meaningless. Par for the course for a Katzman production!

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