Men Must Fight (1933)

Men Must Fight (1933)‘War in twenty-four hours, war in five minutes, war in my hat!’

A nurse and an American flyer fall in love on the front lines of the first world war, but he is killed and she is left with their baby. An old suitor marries her but, by 1940, the war drums are rumbling again and the family are caught up in both the political and personal ramifications of the threatened conflict…

Unusual slice of 1930s prophetic Science-Fiction that qualifies for the label simply because the majority of the events depicted are set seven years into the future. And you have to concede that, at least in some ways, it’s a fairly accurate prediction of what was to come. The film opens in the past, on the allied front in France. Frightfully proper British nurse Diana Wynyard has fallen for the charms of pre-stardom Yank aviator Robert Young, and the two have indulged in relations without the benefit of matrimony. ln pre-code Hollywood (i.e. before the censorship crack down that began around 1937), that was ok so long as you didn’t show anything more than a couple getting ready to go out on the morning after.

Men Must Fight (1933)

‘War? But I’ve got a polo match before tiffin!’

So, when Wynyard’s left in the family way after Young cracks up on his first mission, at least we are spared any tiresome moralising about her situation. Still, she does get hitched almost immediately to old flame Edward Seward (Lewis Stone) so that the new baby can have a family name. And what a name it proves to be! Stone rises from the military ranks to be the U.S. Secretary of State; advocating world peace, together with the politically active Wynyard.

By now, ‘their’ son has grown up to be nothing but a young gadabout (Phillip Holmes) who doesn’t take life very seriously but strongly supports his mother’s pacifism. When an assassination (apparently carried out by Bolsheviks) fans the flames of war, public opinion turns strongly in favour of military action. Stone abandons his peaceful principles almost at once (because ‘Men Must Fight’ after all) but Wynyard sticks to her guns, even after her peace rally is attacked by protestors and their family home is threatened by a mob.

This is an interesting film in many ways, although it should be acknowledged that few of them have anything to do with its entertainment value. This is a dry, talky piece with the only real action occurring with some early well-realised flying scenes and the climactic bombing raid on New York, which is sporadically impressive. No, this is a film about ‘issues’ and it makes no bones about it. After losing the love of her life in the Great War, Wynyard is determined not to lose her son in the same way and is just as motivated to ensure that no other mother goes through such a trauma.

The film does push her pacifist viewpoint quite strongly, and laudable though that is, the lack of a reasoned, contrasting opinion does harm the film somewhat. For a start, we never really find out anything about the political situation, so it’s impossible to judge if the rush to war is justified or not. Instead, we’re just presented with an unthinking, flag-waving mob and Stone’s stiff-shirt statesman, all of whom seem determined to sacrifice anything (and anyone) to maintain their national honour. Also, there’s no discussion of the economic and strategic benefits that the conflict may give to the winners, factors which are almost always the primary motivators behind any armed conflict in the modern world.

Men Must Fight (1933)

‘Oh, Wodger, I know it’s 1940, but must you…’

However, there are some intriguing, if rather dated, gender politics, which are hinted at in the film’s title. The final scenes strongly suggest that women would never sanction such foolishness and would provide more measured and level-headed leadership than their aggressive male counterparts. It’s a fine notion, but naive and ill-informed as events have subsequently proved. The United Kingdom has now had two female Prime Ministers, both of whom exhibited zero empathy for others, and actively sought to target and victimise the disadvantaged and under-privileged in British society.

lnevitably, the film is a little creaky when viewed today. Wynyard is probably the worst offender, her performance far too mannered, especially in scenes of strong emotional conflict. This was perhaps inevitable given her theatrical roots and the fact that it was less than a year since she had made her screen debut in Irving Thalberg’s controversial production of ‘Rasputin, The Mad Monk’ (1932). Similarly, Holmes is ineffective as her son, perhaps because the script initially presents him as an upper-class twit, then as a seriously conflicted ‘angry young man’, and finally as a gung-ho ‘Roger Ramjet’ who cheerfully abandons all his apparent deeply-held beliefs. It would have taken a far better actor (and far better writing) to make that transformation convincing over the brief 75-minute running time.

Somewhat thought-provoking but crucially flawed in the presentation of its central argument. An interesting curiosity from a bygone age.

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OSS 117: Mission For A Killer/Furia A Bahia Pour OSS 117 (1965)

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)‘You may trust him implicitly; he’s only killed 20 people.’

South America is hit by a series of high profile assassinations, carried out by innocent members of the public under the influence of a hypnotic drug. Agent OSS 117 is sent to Rio to investigate, but his local contact is killed, and he’s soon involved with several beautiful women, whose loyalties are all suspect…

Third in the French Eurospy series based on the long-running novels by Jean Bruce, and again directed by André Hunebelle. This time around twinkly-eyed Kerwin Mathews has had his licence revoked and wannabee James Bond duties are in the hands of Czech-born actor Frederick Stafford. Crucially, he’s this week’s ‘Bond On A Far Higher Budget than Usual’ and this financial clout helps the film to achieve a level of technical quality and professionalism far in excess of the vast majority of the other exploits of the army of secret agents who invaded continental Europe in the wake of Sean Connery.

Here, Stafford even gets to travel out of Europe; to Rio no less, and the breath-taking scenery and beautiful locations are a definite plus, especially with cinematographer Marcel Grignon behind the lens. His choice of a muted colour pallet is very effective indeed, giving the whole enterprise a real touch of class. Furthermore, Hunebelle is able to add a real sense of scale to the proceedings with a climax involving plenty of extras, explosions and action, and this helps convey the importance of the issues at stake in the unfolding drama.

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)

‘If you look toward the front of the plane, the fire exits are located here and here…’

So, what’s the story? Well, in best movie tradition, super-agent Stafford is enjoying some pleasant R&R with appropriate companionship when he’s called back to the office by his boss to save the world. Again. This time a series of high-profile world leader types have gone to their maker, courtesy of succession of Johnnie Nobodies with no apparent political affiliations or connections with terrorist groups.

lt’s a three-pipe problem for sure, but Our Man ln Rio seems to have some idea about what’s going on. Unfortunately, by the time Stafford gets there, this guy’s in hospital after a mysterious car accident right next to the home of the gorgeous Mylene Demongeot (quite the compensation I’d say!) In fact, Hunebelle was so taken with her that he soon gave her the main female role in his ’Fantomas’ trilogy. But Stafford’s already up to his ears in beautiful women here, what with raven-haired Consuela (Perrette Pardier) and blonde Consuela (Annie Anderson), who are both claiming to be the injured man’s private secretary.

Investigations lead Stafford to the jungle where a secret military organisation are planning the overthrow of Western Civilisation using a ‘mind control’ drug distilled by a native tribe who they have enslaved. Local landowner Raymond Pellegrin happens to be a friend of Demongeot and may as well be wearing an ‘I am a Supervillain’ t-shirt, but it actually turns out that he’s just a cog in the wheel of this mysterious group. The fact that he shows up pretty late in the film and that Stafford’s main antagonist is finally revealed to be an anonymous military officer really hurts the film and makes it tough for an audience to really invest in our hero’s struggle.

OSS 117 Mission For A Killer (1965)

‘Late night, was it?’

Aside from the larger scale, the film’s major asset is Stafford himself. Previous series incumbent Mathews may have been more traditionally handsome, but Stafford is more charismatic and far more convincing as an agent who will make the tough calls when required; far more of a Sean Connery type than a Roger Moore.

Ironically, Stafford had no previous experience as an actor at all; being offered the role after meeting Hunebelle at a party! Born Friedrich Strobel von Stein, he apparently took part in swimming and water polo events at the 1948 Olympics in London, although this remains unconfirmed. However, the scene where he rescues Demongeot and the two narrowly escape being washed over a waterfall looks very convincing indeed, so there may be some truth to it. After appearing in similar Eurospy project ‘Agent 505: Death Trap in Beirut’ (1966), he reprised his role as Agent OSS 117 once more, before being cast by Alfred Hitchcock as the lead in ‘Topaz’ (1969). Unfortunately, the film flopped hard and his own performance received negative reviews. His career never really recovered and he died in a plane crash in 1979 at the age of 51.

Most Eurospy films of the 1960’s were cheap copies of the 007 formula. Despite the lacklustre story, thanks to a bigger budget, all round professionalism and the engaging performances of Stafford and Demongeot, this is one of the better examples of the type.

Night of Violence/Le Noti Della Violenza (1965)

Night of Violence:Le Noti Della Violenza (1965)‘l have a dentists’ appointment, otherwise everyone will call me Dracula.’

The young daughter of an ambassador is found strangled and it’s soon discovered that she was working as a high-class call girl. A series of similar attacks follow, with the surviving victims identifying the perpetrator as one famous actor after another…

Early example of an Italian ‘Giallo’ thriller that has some of the familiar elements of the sub-genre that inspired the American slasher craze that began in the late 1970s, but arranged to a slightly different formula. Yes, there’s the masked killer who preys on women in the night, but his attacks are unplanned and opportunistic; carried out on strangers, rather on specific individuals to achieve specific goals. Furthermore, with the notable exception of the initial murder, his attempts are always unsuccessful, interrupted by passers-by or patrolling policemen.

Unfortunately, although the story is pretty straightforward apart from the late twist, it’s poorly presented by director Roberto Mauri. Events jump around so much in the early stages that the identities of the main characters are never firmly established. After a while, we realise that our hero is actually Detective Inspector Ferretti (Alberto Lupo), but, other than the fact that he’s the investigating policeman, we never find out anything else about him; his character, his life outside the job or his back story. Similarly, the heroine is revealed as the murdered girl’s sister (Marilù Tolo) but her character is so underdeveloped that she never even gets a first name!

Night of Violence:Le Noti Della Violenza (1965)

‘More black eyeliner? I can hardly keep my head up as it is!’

There are also a bunch of side-plots which never really go anywhere; the film spends time in the company of an abusive pimp and his girlfriend, but as he’s not a viable suspect for the murder, their interactions just seem to exist to pad the run time. It also transpires that the prostitution ring run by madam Luisa (Dada Gallotti) is peddling hard drugs on the side and a whole section of the film is devoted to busting up this gang, which puts the main story on the back burner completely.

Obviously, this tangle of threads and inconsistent approach does make for a somewhat uneven end result. The film does have its champions who cite the almost expressionist black-and-white photography and shot composition. These are effective at times, but the vast majority of the film takes place outdoors at night and, without the contrast of better-lit scenes, this is likely to frustrate some viewers. The back story of the killer is original, though and a pleasingly modern twist, although some of the final shots of the big reveal are somewhat crude and border on exploitation cinema.

What really lets the film down is its lack of focus on the core story. It often meanders without much purpose and leaves crucial questions unanswered. It’s never satisfactorily explained why the ambassador’s daughter has chosen to turn tricks on the side, or who makes the silent phone calls that plague her on the night of the murder. These seem like they are going to be major plots but fizzle out completely. It doesn’t seem likely to be the killer on the other end of the line, either, as he chooses his victims at random throughout the rest of the film. Mind you, I suppose he could have just had a thing for women who disrobe beside bedroom windows without pulling the shades down, I suppose. But then why does he disguise himself as a series of apparently popular actors? And where does he get the masks from? It’s never even addressed.

Not a bad film by any means, but rather disappointing.

The Body Disappears (1941)

The Body Disappears (1941)‘You’ve given me a great idea, William. We’ve got to go out and get ourselves a dead body.’

A young man about town sleeping off a drunk after his bachelor party is left in a college dissecting room by his prankster friends. Assuming that he is a corpse, a notorious faculty professor kidnaps him for use in his strange experiments in resurrecting the dead. Unfortunately, the injection of the scientist’s special serum turns the unlucky bridegroom invisible instead, somewhat interfering with his impending nuptials. Further complications ensue when test subject Charlie the monkey also begins to vanish…

Half-baked and half-hearted response to Universal Studio’s ‘Invisible Woman’ (1941) from the crew over at Warner Brothers, focusing on the activities of scatter-brained Professor Shotesbury (Edward Everett Horton) and their (allegedly) hilarious consequences. His attempts to raise the dead may be a resounding failure, but he manages to invent invisibility instead after treating the passed-out Peter DeHaven (Jeffrey Lynn) on the eve of his wedding to socialite Christine Lunceford (Marguerite Chapman). Predictable shenanigans ensure; comic ones involving Horton, his test subject monkey and black chauffeur Willie (Willie Best), and romantic ones involving Lynn and Horton’s pretty daughter Joan (Jane Wyman).

The Body Disappears (1941)

‘With a hat like that, I’d want to be invisible too…’

Unfortunately, the film is the very essence of a standard comedy product of its time, with events, gags and pratfalls developing upon completely obvious lines. Director D Ross Lederman keeps things moving at a decent clip, and Horton is always a pleasure to watch, but the whole project has ‘second rate’ stamped all the way through it. Even the SFX are a bit tatty by the standards of the time. lt’s also not particularly nice to see black actor Best wheeled out to do his usual ‘pop-eyed, fear-ridden, comedy servant’ routine. It does grate somewhat in these more enlightened times.

Matters aren’t really helped by Lynn’s rather bland performance, either. He had the looks of a leading man but little of the charisma and, by this point, his career was already fading. White-knight supporting roles in pictures like ‘Four Daughters’ (1938) and ‘The Roaring Twenties (1939) had seen him effortlessly eclipsed by such wonderful performers as John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains and Jimmy Cagney. Obviously, it would take a strong screen presence to go up against those guys, but even in the lead of a picture like bizarre gangster-comedy-musical ‘It All Came True’ (1940) with a pre-stardom Bogart in support, he failed to make much of an impression. Mind you, probably the greatest actor in the world would have struggled to save a picture that featured featuring singing old grannies.

The Body Disappears (1941)

‘Look me in the eye and tell me that…’

Co-star Wyman was heading in the opposite direction, slowly but surely breaking out of b-movie hell via roles opposite Edward G Robinson – ‘Larceny Inc.’ (1942) and Jack Carson – ‘Make Your Own Bed’ (1944). A year later, Jack Warner loaned her out for a role rejected by Jean Arthur in a movie that even home-studio Paramount confidently expected to be a box-office flop. The film? Billy Wilder’s multiple-Oscar-winning ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1946).

It wasn’t a million miles from that classic to Wyman’s own Academy Award for best leading actress in ‘Johnny Belinda’ (1949). Of course, she’s probably just as famous these days for being the first wife of future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, although an almost decade long stint as matriarch Angela Channing on TV soap opera ‘Falcon Crest’ brought her back to the notice of audiences in the 1980s.

Director Lederman was a typical journeyman of the studio era; working on entries in popular film series programmers like ‘The Lone Wolf’, ‘Boston Blackie’ and ‘The Whistler.’ Other projects included ‘Racketeers of The Range’ (1939), ‘Moonlight On The Prairie’ (1935) and ‘Rusty Rides Alone’ (1933). He was also behind the megaphone for the failed attempt to pit Olympic athlete Glen Morris against Johnny Weismuller at the box office with ‘Tarzan’s Revenge’ (1938). Scriptwriter Scott Darling went on to work on Universal’s slightly disappointing ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942) and some of the Monogram Studios’ ‘Charlie Chan’ pictures that starred Sidney Toler.

Horton and Wyman try their best to get something out of a limp and woefully predictable script, but this one’s pretty much dead on arrival.

The Golden Idol (1954)

The Golden Idol (1954)‘He is a devil in human form; a devil with the strength of a gorilla and the cunning of a snake.’

A local chieftain has arranged to sell the legendary ‘Golden Idol of Watusi’ to an American museum to alleviate the extreme poverty in his village. But the relic is stolen by the agents of an evil prince, who wants it for himself. However, the thieves are ambushed by Bomba the Jungle Boy, who doesn’t put up with such activities on his manor…

The 10th movie in the ‘Bomba’ series finds our young star Johnny Sheffield tangling with the evil hirelings of the dastardly Prince Ali (Paul Guilfoyle), who looks like he’d be much more at home in the desert than in the jungle. As usual, the side of the angels are represented by Deputy Commissioner Barnes (Leonard Mudie) and his faithful servant, Eli (Smoki Whitfield), but this time they’re joined by archaeologist and museum rep (Anne Kimbell). Together, they indulge in the usual rounds of chat, pointing off camera at stock footage, more chat and general messing about in the woods.

The Golden Idol (1954)

‘Now, calm down, dear, the Oscar’s in the post.’

By this point in the series, writer-producer-director Ford Beebe was busy re-hiring actors from earlier entries and dressing them in the same costumes. That way he could recycle old footage and cut down on production costs. It’s Guilfoyle who gets that dubious honour here, having played the bad guy in ‘Bomba and the Hidden City’ (1950).

There’s also re-used clips of Sheffield swinging through the jungle and the umpteenth appearance of him riding an elephant with a bird of prey on his arm. I suppose the appearance of old footage could make a decent drinking game, but I couldn’t guarantee that you’d be in a fit condition after it was over! It’s also probably best not to get too excited by the Golden Idol of Watusi, either. It’s just a little knick-knack you could probably pick up in any Ten-Cent store. It would make a good paperweight, though.

To be fair to the film, it is better paced that some in the series and, somewhat ironically, as the films got cheaper, Sheffield displayed an easier, more natural presence. It’s probably down to the fact that his role in the opening chapters cast him as a more primitive denizen of the jungle; with dialogue to match. There’s also some halfway decent underwater photography when Kimbell and Sheffield take a swim together, and it’s the film’s best sequence, mainly because it looks like the two actors are genuinely having fun.

The Golden Idol (1954)

‘Don’t point that thing at me, I was in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ you know…’

Beebe was a veteran of the movie serials, having gathered co-directing quotes for some of the most famous examples of the genre: ‘Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars’ (1938), ‘Buck Rogers’ (1939), ‘The Phantom Creeps’ (1939) with Bela Lugosi and ‘The Green Hornet’ (1940). He’d also delivered the surprisingly effective low-budget ‘Night Monster’ (1942), again with Lugosi, and concluded Universal’s ‘Invisible Man’ series with ‘The Invisible Man’s Revenge’ (1944).

Guilfoyle had small roles in marginally more distinguished productions than this one, such as John Ford’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1940), Cagney classic ‘White Heat’ (1948) and Bogart-Robinson face-off ‘Brother Orchid’ (1940). Later, he went into directing, mostly for television. Kimbell has the dubious distinction of being the leading lady in the first ever Roger Corman production, the soggy shoestring that was ‘Monster From The Ocean Floor’ (1954).

In 1953, Monogram Studios became Allied Artists, but the change seems to have had no effect on ‘Bomba’, although only two more films were made. A jungle adventure typical of the series; cheap, unambitious and formulaic.

Island of The Dinosaurs/La lsla De Los Dinosaurios (1967)

La Isla De Los Dinosaurios (1967)‘The tests of the liquids are also abnormal.’

A disgraced academic recruits a trio of his former students to join him in an expedition to a remote region of the Atlantic Ocean where he believes they will find the remnants of the lost continent of Atlantis. After their plane crashes on an uncharted island during a storm, they find their new surroundings positively prehistoric…

The late 1960’s were a hard time for many of the forgotten stars of old Hollywood. The studio system that had provided regular work and security was long gone and many were forced to freelance in low budget, independent productions, even travelling to foreign shores in order to survive. And it was no different for the fighting lizards who had made such a memorable debut in United Artists’ big hit ‘One Million B.C.’ (1940) opposite Victor Mature, Carole Landis and Lon Chaney Jr. Perhaps unfairly typecast, they still enjoyed steady work throughout the next couple of decades, appearing in ‘Tarzan’s Desert Mystery’ (1943), ‘Two Lost Worlds’ (1950), ‘Untamed Women’ (1952), ‘Robot Monster’ (1953), ‘King Dinosaur’ (1954), and opposite a young Robert Vaughan in ‘Teenage Caveman’ (1958) among many others. But they were finally defeated in the early 1960’s by an opponent that could not be overcome: colour. But all was not lost for our stock footage heroes as they enjoyed one last death roll, thanks to Mexican director Rafael Portillo, whose chosen medium was still glorious black and white!

Wannabe Professor Challenger (Manolo Fábregas) has been ridiculed by the respectable scientific community for his rather vague (but obviously entirely plausible) theories about Atlantis and dinosaurs but sets out to prove the fools wrong! This means putting the band back together. The members are three former students, now scientists in their own right; Elsa Càrdenas (minerals), Genaro Morena (animals) and Alma Delia Fuentes (big hair and chemicals – no, not those kind). Off they go in their tour van (sorry, small 4-seater plane) to hit the hot spots around the likely location of this lost world, but it all goes pear-shaped when they forget to check the weather report. One off-screen crash later, and they’re stranded on a mysterious island. They set up camp and get to work, trying to ignore the distant animal roars and smoking volcano (cliché alert!)

La Isla De Los Dinosaurios (1967)

‘I told you that we should have left that second ping pong table at home!’

Surprisingly, they’re quite well-fixed what with their racks of test tubes, rifles, two tents, cameras, big iron cooking pot, and wooden furniture (including a table and two chairs). How they managed to fit all that gear into their small plane is a bit of a mystery, but all the extra weight probably explains why they crashed in the first place. The women also remembered to bring their swimming costumes, which proves a double-edged sword for Fuentes when she is kidnapped by cave man Molo (Armando Silvestre) while out for a dip.

The second act of the film focuses almost exclusively on our new golden couple. Initially Fuentes is a reluctant prisoner, but it’s barely five minutes before she starts to get seriously interested in the muscle-bound Silvestre, even if his conversational talents are a bit limited. Before long, she’s wearing the trousers in the relationship (or the skimpy ‘Carole Landis cave girl dress’ to be exact.) She teaches Silvestre to honour his mother and shows the rest of his tribe the value of sharing. She invents new weapons for the men and shows the girls how to do their hair (do it like Carole Landis!) and generally interferes in a massive way with their natural cultural development.

Along the way, they encounter various giant lizards, at which points Fuentes’ adoption of Carole Landis’ fashion sense and personal grooming tips prove a godsend for director Portillo. Proceedings wrap up with the expected volcano eruption, but rather brilliantly it only seriously effects the 1940 part of the island, leaving the 1967 part untouched, apart from making the camera shake a bit. The rest of the expedition suddenly turn up after remembering they’re supposed to be in the film, and there’s a hilarious laugh out loud moment when Silvestre dispatches a man in a joke shop gorilla suit, which fails spectacularly to match the stock footage of a man in a much better-looking (but still completely unconvincing) gorilla suit.

La Isla De Los Dinosaurios (1967)

The natives took their Morris Dancing very seriously…

Director Portillo is best remembered now for helming the first three films in ‘The Aztec Mummy’ series, of which ‘The Robot Vs The Aztec Mummy’ (1960) is a must-see for fans of car crash cinema. Fuentes starred in ‘Blue Demon: Destructor of Spies’ (1968) and joined Mexican Eurospy Alex Dynamo as one of the ‘Danger Girls’ (1969).

Càrdenas had already appeared in a small role with James Dean in ‘Giant’ (1956) and went onto Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969). Even more notable is Fábregas’ major role opposite Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine in Don Siegel’s ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’ (1970).

Mexican cinema of the 1950’s and 1960’s was a glorious place to be, what with is proliferation of werewolves, wrestlers, brainiacs, vampires and space aliens, all mixed together with a wonderful ‘anything goes’ attitude. Sadly, this effort betrays little of that sensibility, being merely a repositioning of lots of old footage from ‘One Million BC’ (1940) into a desperately conventional story. Proceedings are only kept off life support (barely!) by the efforts of the lively Fuentes and the imposing Silvestre.

lf you’re a fan of wild and wacky South of the Border shenanigans, you’ll probably get a bit of a kick out of this (I know I did!) but it really is one of the less interesting examples out there.

Jungle Gents (1954)

Jungle Gents (1954)‘lf you didn’t notice that, you’d better get your eyes examined by an octopus.’

Due to an experimental medication, a young man develops the ability to smell diamonds. After he tracks down some stolen gems from a robbery, a dealer recruits him and his friends to sniff out some missing stones in deepest Africa…

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage, having first came to notice as two of the street toughs in Maxwell Anderson’s hit play ‘Dead End.’ After the success of the film adaptation with Humphrey Bogart, the gang were styled as the ‘The Dead End Kids’ and featured in a number of similar pictures, such as the classic ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ (1938), again with Bogart and starring James Cagney. After apparent issues with their behaviour, the gangs’ contracts were sold onto Monogram where they became ‘The East Side Kids’ and starred in a string of ‘B’ pictures. A fall out over money later and Gorcey took the group independent and restyled them as ‘The Bowery Boys’. A mind-boggling 48 pictures followed in just 13 years.

Jungle Gents (1954)

The Bowery Boys had relaxed their qualification criteria somewhat…

Given the number of films and the rate of production, it’s hardly surprising that the gang got around to tackling most film genres, provided they didn’t involve a significant production cost, of course. An African adventure made even more sense when they could film on sets still being used in the ongoing cinematic exploits of Johnny Sheffield as ‘Bomba, the Jungle Boy’ and re-use some of the stock footage already familiar to fans of that series.

We also get the extremely photogenic Laurette Luez who returns to the set from her previous visit on ‘Bomba’ picture ‘African Treasure’ (1952). She gets far fewer lines than when she appeared with Johnny Sheffield, but does get to display a little flair for comedy in her generic ‘female Tarzan’ role. And she was no doubt familiar with many of the acting chops required in these kinds of pictures; staring off screen at things that aren’t there, filling out a skimpy jungle outfit and having the best lipgloss and mascara this side of the Serengeti. I bet she also knew just where to park outside the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden, although I suspect even that mystical location was beyond the budget of director Edward Bernds’ little effort.

As this was the 35th of the boys’ adventures, many of the original ‘gang’ had long departed, leaving Gorcey and Hall as pretty much a double act. They are supported by Leo’s father and brother, Bernard and David, and Bennie Bartlett makes up the numbers, but none of them get much of a look in. The plot is as familiar as ever; the slow-witted Hall develops an unlikely ability and Gorcey tries to exploit it for his own ends. Here, a cold medicine (reformulated to super strength because of the size of Hall’s nose!) gives him the ability to sniff out diamonds. Gorcey’s wise guy, who knows all the angles, starts to see dollar signs when Patrick O’Moore suggests they help him find some lost gems in Africa. Muddying the waters are the nasty Dr Goebel(!) (Rudolph Anders) and his associate Harry Cording.

Jungle Gents (1954)

Sonny & Cher’s new TV sitcom was not a great success…

The best part of these lifeless proceedings is some of Gorcey’s clever word play, but if the script makes some effort with the laughs there, it’s sadly lacking in every other department. The postage stamp plot presents a progression of tired, familiar situations and predictable comedy tropes. The only surprise here is the non-appearance of the ‘man in a gorilla suit’ routine, although the boys had already milked that for one all it was worth in ‘Master Minds’ (1949).

Proving that ‘we all have to start somewhere’ are a couple of familiar faces in small, unbilled roles. Woody Strode had already appeared in a couple of the ‘Bomba’ series and has a similarly tiny role as a native tribesman here. ln a few years, he was starring as ‘Sergeant Rutledge’ (1960) for director John Ford and opposite Kirk Douglas in ‘Spartacus’ (1960). A long and successful career as a supporting player followed in many big Hollywood films. Making his first ever screen appearance for a few seconds at the end of the picture is Clint Walker, who found fame in TV Western ‘Cheyenne’ and as one of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967) with Lee Marvin and Telly Savalas.

This is generic, disposal product, but it’s harmless and good-natured fun, and there a few laughs to be had from Gorcey’s dialogue. If you’re not too critical.