Jungle Jim is recruited by the local authorities to find a mysterious white girl who has been seen in a remote part of the jungle. Allegedly, she is accompanied by a tiger and has been terrorising the witchdoctor of a local tribe, whose young chief is returning home after being educated in America.
It’s Tarzan vs. Flash Gordon as Johnny Weismuller faces off against Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe in a ferocious fight to the death in a sweltering Jungle Hell where life is cheap and production values are even cheaper. Yes, it’s another trip to the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Gardens for the fourth in the ‘Jungle Jim’ series from legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman, and, for anyone who has seen one of these pictures, this one holds no surprises whatsoever.
As usual, we begin with the story; a five minute exposition scene that tells us all that we need to know, and allows us to turn off our brains for the next 73 minutes. Our villain is evil witchdoctor Hakim (John Dehner from Staten Island) who is hunting jungle girl Anita Lhoest (from California) because she may have witnessed him murdering a couple of explorers many years earlier who may have been her parents. No prizes for guessing if that’s all true or not. Returning tribal chief Mahala (Rick Vallin from modern day Ukraine) is travelling into the jungle so he can turn his people from superstition to enlightenment. Weismuller is recruited to escort him back and to find the girl. Dastardly treasure hunter Crabbe is also in the area looking for the Lagoon of the Dead where Dehner has been sacrificing his victims.
So it’s business as usual with Weismuller accompanied on his journey by black bird Caw Caw and cute little dog Skipper, whose continued survival in the jungle is seriously impressive. We also get what seems to be an unofficial introduction to chimpanzee Tamba, who turns up from somewhere after a while and Weismuller calls by name. Although Lhoest has been evading everyone for years apparently, in the best Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition Weismuller finds her in less than ten minutes. Along the way, he gets to wrestle a crocodile again, although he keeps his shirt on this time around. But it is a nice echo of his Tarzan heyday.
Director William Berke had nine other pictures released the same year, including two more in this series; ‘Mark of the Gorilla’ (1950) and ‘Pygmy lsland’ (1950). ln fact, he ended up directing almost half of the 16 of Jungle Jim’s adventures. In a way, Crabbe’s presence in the picture is a pleasing one; as he’d already battled Weismuller in the big man’s only non-Jungle role, the bayou melodrama ‘Swamp Fire’ (1946). Also Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim were the only two significant creations of comic book artist Alex Raymond.
Rather strangely, we get the same repeated shot of Lhoest on a clifftop several times (no complaints from me, mind you) but she gets little screen time otherwise, most of which she spends skipping through the jungle. She doesn’t get all that much dialogue either, although what she has she handles well enough. I did wonder where she was getting her makeup done, though! These jungle girls always seem to be able to find a beauty parlour somewhere. On the debit side, both Dehner and Vallin play in blackface, something that would be rightly unacceptable now and must have looked pretty silly to audiences, even back in the more naive days of 1950.
Like Weismuller and Crabbe, Lhoest was a swimming champion who had beaten out a young Marilyn Monroe for the part of Daisy Mae in a big budget movie of ‘Lil Abner’. But that film was never made and this remains her only appearance on the silver screen. She certainly had the looks, with a dazzling smile and lively eyes, and filled out a two-piece tiger skin number in a very fetching way. But she preferred to devote her life to animal welfare, rather than acting.
At 73 minutes, this is actually one of the longest films of the series and boy, do those extra minutes drag. One of the dullest of Jim’s exploits and a seriously boring experience.