Unscrupulous slave traders discover low-grade oil in the jungle and plan to secure the mineral rights at any cost. They persuade a native chief to reform an ancient tribe of head hunters and seize control of the region…
After almost two-decades as MGM’s ‘Tarzan’, ex-Olympic multi-gold medallist Johnny Weismuller took the short bus ride from Culver City to Gower Gulch, where he signed with Columbia Studios to appear in a series of films as ‘Jungle Jim.’ These cut-price African adventures were made under the watchful eye of producer Sam Katzman and his independent film company. Katzman had begun in low-budget Western programmers in the mid-1930’s before graduating to Monogram Studios where he supervised movie serials and horror quickies with Bela Lugosi. His ‘cash careful’ approach caught the eye of executives at Columbia and they signed him to a deal in 1948.
This 11th entry finds Weismuller teaming up with old friend and interpreter Ellen Shaw (Christine Larson) and clean-cut Lt Barry (Steven Ritch) who has just returned from military school. Their mission? To bring cold-blooded trader Arco (Robert C Foulk) and his right-hand man Pico Church (Joseph Allen) to justice. But these wicked pair have plans of their own. While executing his usual business model of kidnapping native women, Allen has stumbled across a pool of oil in the jungle. It might be low-grade stuff but it can be used to refine copper. Sensing a mineral bonanza, Foulk sets out to stir up unrest and move in. He’s got previous too; orchestrating the native uprising that took the life of Larson’s father.
The ‘Jungle Jim’ series was pretty much the definition of ‘conveyor belt’ filmmaking and here the main creative team includes director William Berke (six in the series) and writer Samuel Newman who wrote five in total. However, although it shares many of the elements (and even some of the footage!) of other episodes, there’s something a tiny bit different going on here. You see, if you’re looking for straight drama, this is probably the best in the entire series.
For a start, it takes its story pretty seriously and there’s definitely an edge to proceedings not present in other entries. In the opening sequence, Allen callously empties his revolver into a wicket basket containing a helpless native girl when the police close in. We even see the corpse later on. When he catches up with the murderer, Weismuller puts him in a lion trap that will snap his neck if he doesn’t talk. Also the ‘friendly’ natives use their spears on the bad guys when they’re lying stunned on the ground. All of which is a little darker than what the films usually had to offer.
But then there’s Tamba, the Talented Chimp. Tamba gets an oblivious Weismuller to carry his pack, Tamba shoots the hat off our hero’s head, Tamba steals Larson’s clothes when she’s having a dip, Tamba gets hopped up on ether which allows him to somersault in slow motion! Ok, so he does free Weismuller by making like a bush but he is more of a hindrance than a help and his usual comedy schtick is strangely at odds with what’s going on elsewhere.
And yes, of course, Larson gets her foot caught in a tree root (women, eh?) and faints when she’s threatened by a panther. And, of course, Weismuller has to fight the stuffed toy, which must have been a chore as he’d already killed it in at least two of the previous films. I guess the big cat just couldn’t take the hint. Worse still, the second act really drags on as our heroes visit various tribes in an attempt to secure their mineral rights, and this effectively kills off any vague sense of excitement that the film possesses.
Larson did lots of ‘b’ pictures, mostly Westerns and retired in 1958. She’s probably best remembered now for an alleged love affair with Ronald Reagan when he was first married to Nancy Davis. Ritch was a jobbing actor, who enjoyed more success as a writer, penning a couple of noir movies including the inventive ‘Plunder Road’ (1957) and episodes for hit TV shows like ‘Wagon Train’. Foulk enjoyed a long and very successful career as a TV character actor, appearing on ‘Lost In Space’, ‘The Big Valley’, ‘Rawhide, ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’ among others. Newman delivered a dry run for ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) with ‘Invisible Invaders’ (1959) and tangled with goofy intergalactic ‘big as a battleship’ buzzard puppet ‘The Giant Claw’ (1957).
There are no Nazis, Moon Men or cave men with furry wellington boots here, but, of course, those are the elements that provide the greatest entertainment when watching Jim’s exploits today. Instead, we have a fairly standard jungle adventure enlivened by some surprisingly dark moments.