Valley Of Head Hunters (1953)

Valley of Head Hunters (1952)When the Romans attacked the Carthaginians, Hannibal thought of a lulu of a tactic.’

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.

Valley of Head Hunters (1952)

Events as at the weigh-in had got out of hand…

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.

Valley of Head Hunters (1953)

‘Do you have to tread on my feet every time?’

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.

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Savage Mutiny (1953)

Savage Mutiny (1953)‘Well, Major, you’ve no doubt been wondering about the scientific expedition I brought in here last week…’

Leading a force of government troops, Jungle Jim wipes out a cell of foreign agents living in the interior. This clears the way for ‘Jungle Project X’; the first atom bomb test to be made in Africa. But some of the enemy spies are still around and plan to disrupt the project by stirring up the local population…

The tenth of the ‘Jungle Jim’ series finds muscle-bound ex-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller in gainful employment as some kind official enforcer for the Anglo-American government. Yes, he’s no longer working as a trail guide (specialising in the discovery of lost cities, fabulous diamonds and missing scientists) but rooting out the Commie threat on behalf of Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam Katzman, that is. Yes, the penny-pinching producer serves up yet another slice of no-budget jungle fun with the help of veteran director Spencer Gordon Bennet and writer Sol Shor.

After clearing out the local Red Threat (or so he thinks!), Weismuller heads back to HQ for to his next mission. Chief of Staff Major Walsh (series veteran Lester Matthews in yet another different role) is under orders too; those of ‘radioactivity expert’ Dr Parker (Nelson Leigh). The boffin is planning to drop an atom bomb on the island of Tulonga (the name of which has been helpfully added to the printed wall map in marker pen). Matthews points out that the island is inhabited, but Leigh assures him that it’s the perfect place to test the effects of radioactivity, so it’s all fine. The native tribe can just come to the mainland for a holiday. They might have never left the island before, but Matthews reckons Weismuller can relocate them all in a couple of days.

Savage Mutiny (1953)

‘Come on, lads, we’re only 4-0 down and we’ve got the wind with us in the second half…’

Obviously, it’s not entirely fair to impose modern day attitudes on a piece of entertainment more than half a century old, but it’s still eyebrow-raising when Wesimuller simply goes along with all this. Especially considering he’s supposed to be a long-time friend of the tribe’s headman, Chief Wamai (Charles Stevens, born in Arizona). Still, I guess that uprooting a unique indigenous people from their natural environment and obliterating their culture and homeland with an atom bomb isn’t that bad, is it? The government are going to rebuild their village and let them move back a week or so afterwards!

Also on the plus side, they’re going to get inoculated against any nasty, civilised germs by Angela Stevens from the World Health Organisation. Unfortunately, she loses her ‘carrying case containing the vaccine’ during the journey. Yes, Weismuller retrieves it from some stock footage hyenas, but the description kind of suggests that one shot of something is all they’re going to get anyway. With that quality of medical care, it’s no surprise they start getting seriously ill once they’ve made the trip, but it’s actually because they’ve been sprayed with radioactive dust by despicable commie trader Kroman (played by Gregory Gaye; a real live Russian, ladies and gentlemen!) All of which goes to show that the nasty effects of radiation exposure were even known to Hollywood scriptwriters at the time. As was the fact that you can survive a nuclear explosion by turning your back and simply looking the other way. You don’t even have to lie down. Which is good to know.

Director Bennet was a Hollywood veteran who spent many years working on movie serials, and there’s a sequence in a burning hut that will ring a bell with any fans of that medium. Likewise, author Shor was a regular on the staff at Republic Studios, contributing with a stable of writers to such classic chapter plays as ‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel’ (1941), ‘The Drums of Fu Manchu’ (1940), ‘The Mysterious Dr Satan’ (1943) and ‘The Crimson Ghost’ (1946). But the presence of these two stalwarts adds little that’s new to the seasoned formula; Bennet having already directed ‘Voodoo Tiger’ (1952) in the series, and going on to helm ‘Killer Ape’ (1953) and final entry ‘Devil Goddess’ (1955).

One of the better entries in the ‘Jungle Jim’ series when viewed today, but most of the enjoyment comes from the dated aspects of the story, rather than from anything that the filmmakers put up on the screen intentionally.

Tamba (the talented Chimp) probably does more backflips in this one than any other, though. So,there is that. You know, for die-hard Tamba fans…

Jungle Manhunt (1951)

Jungle Manhunt (1951)‘Ever think of selling blow up patches for bubblegum?’

A series of native villages are mysteriously attacked by living skeletons, burnt to the ground and their men kidnapped. Meanwhile, a young photo-journalist engages Jungle Jim to help her search for a flier who disappeared nine years earlier when his plane went down…

We’re back in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden again for the ninth film in the ‘Jungle Jim’ series with ex-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller. As per usual, this no-budget extravaganza is brought to us by legendary penny-pinching producer Sam Katzman, who teams up here with director Lew Landers. Under the name Louis Friedlander, he’d delivered Karloff-Lugosi classic ‘The Raven’ (1935) but his subsequent career was almost exclusively in b-pictures, although he did work on interesting projects such as ‘The Return of the Vampire’ (1943) with Lugosi, and horror-comedy ‘The Boogie Man Will Get You’ (1942) with Karloff and Peter Lorre. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1940s, his name was attached to such forgotten programmers as ‘My Dog Rusty’ (1948), ‘Adventures of Gallant Bess’ (1948) (about a heroic horse), and a number of Westerns with fading cowboy Tim Holt.

This picture comes at us from the typewriter of Samuel Newman, who was making his debut with the series. However, it’s no surprise that his story doesn’t stray from the well-established formula, although we are spared the usual opening five minutes of library footage accompanied by actor Leland Hodges explaining what a jungle is. Instead, we’re straight into the action with tribal Headman Rick Vallin (a white man born in what is now the Ukraine!) having his Friday night out spoilt when his village is raised to the ground by a war party of nasty natives led by a trio of skeleton men waving burning torches. Women and children are bloodlessly slaughtered and the men carried off.

So what’s going on? Well, it turns out that dastardly mad scientist Lyle Talbot (‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959)) needs slave labour for his secret mining operation. He’s discovered a way to turn volcanic rock into diamonds (just add water, apparently!) but the workers get radiation poisoning and drop dead after a couple of days. Now, I’m fairly sure these working ‘terms and conditions’ contravene at least some applicable employment statutes, even those in place in 1951, and I doubt that he was offering medical insurance or a good dental plan either. So he’s forced to adopt rather aggressive recruitment procedures and these are carried out by his own tribe of native minions, although why they follow his orders is anybody’s guess. Also I’m not at all certain what purpose the skeleton men serve in his operation. Perhaps Katzman had some Halloween costumes left over from another production and was determined to get full use out of them before returning them to the shop.

Jungle Manhunt (1951)

‘Blimey! Who does he think he is?!’

Meanwhile, Weismuller is saving pretty brunette Sheila Ryan after her boat capsizes. Her small safari is being bankrolled by a millionaire who wants to find his lost nephew. This lad was a pilot and football star who was lost in the jungle almost a decade earlier. Of course with Weismuller’s help, she runs across him in about ten minutes flat. He’s adopted his own tribe (just like Talbot) but has brought them some of the key benefits of Western Civilisation instead, including sidewalks, explosives and the clothes line.

Rather brilliantly, he turns out to be played by real-life Los Angeles Rams star Quarterback Bob Waterfield in his only movie role. Now, l can’t comment on whether Waterfield was as good on the field as Kurt Warner (or even Jared Goff for that matter!) but I can tell you about his acting ability. He didn’t have any. I suppose it was fortunate that he was married to Hollywood icon Jane Russell, who had enough talent in front of the camera for the both of them. A few years after this, they formed a production company together, their first release being big hit ‘Gentleman Marry Brunettes’ (1955).

Given the general lack of charisma on display from our male leads, a lot of the drama’s heavy lifting falls to Ryan. Thankfully, she was an actress with bags of experience, getting her big break opposite Sidney Toler in Charlie Chan thriller ‘Dead Men Tell’ (1941), supporting Laurel and Hardy in ‘Great Guns’ (1941) and ‘A-Haunting We Will Go’ (1942), singing in musicals like ‘The Gay Caballero’ (1942) and appearing in a string of B-Westerns. She’s the best thing in this film by a mile, providing a nice line in light sarcasm, charm and the personality that the rest of the project so desperately lacks. Talbot also adds another cad to his rogue’s gallery of low-budget villains, and must take a lot of credit for his straight-faced delivery of the surprisingly detailed explanation of his scientific process. Personally, I have my doubts as to the validity of his experimental model, especially considering that all it has produced is enough diamonds to fit in a couple of film cans!

Toward the end of the film, our heroes take a complete left turn into the desert, doubled superbly by the ranch belonging to stuntman and famous Gorilla-suit actor Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan. This detour seems solely for the purpose of meeting up with some old friends; the battling giant lizards from ‘One Billion BC’ (1940). As usual, they’ve given nothing else to do apart from fight, and some of their moves and choreography are beginning to look a bit tired and predictable more than a decade after their debut. How they must have longed to do a drawing room comedy or a light period musical! Still, it was a living, l suppose. We’re also treated to a fight between an octopus and a shark, both of whom aren’t usually found in African rivers. Perhaps they escaped from a local aquarium.

Jungle Manhunt (1951)

‘I told you, I only kiss on the first date.’

There is one more thing. If you watch the trailer for this film, you’ll catch a very brief glimpse of Weismuller fighting a man-sized dinosaur behind some of the credits. The creature looks a little like a Tyrannosaurus Rex but a lot more like someone dressed up to entertain kids at a toddler’s birthday party. Perhaps it was even played by Corrigan, intent on extending his range.

The sequence even featured on the poster, and a production still survives. Sadly, it didn’t make the final cut, thus depriving the world of what looks like one of the most hilarious bad movie moments in the history of cinema. For shame, Mr Katzman, for shame!

Also starring Tamba (the Talented Chimp).

Fury of the Congo (1951)

Fury Of The Congo (1951)‘l hear talking drums of jungle people speak of you. They say you are man to trust.’

Jungle Jim saves the life of a police inspector who crashes his plane into a lake. The agent’s mission is to locate the lost expedition of a college professor, who set out to find a rare animal and the tribe that worship it…

We’re back on the dark continent (heroically portrayed by Southern California) in the company of Johnny Weismuller, making his sixth appearance as the comic strip character created by Alex Raymond. Behind the camera are the triple-threat of producer Sam Katzman, writer Carroll Young and director William Berke. Katzman was on board for the entire 16-film series, with Young and Berke involved in about half of the films each (although not always at the same time).

The plot on this occasion revolves around the Okonga, wild, equine creatures whose ingestion of an unusual plant creates a strong, addictive narcotic which can be extracted from their glands, and sold on the open market. Of course, this provides motivation for the usual bunch of unshaven white men to kidnap members of the local tribe to hunt the animals for them. They’ve also got their greedy mitts on the good Professor (Joel Firedkin), forcing him to obtain the drug for them. It all seems a little more inconvenient than stealing fabulous diamonds from a lost city or recovering lost Nazi art treasures, but no matter!

Weismuller teams up with local girl Leta (a wide-eyed Sherry Moreland), handsome lawman William Henry and comic chimp Tamba to defeat these dastardly villains, but finds his work cut out for him. A group of lions from a reasonably priced film library attack the native village, Tamba knocks him into some quicksand and he’s menaced by a hippo (statistically Africa’s most dangerous animal, folks!) But, on the upside, he retains a spotless, white shirt after a (suspiciously familiar) fight with a killer leopard. He also swings through the trees at one point; sure it’s a little sedate, but it’s a pleasing throwback to his ‘Tarzan’ heyday.

In the film’s strangest sequence, Weismuller is attacked by a giant spider during a desert storm. It’s quite probably a prop left over from another movie and, after an initial ‘puppet’ walk, appears even less animated than our well-chiselled hero. Another interesting point is the role of the local tribe’s women. Instead of staying at home in their caves worrying about their abducted men, they make some weapons and go out to fight to get them back! And fight they do! Of course, they still look like they spend most of the day at the local beauty parlour, but they get in on the action, and that’s quite radical for a b-movie of the 1950s.

Fury Of The Congo (1951)

‘He’s dead, Jim…’

This is formula stuff, but it’s better filmed than most of the series, and a good number of extras give the film some sense of scale. The locations are not close to authentic, but the desert scenes shot at Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan’s ranch are quite striking. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the rare Okongo were ranch ponies that the former cowboy and gorilla-suit actor had to hand! And the ‘zebra’ stripes daubed on them aren’t a convincing disguise.

Henry was a seasoned character actor who began with an unbilled bit in ‘Lord Jim’ (1925) and finished almost half a century later on an episode of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’ Unfortunately, Moreland’s career was considerably less successful, with this as one of her only credited roles, and she did appear as one of the nameless title characters on the disastrous ‘Mesa of Lost Women’ (1953). Lyle Talbot appears as the foreman of the villainous gang, another illustrious credit in a career that also boasts appearances in dire early serial ‘Batman and Robin’ (1943) and Ed Wood’s triumphant ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959).

Not one of Jungle Jim’s more memorable escapades but, as the films tend to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, perhaps that’s no bad thing!

Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955)

Adventures of Captain Africa (1955)‘Well, we’ve got you, and now we’ll finish the great Captain Africa. You were fools to try and fight our great world organisation!’

A big game hunter teams up with a government agent to investigate a series of suspicious accidents. In the nearby jungle, the native tribes worship Captain Africa, a mysterious, masked white man who fights for truth and justice. Together, they become involved in a mission to restore a deposed caliph to his rightful throne.

One of the last of the movie serials comes courtesy of Columbia studios and some all-to familiar names. Producing is the legendary scrooge Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet is in the director’s chair and the script was by George H Plympton, who had spent almost a quarter of a century delivering such Saturday morning thrills. Initially, Katzman intended this 15-episode white-knuckler as a sequel to box-office hit ‘The Phantom’ (1943). After all, lots of the old action scenes, fights and stunts could be seamlessly matched with new footage of star John Hart in the old Phantom costume.

But all did not go to plan. Filming was already well advanced when it turned out that the studio’s rights to use the character had expired. In a shocking development, Katzman’s negotiations with the copyright owners did not go well (they probably wanted money or something). However, such a problem were a mere bagatelle to our penny-pinching hero! The script was quickly rewritten so footage from other old serials could be used, retakes were ordered (how that must have hurt!), and Katzman put Hart in riding britches and jammed a flying helmet on his head sometimes. And so, with one mighty bound, Captain Africa was born, heroically rushing through the jungle one step ahead of an angry tribe of copyright lawyers.

Inevitably, the final product is not very good. Great white hunter Bob Osborne is concerned about sabotage at his compound. He has a pretty fine collection of tigers (perhaps they got lost on the way home from the pub!) and they have a regrettable habit of getting out of their cages and bothering the help. Government agent Ted (Rick Vallin) suspects something is going on and the two of them spend an awful lot of Chapter One talking it over. These chats allow for lengthy clips from ‘Jungle Menace’ (1937) and ‘The Desert Hawk’ (1944), as well as a few shots from ‘The Phantom’ (1943) of course. There’s a sequence of a shipwreck (for some reason) and a fight with swords between desert tribesmen. Shamelessly, that fight also crops up in Chapter Two, courtesy of a different flashback story being told by a different character!

But we have to get used to Ted’s company as we spend most of the episodes running around with him as he rocks a striped bed-sheet and saves hopeless Princess Rhoda (June Howard) from various bands of outlaws and agents of evil. Yes, it’s just an endless series of captures and escapes, and the main villain never actually appears! And they wouldn’t have had to use another actor either as he’s the twin brother of the deposed sovereign! But no, obviously that would have been too difficult (trick photography is just so expensive!) so we’re served up one fight after another with faceless minions. Additionally, the ‘agents of a foreign power’ are apparently led by someone called Boris. Can I identify him from the few dialogue exchanges that these villains have between them? No. I couldn’t. Perhaps I should have tried harder.

Captain Africa does actually show up every now and then, but often seems to be a guest star in his own serial. He does make a couple of exciting last ditch escapes though, as he wakes up beneath a descending portcullis (he rolls out of the way) and a speeding boulder (he steps to one side). His tactics mostly consist of running up to various stunt players and belting them one, although he does create a couple of stock footage explosions by throwing things. Actually Hart had replaced Clayton Moore as TV’s ‘The Lone Ranger’ a couple of years earlier. Unfortunately, the change didn’t sit well with fans of the show and Moore was re-hired the following season.

Adventures of Captain Africa (1955)

‘No, I don’t remember when Professor Zorgman’s giant robot hijacked the space rocket carrying the secret doo-dad. I wasn’t in Chapter 6.’

To save money, serials often had a ‘recap’ episode where characters would simply sit around and say things like ‘do you remember when the gang almost got their hands on the meteorite element at the mine? or ‘yes, wasn’t that when they tried to dynamite the bridge/derail the train/bomb the factory/kidnap the professor’s daughter, etc, etc.?’ Obviously, this allowed for the replay of a few scenes from previous episodes. But a single ‘recap’ episode simply wasn’t enough for the thrifty Katzman! In this serial, there are four!

To be fair to our favourite skinflint producer and his colleagues, obviously the radical rethink that proved necessary mid-production must have affected the quality of the final product but, predictably enough, the results are really wretched stuff. Only four more movie serials were made after it, as shrinking budgets, tired plots and endless repetition had put them on the ropes as early as the end of the 1940s.

And, of course, the arrival of television proved to be the final cliffhanger that no square-jawed serial hero could hope to escape.

Pygmy Island (1950)

Pygmy Island (1950)‘Sometimes white lady talk, Makuba no understand.’

After some local trouble involving the appearance of supposedly supernatural ‘Bush Devils’, Jungle Jim comes across the dog tags of a missing army captain and a native lasso of unusual manufacture. When he sends the items to Washington, an army unit are dispatched to investigate and Jim is drawn into a conflict involving a lost tribe and some enemy agents…

Johnny Weismuller’s fifth outing as a middle-aged Tarzan in a safari suit sees the big lug in a tussle over the Nagoma plant, a previously unknown piece pf greenery that makes fireproof rope with incredible tensile strength. Well, it makes a change from fabulous diamonds, I suppose. On this outing, he’s assisted by Tamba the chimp, replacing annoying crow Caw-Caw and cute pooch Skipper, these household pets presumably having finally met their makers after surviving four movies roaming a jungle filled with some of the deadliest predators in the world.

Proceedings open with the usual five minutes’ worth of solid exposition. Spinning headlines tell us: ‘Army Captain Vanishes’ (obviously a slow news day at the ‘Evening Dispatch’!) and a radio announcer explains that Captain Kingsley has vanished in Africa while on a confidential mission (not all that confidential then). Pentagon bigwigs convene at The Bureau of Strategic Materials, probably the most convincing public office since Boris Karloff headed up the ‘Department of Queer Complaints’ as Col. March of Scotland Yard.  But no matter! The boffins decide that the lasso sent by Jim has considerable military potential and send a unit to the jungle to acquire the plant its made from, with Jim joining as a guide. Actually, his role is mostly to ‘go and have a look around’ and solve all the problems, while the soldiers flounder in his wake, making camp and presumably digging latrines.

It quickly turns out that the missing Kingsley is – gasp! – a woman (Ann Savage), but thankfully we don’t get a lot of the usual sexist rubbish for once. Ok, she needs saving by Jim on one occasion and stays out of the fighting, but she’s presented as professional, business-like and she’s not handed a tiresome romantic subplot with clean-cut army major David Bruce. Our heroes are pitted against the gang of Leon Marko, the apparently friendly white man who runs the local trading post (and no, it’s not a spoiler— in the world of Jungle Jim, white men who run trading posts are never to be trusted!)

Swinging the scales in the favour of the angels, however, are the lost tribe of the title. Rather against expectations, they turn out to be a band of white men and women in cheap black wigs led by Billy Curtis, the Munchkin in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) who allegedly made off-screen passes at Judy Garland! He also starred in dreadful ‘midget western’ ‘The Terror of Tiny Town’ (1938) and appeared in later series entry ‘Jungle Moon Men’ (1955). Actually, he appears a lot happier here as, despite the idiotic dialogue and his ridiculous hairpiece, he gets to be the hero and save the day on more than one occasion. It’s refreshing to see his character portrayed in a positive way, rather than just as some cheap comic relief. He’s probably best-remembered now as Mordechai in the Clint Eastwood classic ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973).

Pygmy Island (1950)

The casting call for Madonna’s new video was very popular.

Elsewhere in the cast, Savage starred in classic low-budget film noir ‘Detour’ (1945), and lesser known thrillers such as ‘The Spider’ (1945), and ‘The Last Crooked Mile’ (1946). One of the heavies is Tris Coffin, who famously donned the ‘Commando Cody’ flying suit as the ‘King of the Rocket Men’ (1949). Bruce appeared in the title role of horror quickie ‘The Mad Ghoul’ (1943), one of the weakest offerings from Universal’s (usually) highly dependable b-movie unit.

Probably the film’s most famous scene finds Weismuller facing off against a gorilla on a rope bridge over a canyon. It’s highly reminiscent of a scene from Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981), if by ‘highly’ you mean ‘extremely vaguely’. Aficionados of these kind of films could be forgiven for believing this simian adversary to be our old friend Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, but apparently it’s not! In the late 1940s, Crash sold one of his ape costumes, and it’s Hollywood bartender Steve Calvert who appears here. The two even starred together in ‘Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla’ (1952). But even if he didn’t appear in front of the camera, Corrigan was still involved in this production. Some of it was shot on location at his ranch!

This conveyor belt effort was produced by no-budget ‘auteur’ Sam Katzman, and directed by William Berke, who delivered another half dozen in the series. The writer was Carrol Young, who has a total of 20 film credits. There were five Tarzan pictures, seven with Jungle Jim and one starring Bomba, the Jungle Boy. Even one of his other seven pictures was ‘The Jungle’ (1952), with Rod Cameron and Marie Winsor!

Formulaic stuff then, but at least the ‘pygmy island’ is different from all the numerous lost cities Jim tripped over in the course of the series. Or it would be if it ever appeared. All of the action takes place in the jungle instead. Not an island in sight!

The Lost Tribe (1949)

The Lost Tribe (1949)‘The talking drums of your friends carry far, even to Dzamm.’

Jungle Jim rescues a mysterious princess from some hungry lions and two white men with guns. The hunters are part of a criminal group who are trying to pinpoint the location of the lost city where she lives. Having heard of Jim’s reputation, she has come to ask for his help… .

When MGM finally brought down the curtain on Johnny Weismuller’s almost 20 year run as the ‘King of the Jungle’, a step out of the Hollywood spotlight must have seemed likely. After all, an extraordinary athlete doesn’t necessarily make for an extraordinary actor. However, the big man had just divorced Wife no.3 and immediately married no.4, so, in all probability, there were bills to be paid. What was a poor boy to do? Simply nip behind a bush in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, swap the loincloth for a safari suit and — ta-da! —Tarzan became Jungle Jim.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘Not diamonds again! Haven’t you got anything else?

It shouldn’t have been that easy, of course. Jungle Jim began life as a comic strip created by Don Moore and Alex Raymond (the illustrator behind ‘Flash Gordon’). Jim was a hunter based in Southeast Asia, rather than Africa, had a native sidekick named Kolu and often tangled with femme fatale Lille DeVrille. Not surprisingly all that was binned for the Columbia series. Instead, Jim was simply a middle-aged Tarzan, saddled with pet crow Caw-Caw and adorable pooch Skipper, whose continual survival in the jungle was a greater mystery than anything the movies had to offer.

This time around, Weismuller is recruited by pretty Elena Verdugo to protect Dzamm, yet another of the seemingly endless number of ‘lost cities’ hidden in the depths of the African jungle. As per usual, this forgotten civilisation is simply dripping with fabulous diamonds and some dodgy types who rarely shave are after the baubles. The gang is led by Calhoun (Joseph Vitale) who runs the local trading post and Captain Rawlins (Ralph Dunn) whose ship lies offshore. What doesn’t help is that the son of the city’s Head Man, Chot (Paul Marion), has been breaking tribal law to visit the post because he has a thing for Calhoun’s niece, hard-bitten femme fatale Norina (Myrna Dell). What follows are the usual shenanigans for this type of picture, including exotic beasts appearing courtesy of reams of grainy stock footage, and a cast who speak almost entirely in that awkward language called plot exposition.

This was only the second film in the series produced by the legendary Sam Katzman, and that perhaps accounts for the fact that it’s a little better than most of the later entries. For a start, there’s a fair amount of action. Weismuller takes to the water quite often; fighting both an unconvincing crocodile to save Skipper the indestructible dog and a shark that appears courtesy of a no doubt reasonably priced film library. He also wrestles with a less than energetic lion, who seems rather more enthusiastic when our hero is replaced by his stunt double. Actually, that was a risky job; reportedly one of Weismuller’s stand-ins died when performing a clifftop dive on ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids‘ (1948).

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘No thanks, love, I’m already on wife number four…’

The big man also gets to flex his acting muscles when he resists Dell’s womanly wiles, but it’s fair to say they do appear to be a little out of condition. Dell falls for him anyway, tries to help him escape and ends up on the wrong end of her uncle’s knife instead. All this is rushed through in about five minutes flat and, given that the under-used Dell is second-billed, it seems likely that some scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

We also meet Simba the Gorilla (inevitably played by Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan in his own monkey suit), who brings some hairy buddies along for the surprisingly energetic, if rather ridiculous, climax. It was probably unconscious but these closing action scenes do provide a faint echo of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who introduced some very silly elements into his later ‘Tarzan’ books, and believe me, some of those were very silly indeed.

Verdugo was of Spanish extraction and spent most of her career playing dancers and various exotic types in b-pictures, mostly for Universal, the highlight being when she shot Lon Chaney Jr with a silver bullet in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944). But the studio wouldn’t sign her to a permanent contact because of her refusal to diet, and she appeared almost exclusively in black wigs as she was a natural blonde. Stardom finally arrived for her a couple of decades later courtesy of the small screen, as nurse to Robert Young on long-running hit ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ The role saw her nominated for two Emmys and a golden globe. The show also provided actor James Brolin with his first big break.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘The Lost City of Dzamm? Yeah, I’ve heard of it…’

Of course, this is little more than a cheap, formulaic b-picture, but for once the lost city actually looks a decent size (well, bigger than the usual couple of huts anyway) and there a decent number of folks in the marketplace too. Sure, a lot of the usual clichés are present, in particular the 5 minute opening narration over stock footage by actor Holmes Herbert, who explains what a jungle is for those who don’t know. ‘The mischievous monkey avoids the cunning crocodile’ he intones solemnly, probably trying hard to stifle a yawn.

The series carried on until 1958, with another 14 films. Or 11 if you want to be pedantic. Katzmann actually lost the rights to use the character’s name at the end, which was probably something to do with his notorious reluctance to open his wallet. As a consequence, in the last 3 films, Weismuller simply played a character called Johnny Weismuller instead. It’s unlikely that anyone really noticed.

Caw-Caw and Skipper were supplemented in later entries by chimpanzee Tamba (then Kimba) and eventually vanished from the films completely. Perhaps something finally ate Skipper! He was always living on borrowed time…