Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)‘Keep your mind off monkey business, Tamba!’

Jungle Jim attends the coronation of a tribal chieftain and plans to go lion hunting afterwards. Meanwhile, an unscrupulous smuggler fans the flames of a native uprising to provide a diversion from his efforts to exploit a secret diamond mine…

The 13th, and last, of the ‘Jungle Jim’ series, featuring everyone’s favourite ex-Tarzan and Olympic swimming great Johnny Weismuller. But l thought there were 16 films, you cry in confusion and outrage! Well, yes, there kind of was. And, then again, there wasn’t. Legendary cash-conscious producer Sam Katzman lost the rights to use the character after this entry. But that didn’t stop him, of course! Rather than pay out any money, he just carried on for three more films, changing only one thing; the name of the main character. ‘Jungle Jim’ simply became ‘Johnny Weismuller.’ Yes, the King of the Jungle ended up playing himself!

This entry finds our rugged hero clashing with a mysterious, and dastardly, smuggler (just who is he?) This unseen villain has recruited renegade native Zulu (Paul Thompson, born in Chicago) to burn down a native village near the secret mine. French diamond merchant Leroux (Gregory Gaye) provides the necessary exposition: two of the three explorers who originally discovered the mine have already been killed in London while staking their claim, but the third is on the loose somewhere in the jungle. Weismuller gets the gig from Commissioner Kingston (Lester Matthews), teaming up with policeman Richard Stapley and doctor Karin Booth. Along with Tamba, the Talented Chimp, of course.

lt’s a difficult mission, to be sure, although their main challenge seems to be wading through yards upon yards of stock footage. Strangely enough, despite Katzman’s notorious penny-pinching, previous films hadn’t been filled to the brim with scratchy old shots from the local film library, but this entry more than makes up for this terrible omission. To begin with, we get an awful lot of the tribal coronation ceremony, including a preamble featuring plenty of canoe action on the river. There’s also a lot of inserts of wild animals (some African species, some not!) and a lengthy sequence of a village on fire and the burning jungle. Apparently, a lot of this footage was lifted from ‘Sanders of The River’ (1935). Perhaps it was on sale that week!

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

The poster promised ‘Jungle Jim Against The Cannibals’. Well, you do get Jungle Jim. Cannibals? Um…not so much.

The plot is remarkable only for its sheer predictability. Weismuller gets to fight a stuffed lion when it threatens Chieftain’s son Bernie Hamilton. Later he wrestles a rubber croc in the river (a strangely familiar sequence). Stapley and Booth get the usual ‘goo-goo eyes’ for each other (they even agree to get married before the end of the film!) leaving Weismuller firmly out in the cold as usual.

Even Tamba gets some action in this one as he hooks up with a hot female chimp as the credits roll. lt hardly seems fair after he accidentally knocks Weismuller out with a flying rock in the middle of a fight sequence. Still, he does partly redeem himself by channelling Lassie for a ‘Timmy’s fallen down the well’ moment a bit later on. He also gets to sit on Stapley’s lap when he flies a plane! Whichever way you look at it, it should have been Tamba with his name above the title!

Stapley is better known as Richard Wyler; the name he used when playing Eurospy ‘Dick Smart 2.007’ (1967) and appearing in Jess Franco’s dreadful ‘Sumuru’ picture ‘The Girl From Rio’ (1969). He was also a novelist, theatrical impresario, motorcycle racer and a descendant of the man who signed the death warrant of the English King Charles the First! Matthews and Gaye had both appeared in earlier entry ‘Savage Mutiny’ (1953); Gaye as a Commie agent (he was a real Russian!) and Matthews as an army major. Strangely enough, Matthews had already played Commissioner Kingston in ‘Jungle Jim in The Forbidden Land’ (1951), so why he was given in a different name in ‘Savage Mutiny’ (1953) is a bit of a mystery. lt’s exactly the same part.

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

It was dress down Friday at the precinct…

Booth played dozens of uncredited bits, including a hat-check girl in ‘Holiday Inn’ (1942) before her big break in ‘The Unfinished Dance’ (1947) with Cyd Charisse. Sadly, it was all downhill after that via films like ‘The Cariboo Trail’ (1950), ‘Charge of the Lancers’ (1954) and kids sci-fi favourite ‘Tobor The Great’ (1954). Hamilton, on the other hand, became a household name over two decades later as the volatile boss of TV cops ‘Starsky and Hutch’.

This was director Lee Sholem’s first gig on the series, but not in the jungle. When Weismuller was sacked from the ‘Tarzan’ series in 1948, it was Sholem who was behind the mega phone for reboot ‘Tarzan’s Magic Fountain’ (1949) with Lex Barker and subsequent entry ‘Tarzan and the Slave Girl’ (1950). His subsequent career included ‘Superman and the Mole-Men’ (1951), ‘The Pharaoh’s Curse’ (1956) and a lot of TV work, mostly Westerns. Apparently, when working on the ‘Tarzan’ series, he attempted to persuade producer Sol Lesser to cast a young blonde as the new Jane, having her read for him multiple times. Lesser was unimpressed and refused. The girl’s name? Marilyn Monroe.

Without the goofier aspects that give some of the other entries in the series a certain entertainment value, this is a tired and listless venture, seemingly just assembled around the stock footage that was available at the time.

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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 Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)

Jungle Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)‘That sounds like a lot of rifles being shot.’

The new Government Commissioner tries to engage Jungle Jim to take him to a valley cut off by flood waters, so he can liberate the elephants stranded there. At the same time, an anthropologist wants to use him as a guide to the forbidden land of the giant people, which is close to the isolated valley. But a group of renegade ivory hunters plan to exploit the situation to their own advantage…

The 8th film in Columbia’s cut-price jungle adventure series finds ex-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller back in the safari suit as the title character, accompanied by Tamba (the talented chimp) and legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman. As ever, Weismuller needs to negotiate the usual dangerous combination of untrustworthy bit part actors and wild animal stock footage while taking a stroll around the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

In this particular effort, he’s up against the machinations of ivory hunters Jean Willies and William Tannen, who are hoodwinking Commissioner Lester Matthews and planning to cash in on the bonanza offered up by the trapped elephants. Their plot revolves around a cave that connects the land of the giant people with the flooded valley. Matthews wants to use it to lead the elephants to safety, but Willies plans to trap the animals beneath the guns of her men instead.

Unfortunately, this is all a bit of a problem when we see what’s up on the screen. We’re repeatedly told about this cave but it actually turns out to be more of a canyon. Easy mistake to make, I guess. And the ‘giant people’ are solely represented by just one couple (Clem Erickson and Irmgard Helen H Raschke), they’re only peripheral to the action and it’s only too obvious they are not giants! Sure, Erickson is a head taller than Weissmuller (in one shot anyway) but that hardly makes him a giant. Instead, this savage couple actually appear to be werewolves! Yes, cheap ‘Lon Chaney Jr’ face fur seems to be a more important attribute for a giant than height!

Jungle Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)

In the Land of the Giant People, the Werewolf is King!

Why the script wasn’t tweaked so that  the ‘cave’ was replaced with a ‘canyon’ and the ‘giants’ with ‘beasts’ (or something similar) is not recorded. I guess the most probable explanation is that all the film’s early scenes were in the can already when Katzman realised that: a) there wasn’t any stock footage of elephants running through a cave; and b) there weren’t any giants on the books at central casting. Or, perhaps more likely, no-one really cared. The important thing was to get the film finished on time and on budget and out into theatres to earn money for the studio as soon as possible. It wasn’t as if anyone would ever be watching it again, right?

Additionally, it’s obvious that anthropologist Angela Greene has just been crowbarred into the story to give Weismuller a pretty girl to save. She does rescue herself early on by swimming to safety after her canoe is capsized by an unconvincing hippopotamus, but after that she’s simply there to be the damsel in distress. Weismuller rescues her from the water when she’s dunked by a hippo again (presumably, Katzman wanted to get full value out of this rather unconvincing prop!) and then saves her when she almost falls off a cliff for no good reason at all. Later on, he wrestles a ferocious black panther on her behalf (or a stuffed toy to be more accurate) before arranging an elephant taxi when she falls out of a tree and sprains her ankle (women, eh? Useless!) Actually, this sequence seems to exist entirely for the purpose of proving that the production had access to at least one real live elephant as Greene is skipping about again within a few minutes!

🎶When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace…🎵

Actually, Greene’s main role in the picture seems to be dealing with the persistent attentions of an over-affectionate Tamba! These interactions look unrehearsed but she deals with his enthusiasm very efficiently while still delivering her dialogue. She’d probably had plenty of experience in this regard when dealing with Hollywood producers. At one point her and Tamba actually seem to be forming some kind of a comedy double act, which would likely have been a lot more entertaining than the film we do get!

Subsequently, Greene became a familiar TV face with guest roles on big hit shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train and Perry Mason, with her most famous being half a dozen or so appearances as Tess Trueheart opposite Ralph Byrd as ‘Dick Tracy’. She also enjoyed a somewhat less than impressive film career, starring opposite the Bowery Boys in ‘Loose In London’ (1953), John Carradine in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1958) and some very cheap looking SFX in the dire ‘Night of the Blood Beast’ (1958).

Elsewhere in the cast, Willes is best remembered for her role as the nurse in the original ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) and Matthews was a veteran with a long list of credits, including appearing in Lugosi-Karloff classic ‘The Raven’ (1935). That picture had been directed by Lew Landers (as Louis Friedlander) and he’s also behind the megaphone here, his career having become trapped in the (very) low-budget arena in the late 1940s.

One point of interest to modern viewers: early on Weismuller actually retrieves a pair of elephant tusks after they are stolen by natives and gives them back to the ivory hunters! This is apparently fine because the hunters have not exceeded their export quota. It’s only when the villainous Willies plans to act outside the rules that Weismuller takes any kind of a position against her.

The ‘Jungle Jim’ features were cheap, conveyor belt fodder aimed squarely for the bottom half of the bill on the out of town theatre circuit. But this is quite definitely a candidate for the feeblest one in the entire series.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)‘Never fear, sir, I’ll watch him like a ferret.’

During World War 2, a doctor arrives at a Cornish village where locals are refusing to work the tin mine because of a headless ghost, who has allegedly carried out several decapitations over the previous few years.

Minor ‘B’ thriller from Warner Bros studios that boasts some fairly standard supernatural trappings. Cliché lurks behind every twisted tree stump as our hiking doc (Lester Matthews) is picked up on the road by a frightened local, who provides the usual warnings about the spooky happenings on the moor at night. Reassurance is hardly provided by the hooded man who greets him at the door of the ‘Running Dog’ pub either, where he hopes to spend the night. It turns out this is the landlord, disfigured in an old mining accident. The doc proves highly unpopular with the locals as well, who are a surly bunch who ‘don’t like being laughed at, especially by strangers, we don’t’ (insert silly local accent here).

Unfortunately, investigation of the strange goings on locally is in the hands of army man Bruce Lester and he’s about as intelligent as a plank of wood. With a matching personality. How he’s managed to charm the landlord’s pretty niece (Eleanor Parker) is a bigger mystery than reports of the headless phantom. He blunders about, getting hold of the wrong end of the stick and generally behaving like a complete tool. He gets far too much screen time, and his obnoxious presence doesn’t help with emotional investment in the proceedings. Local lord of the manor (John Loder) tries to rein him in, but it’s generally a hopeless task.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

‘Ooh, you don’t want to go there, sirrr… Not down in the mine, sirrrr… That be haunted that be… etc. etc.

On the plus side, proceedings are brief at less than an hour, and the story goes at a decent clip. Yes, it‘s not hard to figure out what’s going on, but there is a slight twist at the climax. The flag waving is a bit tiresome, but obviously it’s understandable, and it’s not so overdone as to tip the film into unintentional comedy. Performances are generally acceptable, although more of Matthews and less of Lester would undoubtedly have helped. The story is far too tidily and happily resolved at the climax, but l guess we have to make allowances for the era when the film was made.

This film was actually Eleanor Parker’s first significant acting role, after some short subjects and a few bits and pieces. She went onto a distinguished and lengthy career, mainly as second leads in big films like the ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ (1951), ‘Detective Story’ (1954) and ‘The Naked Jungle’ (1954), as well as appearing as the Baroness in ‘The Sound of Music’ (1965). She also featured as a guest star on many TV shows throughout the 1960s and 70s; from ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ to ‘Fantasy Island’ to Hawaii” Five-O’.

Matthews was a familiar character actor, whose presence enlivened many films of the golden age; Lugosi had him trapped with Irene Ware in the room with the crushing walls in horror classic ‘The Raven’ (1935), and he acted for Chaplin in ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ (1947) and Hitchcock in ‘The Paradine Case’ (1949). When film roles began to dry up in the early 1950s, he went on to do lots and lots of network TV and a few minor parts in big movies until his death in 1975.

A reasonable programme filler, with a decent level of spooky atmosphere. lf the revelations in the script don’t exactly take you by surprise, there’s still some enjoyment to be had from the general level of professionalism on display.