African Treasure/Bomba and The African Treasure (1952)

African Treasure (1952)‘Talking drums? S.O.S? Jungle boys? You really expect me to swallow that eyewash?’

A deputy commissioner stationed in the jungle is pleasantly surprised to receive an unexpected visit from a white hunter, although the man’s lack of porters and supplies are somewhat curious. Meanwhile, a young woman searches for her father after he fails to return from a trip to the interior with two other white men. Looks like a case for Bomba, the Jungle Boy!

Yes, we’re back with Johnny Sheffield as he navigates his way around cheap studio sets and the Los Angeles County Arborteum and Botanical Garden, dodging villainous white men and scratchy stock footage. This was the 7th in the series, written and directed by movie serial veteran Ford Beebe and produced by Walter Mirisch. And, in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s business as usual for our young Tarzan wannabee and various other employees of the Monogram Studios.

Local official Deputy Barnes (Leonard Mudie) finds his attempt to enjoy a quiet breakfast scuppered by a naughty little monkey, who steals his napkin and trashes his table. If that’s not enough, it’s great white hunter Pat Gilroy (Lyle Talbot) suddenly arriving by canoe. Mudie is initially happy for the company, but is less keen when he reads the mail and finds out that his new house guest is actually escaped criminal Roy DeHaven. Rather helpfully, he’s wearing exactly the same clothing as in the ‘wanted’ poster, which aids his identification no end. But this villain’s a sharp cookie, and soon the two of them are heading into the jungle with Mudie at the point of a gun.

African Treasure (1952)

‘It’s ok Bomba, it’s only my hairdresser.’

Elsewhere, pretty young Laurette Luez is out for a stroll in the jungle with just one native guide, a sun dress and well-applied lipstick for company. She’s moves like she’d be more at home at Saks Fifth Avenue than in the untamed wilderness, but at least she brings some personality to her severely underwritten role.

Her father (Martin Garralaga) hasn’t returned after acting as guide to Arthur Space and Lane Bradford, which isn’t much of a surprise when we learn that Talbot is their boss. We never find out how, but they’ve discovered diamonds in some blue-clayey rock in Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park, Los Angeles – sorry, deep in the jungle – and they are forcing Garralaga and a team of kidnapped locals to work the claim.

There aren’t many points of interest in these proceedings, if any. Sheffield does get funky on the jungle drums, before switching to bongos later on (perhaps he was a prototype beatnik?) Then he gets mauled by a lion, but the application of a few, well-chosen leaves and he’s good to go. There isn’t as much mismatched library footage of African wildlife as you might expect, but there’s plenty of re-used shots from earlier in the series. Despite being the alleged mastermind of the criminal gang, Talbot doesn’t even arrive in time for the ‘big’ climax, and Sheffield  is saddled with Kimbbo the Chimp, an obvious attempt to priovide comic relief. Unfortunately, this ape ain’t no Cheetah and even lacks the comedy stylings of ‘Tamba, the Talented Chimp’ from Weismuller’s ‘Jungle Jim’ series.

African Treasure (1952)

‘I hope you’ve remembered the pooper scooper, dear.’

Mudie appeared as Barnes in all of the films after his introduction in ‘Elephant Stampede’ (1951), and usually gave the best performance. Luez appeared in classic Noir ‘DOA’ (1949), and top-lined strange cave girl ‘comedy’ ‘Prehistoric Women’ (1950). Talbot appeared in hundreds of ‘B’ movies over more than 50 years but is only really remembered for his fateful decision to take part in ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959).

Appearing uncredited as the mailman is the imposing Woody Strode (his second appearance in the series!) who got his big break in ‘Pork Chop Hill’ (1959) with Gregory Peck and went onto work with directors John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Raimi and John ‘Bud’ Cardos.

A very uneventful trip into the jungle that starts slowly, rounds up all the usual clichés and crawls to a spectacularly lacklustre climax.

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!

Trapped By Television (1936)

Trapped By Television (1936)Electrifying entertainment…a leap ahead of tomorrow…as science exposes “the perfect racket!”

A poor young inventor struggles to complete his television device until he is befriended by the debt collector who comes to repossess the equipment.

Good natured, likeable comedy based around the amazing new world of television. Although regular broadcasting had yet to begin, the new invention was creating a lot of buzz by the mid-1930s and was used as a gimmick in several films such as the Bela Lugosi mystery ‘Murder By Television’ (1935). It also started appearing in movie serials like ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936), although Planet Mongo seemed a tad more technically advanced than earth.

Here it serves as a macguffin to drive the action as naive brainiac Lyle Talbot and his revolutionary device come under threat from gangsters who wish to sell their own version to a bumbling broadcast executive. There’s a little bit of industrial espionage, romance, a football game, a car chase and some fisticuffs to sweeten the pot but the film never really breaks into too much of a sweat.

Trapped_By_Television_(1936)

‘Going over for it’ am I? We’ll just see about that, Mr. Spade…

The scenario is fairly predictable but Nat Pendelton does provide some decent comic relief as the rough and ready bill collector: ‘Did I tell you, science was my hobby?’ More importantly, the female lead is taken by Mary Astor, an actress who could make the dullest script shine with her star quality and wonderful timing. She doesn’t get a lot an awful lot to work with here but of course turns in an effortless performance that’s the best thing in the film and the notion of two women running their own business (albeit unsuccessfully) is pleasingly ahead of its time.

Proceedings are amiable, don’t overstay their welcome and were probably originally exhibited as the bottom half of a double bill with a more prestigious feature. It’s an acceptable time passer, even if it doesn’t make a very strong impression.

Talbot had a long career as a supporting player, which included lots of television and playing authority figures in Ed Wood movies! Astor was quite notorious back in the day and the fact that she enjoyed such a successful career and immense popularity when she was rarely out of the scandal sheets is a testament both to her strength of character and sheer talent. She wrote two books about her life – one personal and one professional – and I can unreservedly recommend both. In later life, after retiring from acting, she wrote a number of outspoken novels for women on controversial subjects. No surprise there, then.

Buy ‘Trapped By Television’ here

Torture Ship (1939)

Torture_Ship_(1939)‘Boys, after the grand jury’s decision, I’ll have a statement to make. If making a criminal mind is normal… than I’ll be indicted.’

A doctor experiments on criminals aboard a private ship. His aim is to extract secretions from their endocrine glands and reverse their anti-social tendencies.

This was the first production of PRC (Producers Releasing Company) who were to become a byword for cheap, no budget trash in the 1940s. But some of the elements included here showed there was at least an intent at some level of quality in their early days. For a start the screenplay is based on the first published story of famous author Jack London, although somewhat tenuously it must be said. Also they hired independent director Victor Halperin to helm the picture. He’d achieved global success a mere 5 years before with Bela Lugosi and the strange ‘White Zombie’ (1932), although he had failed to follow it up.

The lead is Lyle Talbot, a respected stage actor, whose film career is now defined by his attendance at the church run by J Edward Reynolds. Reynolds was backing a movie and persuaded Talbot to star. Unfortunately, the director involved was Ed Wood and the film was ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1956). The rest of the cast included regular screen bad guy Wheeler Oakman and the wonderful Skelton Knaggs, whose bizarre face was his fortune, gracing many an interesting, if minor, character role.

'Search me... I've been asleep for the first 10 minutes'

‘Search me… I’ve been asleep for the first 10 minutes’

The real problem with looking at ‘Torture Ship’ (1939) is not the cheap sets, poor production values and formulaic script. No, these would be bad enough in themselves but there’s a bigger issue here and it’s not the fault of the original filmmakers. Apparently, the movie originally ran for about an hour but most available prints last roughly 48 minutes. This might not be a problem if the film had been cut professionally but it appears that the first 10 minutes have been simply hacked off! Because of this the film starts with the story already underway and there is no exposition as to how we arrived at that point.

We never really find out exactly who any of these characters are, how this doctor is allowed to experiment on live subjects and why they’re all on a ship. So there is a sense of incoherence and chaos that you never quite lose, although the plot development is simple enough. The full version does still exist but I can’t say I’ll be in a hurry to seek it out. After all, the fact that the first 10 minutes is missing is the most interesting thing about it!

PRC did go on to do a lot worse: ‘The Devil Bat’ (1940) with Lugosi and ‘The Flying Serpent’ (1946) with George Zucco are obvious examples. Occasionally, they came up with something worthwhile such as ‘Bluebeard’ (1944) but such events were few and far between. It’s interesting to see that the studio’s flaws were there right from the start; rushed productions, no budgets and a sorry lack of creativity.

Buy ‘Torture Ship’ here