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…

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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 Magic Carpet (1951)

The Magic Carpet (1951)‘Put me down, you image of a hippopotamus.’

A caliph’s baby son escapes when his father is slain in a palace uprising. Unaware of his true identity, the child grows up to oppose the new regime, who are crushing the people with violence, intimidation and unreasonable taxation. Collecting a band of loyal followers, he casts himself as mysterious bandit the Scarlet Falcon. Planning a full revolution, he targets a caravan of weapons meant for the palace…

lt’s time to play the spot the cliché in this tired ‘Arabian Knights’ knock-off from Columbia Studios and infamous skinflint producer Sam Katzman. Unconvincing studio sets doubling as the mystical expanse of the desert? Check. A wicked caliph living inside a matte painting palace with a harem of studio starlets? Check. An evil, dark-bearded vizier imposing ridiculous taxes on a starving populace? Check. A feisty low-born flower of the desert matching wits with a handsome, strong jawed sword-wielding hero? Check.

The Magic Carpet (1951)

‘Honestly, I’m going to buy some furniture soon…’

The story opens with the usual treachery in the throne room with the good ruler murdered by a flying dagger at the instructions of court official Raymond Burr, taking a break from providing muscle in film noirs and just a few projects away from his hook up with the Big G for the U.S. release of ‘Godzilla’ (1954). Unfortunately for him, the caliph’s infant son escapes on a cheap special effect, specifically a flying carpet that’s the only nod to magic in the entire film.

Fast forward a couple of decades and he’s grown into cult movie legend John Agar, who’s a physician by day but spends his evenings running about in a scarlet bedsheet. His sidekick here is familiar face George Tobias, whose firebrand sister is played by Patricia Medina. She tries hard to help the rebel cause but, given the vintage of the film, it’s little surprise that her efforts only succeed when she dons a gauzy costume and dances‘ seductively for the caliph. Apart from that, all she really manages to do is fall off her horse so she can be rescued by the never more wooden Agar and join him in some lame romantic banter.

So far, so forgettable you might think. But the film is remembered. Unsurprisingly, it’s not got all that much to do with what’s actually on the screen. No, it’s the participation of famous comedienne Lucille Ball that elevates the film to cult status. She’d started in films as early as 1929 but her career had never really taken off. Sure, there’d been leading roles in semi-decent noir ‘The Dark Corner’ (1946) and opposite Boris Karloff in murder-mystery ‘Lured’ (1947) and she was working regularly, but her big break never came. Signing a contract with Columbia Pictures in the late 1940s proved to be a big mistake as she constantly clashed with studio head man Harry Cohn. She spent most of her energy over the next few years arguing for better roles in better pictures. With one film left on the deal, Cohn had Katzman put together this project for the sole reason of punishing her for what he saw as her unreasonable behaviour! To everyone’s surprise, she simply accepted the part without a fuss and got on with it. In truth, she was pregnant and desperate to move into television after giving birth. It was a career decision that turned her into a household name almost overnight and made her one of the biggest stars in U.S. entertainment of her generation.

The Magic Carpet (1951)

‘At least after this, I’ll be out of my contract. Touch wood.’

Here, Ball is saddled with the role of the evil caliph’s scheming sister, who gets the hots for Agar before she discovers his real identity. It’s a thankless, half-baked part but Ball goes through the motions willingly enough, delivering her lines with a withering, dry sarcasm that she’d probably much rather have directed towards Cohn and his front office. Elsewhere, Medina seems to be the only one who realises this is all supposed to be fun and her attempts to inject some life into the weary proceedings are probably the only reason to watch, apart from the curiosity value. The film is also presented in a garish ‘new process’ called Cine-Color, which looks terribly cheap and accentuates the ‘pink’ end of the visual spectrum!

It’s an inoffensive enough way to spend 80 minutes but it is sad to see director Lew Landers reduced to such a generic project when he’d been the man behind the megaphone (as Louis Friedlander) on Lugosi-Karloff classic ‘The Raven’ (1935). He’d also delivered some interesting low-budget pictures in the horror arena in the early 1940s. However, any spark of invention or creativity is only notable by its complete absence here.

Swashbuckling on a tiny budget without any of the required dash, style or dynamism. Not perhaps as bad as its reputation would suggest but very feeble stuff nonetheless.

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)

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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!