Boys of the City (1940)

Boys of the City (1940)‘Five million guys thumbin’ their way along the road, and we gotta pick up a judge.’

A reformed gangster takes a gang of New York City hoodlums to camp to keep them out of trouble. Along the way, they offer a lift to a stranded judge and his daughter who are looking to lay low at his country place before he is tried on bribery charges…

The second in the series of East Side Kids comedies from the cut-price Monogram Studios features the gang of wise-cracking delinquents in very familiar territory: the old dark house mystery. Yes, it’s the usual menu of sliding bookcases, secret passages, mistaken identity and dubious hauntings in this hour-long ‘B’ picture produced by the notoriously cash conscious Sam Katzman.

It’s summer in the city, and it’s too hot to do anything but sit around moaning, uncork a fireplug and get into a scuffle with an Italian street vendor. Pretty serious gang behaviour in 1940s Hollywood. Facing time in Juvie Hall, they are bailed out by former mobster Knuckles Dolan (David O’Brien), whose brother Danny (Bobby Jordan) is the head of the gang. Big brother offers to take the boys out of the city, and the authorities are only too happy to see the backs of them. So the gang pack their golf clubs (really?) and head off down the highway, making for summer camp and a nice spot of fishing. But, in transit, they run across stranded Judge Malcolm Parker (Forrest Taylor), his pretty ward, Louise (Inna Guest) and bodyguard Simp (Vince Barnett).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘I’m sorry, but Mr. Lugosi is not at home…’

Taylor’s country place is nearby, and O’Brien is only happy to offer the trio a lift, especially when he meets Guest. To no-one’s great surprise, the house turns out to be of the ‘old, dark’ variety and comes with its own Mrs Danvers lookalike, Agnes (Minerva Urecal). She holds a long-standing grudge against Taylor, who she believes hounded his late wife to death. Why he hasn’t discharged her in the intervening years is one of the plot points that William Lively’s screenplay fails to address. Another thing the gang don’t realise is that Taylor is up on criminal charges due to his mob contacts and some bad men are keen to rub him out before he can testify.

What follows are the expected spooky shenanigans with the kids running around from room to room making lots of noise, Guest getting kidnapped by the masked villain, a trip through a secret passage and someone dancing around the family graveyard in a white sheet. The mystery, if the threadbare plot can be elevated to that description, is not difficult to work out and the resolution of the killer’s identity doesn’t make much sense anyway. O’Brien (a regular on the series in the early days) is probably the unlikeliest reformed gangster in cinema history, and there’s some vaguely racist stereotyping imposed on black gang member Sunshine Sammy Morrison. Yes, he’s the ‘scaredy-cat’ folks and likes nothing better than a slice of watermelon (sigh).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘You didn’t take that call from Mr Katzman, did you?’

The only real bright spot here is the performance of Urecal, who delivers her dialogue in wonderfully sepulchral tones. ‘There is never any warmth where the dead do not rest’ she intones deadpan at our cowering heroes. As a contract player for Monogram, she supplied creepy support to Bela Lugosi in ‘The Corpse Vanishes’ (1942) and ‘The Ape Man’ (1943) among many other low-budget assignments. Later on, she worked steadily on television until her death in 1966, even fronting her own series ‘The Adventures of Tugboat Annie’ in 1958.

The other notable presence here is director Joseph H Lewis, who is celebrated nowadays for bringing a sense of visual style to many a low budget production. There’s not much evidence of his skill here, however, apart from a few camera flourishes and some good set-ups in the few serious moments. His subsequent career included highly effective film noirs such as ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’ (1945)and ‘So Dark The Night’ (1946), but his reputation rests mostly on two classics of that genre, ‘Gun Crazy’ (1949) and ‘The Big Combo’ (1955).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘Yeah?’

The East Side Kids began life on Broadway as ‘The Dead End Kids’, stars of Sidney Kingsley’s smash hit play which ran for two years. When the property was optioned for a movie makeover, director William Wyler brought half a dozen of the ‘kids’ to Hollywood (including Jordan and Leo Gorcey), feeling that no local talent could convey the authenticity that the story required. The movie was another hit, and the kids were put into more features as a group, including box office juggernaut ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ (1938) with James Cagney. However, bad behaviour on set led to their contracts being cancelled (not for the last time!) and some of the revolving lineup became ‘The Little Tough Guys’ at Universal. In 1940, Monogram producer Katzman picked two of them to star in ‘East Side Kids’ (1940) and a franchise was born.

This entry was the second in the series and must have been popular as the studio chose to recycle the plot on several occasions. The kids shared the screen with horror icon Bela Lugosi in ‘Spooks Run Wild’ (1941) and ‘Ghosts On The Loose’ (1943), which also featured a young Ava Gardner! It was also rinsed out and repurposed as ‘Crazy Knights’ (1944) with Shemp Howard and Billy Gilbert.

Boys of the City (1940)

The Ice Bucket Challenge is older than you think…

It is noticeable here, however, that the gang’s usual schtick isn’t wholly present and correct. Here, they are still definitely an ensemble, even if Jordan and Gorcey get a greater share of the screentime. Later on, after Jordan had departed and Huntz Hall (one of the original Dead End Kids) had returned to the fold, the films became more of a showcase for the Gorcey and Hall double act, with the other members relegated to supporting roles.

Some movie fans can’t bear five minutes in the company of these scene-stealing schlubs, and that’s pretty understandable. This is a weak, thin comedy that offers only the occasional moment of enjoyment.

 

Sky Racket/Flight Into Danger (1937)

‘Put up the gun, man, what’s eating you?’Sky Racket (1937)

A reluctant bride runs out on her aristocratic husband to be and hides inside a mail plane at a nearby airfield. Unfortunately, the pilot is using the flight to investigate a series of mysterious aviation accidents that have plagued the service and comes to believe that she is involved…

Being a pilot back in the 1930s must have been a dangerous job. As well as the inevitable difficulties of being involved in a pioneering industry less than 50 years old, there was always some mad scientist or gang of crooks operating that ‘deadly ray that knocks planes out of the sky.’ Mail planes, in particular, were a target for these villains, but here their activities have attracted the attention of the FBI and top agent Herman Brix is on the case.

Society bride Marion Bronson (Joan Barclay) isn’t having the best day of her life. Her uncle Roger (Henry Roquemore) has arranged her nuptials, farming her off to blowhard Count Barski (Duncan Renaldo). Roquemore’s interested in the prestige of a title in the family, Renaldo in the money Barclay will inherit. Why she’s let the situation get as far as her wedding day is a bit of a mystery, but Barclay takes a powder along with maid Jenny (Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel) with Brooke and Renaldo in pursuit. Meanwhile, Brix has got the call from FBI head honcho Edward Earle to look into the series of plane wrecks that are crippling the mail service. He elects to fly the route and ends up with Barclay as an unexpected mid-flight bonus.

Sky Racket (1937)

‘When you win an Oscar, you can sit down too.’

While the two are indulging in the usual romantic love talk, the engine suddenly fails and the plane goes down, the bickering duo escaping by parachute. On the ground, they encounter a couple of suspicious-looking characters and, after a hilariously unconvincing fight, they are taken to the headquarters of local crime lord Arnold (Monte Blue). He’s the man with the death ray in his back office, and his quartet of goons are the ones that rifle through the contents of the crashed aircraft. Yes, that’s it. No blackmailing national governments or plans for world domination. He’s just stealing the mail. The fiend!

From there, events develop on entirely predictable lines. Blue is villainous, Barclay feisty and Brix heroic. Roquemore and Renaldo pop up every now and then to provide some lame comic relief. What really torpedoes matters, however, is the complete lack of scale. There is budget only for a couple of location shoots, a handful of poorly dressed interiors, and ‘action’ that consists of just one more bout of inept fisticuffs. To the film’s credit, at least Barclay doesn’t stand there with her fist in her mouth watching the men fight and looking scared, she weighs in with whatever she has to hand. Of course, she ends up hitting Brix over the head by mistake, but it’s the thought that counts. The flying sequences also lack a little authenticity, looking like nothing so much as stock footage of planes in flight alternating with close-ups of Brix and Barclay sitting in a plane which is obviously on the ground. They don’t even bother with a wind machine to try and make it look like they’re airborne.

Sky Racket (1937)

‘Mayor Outlines New Project of Administration.’

There’s also an interminable sequence where Brix tries to avoid being followed after he convinces the gang that he’s thrown in with them. Their hideout is behind a café/bar where couples sway to the music, and some unknown guy we’ve never seen before (and never see again) performs five-minute ‘comedy’ song and dance routine. Brix sits there for ages with two of the gang staring at him from the other side of the room. It’s the most contrived padding imaginable; not bad in a film that lasts only a whopping 61 minutes! Story and script, both credited to Basil Dickey, are also more than a little slapdash. Not only is there zero information about the origin of Blue’s dastardly weapon, but it also doesn’t even get a name! It’s also nice to see that the ‘Daily News’ has got hold of the story of Barclay’s disappearance and got an edition into print and out on the streets in the time it takes for her to take off from the airfield and get shot down. Good job guys!

Perhaps this general lack of quality is only to be expected, given that the director here was Sam Katzman. He went on to earn a reputation as one of the industry’s most notorious penny-pinching producers; the man behind Johnny Weismuller’s 16-picture ‘Jungle Jim’ series, many B-Westerns and serials and Bela Lugosi’s 1940s horror pictures with Monogram Studios. Barclay often joined Katzman in his journey through the world of low-budget cinema, first working with him on the Lugosi serial ‘Shadow of Chinatown’ (1936) which also starred Brix in the lead. Further collaborations were serial ‘Blake of Scotland Yard’ (1937), crime drama ‘Million Dollar Racket’ (1937), crime comedy ‘Crooked But Dumb’ (1937) (again with Brix!), and Westerns ‘Lightning Carson Rides Again’ (1938), ‘Texas Wildcats’ (1937) and ‘Outlaws’ Paradise’ (1938). After taking a break, the two linked up again for East Side Kids’ picture ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ (1942) before embarking on the two projects she is best remembered for today: plastic surgery drama ‘Black Dragons’ (1942) and missing bride horror ‘The Corpse Vanishes’ (1942), both with Lugosi. Barclay carried on working regularly for a few years afterwards, wrapping up her career with the Sidney Toler-Charlie Chan picture ‘The Shanghai Cobra’ (1945).

Sky Racket (1937)

‘Calling all cars, be on the lookout for a cheap film producer…’

Brix won the silver medal in the shot put at the 1928 Olympics and once held the world indoor record for the event. Initially selected to be MGM’s Tarzan, he withdrew from the project after sustaining a severe shoulder injury while making another film. He did eventually get to play the Ape Man in serial ‘The New Adventures of Tarzan’ (1935), but his career floundered in the low-budget arena, and he quit the business in the late 1930s. But he was not to be beaten. Reinventing himself under the name of Bruce Bennett, he joined the stock company at Columbia Studios and began slowly picking up small parts in their features, often uncredited. A prominent role in the Boris Karloff medical chiller ‘Before I Hang’ (1940) failed to ignite his career, but persistence brought rewards. Second billing behind Humphrey Bogart in ‘Sahara’ (1943) proved his big break. From there, there was no going back. Although he never became a leading man except in smaller pictures, there were significant roles in many prestige productions. He played Joan Crawford’s unemployed husband in the noir classic ‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945), and there were further roles with Bogart in ‘Dark Passage’ (1947) and, most memorably, John Huston’s ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948). He moved into television in the 1950s, but still took parts on the big screen, albeit in far lesser films such as cult favourites ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959) and ‘The Aligator People’ (1959). He became a successful businessman and retired from acting in 1980. At the age of 96, he was still skydiving and died four years later in 2007.

A cheap and formulaic action thriller that was probably in theatres and gone before anyone noticed.

Cannibal Attack (1954)

Cannibal Attack (1954)‘Although I’ve educated her in European ways, there are times when her jungle blood seems to assert itself.’

Johnny Weismuller finds a dead white man on the banks of a river in the jungle. He turns out to be a government man in charge of a missing shipment of cobalt and, although his death is attributed to a crocodile attack, Johnny has his own ideas…

In some strange 1950s alternate universe, Johnny Weismuller was not an ageing star relegated to B- Movie hell, but a heroic trail guide and all-purpose government fix-it man, pitting his jungle wits against tribes of Moon Men, displaced voodoo cults and men crawling about under rubber crocodile skins. Unfortunately, in the real world, he was working with a ‘cash-conscious’ film producer who lost the rights to make films using the name ‘Jungle Jim’ and decided to re-christen the character as ‘Johnny Weismuller’ to get around the problem. Yes, that producer was the legendary Sam Katzman and this was Weismuller’s penultimate turn running around the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in a safari suit.

lt’s obvious from the get-go that this outing is going in a vastly different direction from the rest of the series. Instead of a talky, five-minute opening scene that explains the entire plot, we get a talky, five-minute scene that just explains most of it. This exposition dump comes courtesy of sensible, upright mining engineerJohn King (Steve Darrell) and the visiting Commissioner (Charles Evans). Originally contracted to dig iron ore, King and his unreliable brother (David Bruce) have discovered cobalt! This magic substance is ‘more valuable than uranium’ due to its multiple uses in medicine, electronics, jet aircraft engines, machine tools, delicate magnets and dental bridgework. It’s a bonanza to be sure, but the mine is located deep in the jungle and the only way to get the ore out is down a river infested with crocodiles.

Cannibal Attack (1954)

‘So what are we supposed to be looking at again, Johnny?’

But let’s back up for a minute here. Who are these guys working for exactly? I guess it’s the U.S. Government? Or is it some private corporation? Perhaps the two were interchangeable in the minds of a 1950s audience? There’s not a trace of any native authorities or officials anywhere and, in fact, the local population is almost solely represented by Darrell’s ward, Luora (Judy Walsh), who is apparently of mixed race.

When Weismuller starts investigating the missing shipment, Walsh tags along and actually makes an obvious play for the big man! Certainly not something a ‘nice girl’ would do, is it? All that soppy romantic stuff was firmly relegated to the supporting cast in the Jungle Jim universe, of course, so there’s no chance of her getting anywhere, but she’s foiled by the antics of chimpanzee Kimba anyway. She doesn’t take this kindly: ‘I’m sorry, I have no sense of humour. It must be my jungle blood.’ Ouch.

Leaving aside the dodgy racial and colonial politics, what we have here is Weismuller as a detective. For once, it’s not blindingly obvious who the heroes and villains are, although when it’s revealed it’s hardly a big surprise. Anyway, it’s up to Weismuller to piece everything together. Could King’s foreman Rovak (Bruce Cowling) be involved? After all, his name sounds a bit foreign, doesn’t it? And how do this mysterious tribe of missing cannibals with their ridiculous crocodile fetish fit in? We do know they gave up cannibalism years ago, though, which renders the movie’s title pointless for anything other than box-office purposes. The climax features a mass brawl on boats and a raft in the middle of the river. After a couple of minutes, the bad guys even remember to use their guns!

Amongst all the crocodile stock footage, our cast do their best to remain professional. Walsh was as American as apple pie but her dark looks saw her cast as various ethnicities in a very brief film career; Arabian in ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ (1952), native American in ‘The Half-Breed’ (1952) and lunar-feline in ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1954). Bruce appeared as ‘The Mad Ghoul’ (1943) in one of the weakest entries from Universal Pictures during their horror heyday. But the most crucial casting here finds Tamba, the Talented Chimp, replaced by up-and-comer Kimba. Sadly, the new addition obviously lacks experience or the necessary comedy chops displayed by his predecessor. Also it completely changes the central character dynamic of the entire series. And I could be wrong but is that a ‘stunt chimp’ doing those backflips at the end of the picture?

One more film in the series followed; ‘Devil Goddess'(1955), but it wasn’t quite Weismuller’s last hurrah. When producer Katzman lost the character rights, they ended up with Screen Gems who immediately developed a TV series and hired the big man to star! 27 episodes later, he finally quit the jungle and retired. Somewhat ironically, the TV show was brought to the small screen through Columbia, who had also released the movies. But Katzman obviously wasn’t bothered. He retained his links with the studio, unleashed ‘Rock Around The Clock’ (1956) and made a mint.

More predictable jungle shenanigans from the deadly partnership of Weismuller and Katzman. This one comes with a little more plot than usual, but also with some very outdated and unfortunate attitudes.

Killer Ape (1953)

Killer Ape (1953)‘Mark me well, this vile thing will destroy you, not us!’

The listless behaviour of the local crocodile population is a mystery to a game warden, who calls in Jungle Jim for a second opinion. The big man investigates, and finds some evil scientists carrying out an experiment involving a drug that paralyses the will. Close by, a giant man-ape is about to throw a little tantrum…

When Johnny Weismuller’s tenure as MGM’s ‘Tarzan’ wrapped in 1948, he swapped his trademark loincloth for a safari suit and became ‘Jungle Jim’ for a series of low rent adventures for legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman. The character was (rather) loosely based on a comic strip original co-created by ‘Flash Gordon’ cartoonist Alex Raymond, rather ironically as competition for a ‘Tarzan’ strip run by another publishing syndicate. There had been a radio show for three years in the late 1930s and even a movie serial in 1937 starring Grant Withers in the title role, but it’s the cheap and cheerful series of Katzman productions that tend to be remembered today.

The 12th entry finds Weismuller up against sinister scientist Nestor Paiva, whose (somewhat vague) experiments with a (somewhat vague) chemical extract stand to make him a pretty penny indeed when sold to an (unnamed) foreign government. This doesn’t seem too dastardly; after all, they are looking for an antidote too, but it’s a little bit of a red flag when Paiva confides that ‘every nation can be destroyed through its’ drinking water.’ And what’s up with his experimental procedure? Why try the potion out on a bunch of crocodiles? Why not pick something a little less likely to take your arm off? I’m guessing it might have had something to do with the stock footage available. After all, by the time we join the action, Paiva has revised his working practice to favour the rather less toothsome zebra.

Further muddying the waters is Paiva’s choice of camp location. He’s put down stakes right in the middle of the ‘Valley of the Man-Ape’ and, as you might have gathered, that’s not a particularly good idea. The creature in question is often referred to simply as an ‘Ape’ (kind of like in the title?) but actually turns out to be giant actor Max Palmer in face fuzz, a furry bathrobe and hairy wellington boots. He’s certainly a wiz at growling and turning over tables but, apart from that and his considerable size, he’s not exactly the most intimidating monster to ever walk across the silver screen. He is impervious to knives and bullets, though. Is there such a thing as a bulletproof bathrobe?

The story’s heroic human elements, apart from Weismuller himself, are a local tribe of hunters who are providing animals for the criminal gang. After the headman is killed, leadership responsibilities fall on Ramada (Burt Wenland), who fulfils the vital role of being the ‘someone who the hero explains things to.’ His betrothed is dark-haired vixen Carol Thurston who seems quite feisty at first, what with her persistent attempts to knife Weismuller, but she soon sees the error of her ways and becomes ‘the girl who gets kidnapped by the monster a lot.’ Also on duty is Tamba, the Talented Chimp, who backflips, lassoes a plastic crocodile, and ultimately saves the day due to his access to a reasonably priced film library. Yes, the leaping monkeys from ‘Captive Girl’ (1950) are back again, running amuck in the villain’s camp and ruining Paiva’s plans with just a snip of an editor’s magic scissors.

Killer Ape (1953)

‘Give me my trousers back, Johnny, or else!’

Although allegedly measured at 8 ft 2 inches for his coffin, Palmer is listed at 7′ 7″ by the Guinness Book of World Records and, given the disparity in height between him and the 6-foot, 3-inch Weismuller, I would favour the latter height as being the more reliable measurement. It still puts him on the same level as Lock Martin who played the iconic robot Gort in ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (1951). After a brief film career, Palmer first became a pro-wrestler and then a travelling evangelist, billed variously as ‘Goliath for Christ’ and ‘The World’s Largest Christian.’

Thurston was an American of Irish descent whose dusky looks typed her in various ethnic roles in the ‘B’ movie universe: Chinese, Native American and Indonesian, among others. Some of the filming took place at Corriganville, the ranch owned by ex-screen cowboy and gorilla-suit specialist Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, who turns up acting in civvies here as one of Paiva’s henchmen. It must be quite a novelty for him to play a human being for once, especially in a film with ‘Ape’ in the title.

As you’ll have already guessed, this is all routine, low-grade entertainment. Apparently, the ‘Jungle Jim’ features were usually made two at a time; a nine-day shoot for each with a two-day break in between.

This is probably not quite the worst of the series, but the ridiculous nature of the title creature is the only thing an audience is even likely to remember.

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.

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.

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…

Master Minds (1949)

Master Minds (1949)‘There’s only one thing to do; better declare a mortuary and look for him at the dentist.’

A young New Yorker suddenly develops the ability to predict the future. Sensing a financial opportunity, his friends set him up as an act at a local fairground. His abilities attract press coverage but also bring him to the attention of an eccentric scientist, who is experimenting with mind swapping…

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall got their big break as part of the gang of neighbourhood delinquents in William Wyler’s big hit ‘Dead End’ (1937) which also provided an early role for Humphrey Bogart. From there, they moved through a series of second feature comedies in various screen ‘gangs’ including the Dead End Kids, the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys (although Gorcey passed on them, handing the reins to his brother, David!) The boys also jumped from studio to studio (allegedly due to bad behaviour) and, although membership was via a revolving door, Gorcey and Hall remained fairly constant participants.

By the early 1950’s, they were working for legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman but, after a dispute over money (no surprise there!), Gorcey walked and took Hall with him. Together, they formed their own production company and, despite being in their late twenties by this time, carried on regardless as ‘The Bowery Boys’, releasing an incredible 48 pictures in just 13 years! Originally, the ‘boys’ contained several of players from previous groups, mostly notably Bobby Jordan. However, by the time this film rolled around, Gorcey and Hall were essentially a double act, here backed up by William Benedict, Bennie Bartlett and (inevitably) David Gorcey.

Hall is the hapless ’Satch’ who suddenly develops the power of foresight thanks to a bad toothache! ln what is probably the film’s only original idea, the boys feed him lots of candy to bring on his hypnotic trances. Unfortunately, in the crowd at a show one night is mad scientist Dr Druzik (Alan Napier) and his sidekick Otto (William Yetter). Napier is keeping a prehistoric man (Glenn Strange) in his spooky mansion and decides a mind transfer with Hall is just what the big lug needs. Essentially, this is a formulaic ‘old dark house’ mystery with a little bit of horror and science-fiction thrown in for good measure. The plot owes more than a slight debt to Universal Studios’ hit comedy ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948), especially as Strange appeared in that film as the Monster.

Actually, for the first twenty minutes or so, this is surprisingly entertaining for what it is. Gorcey’s spouts his trademark malapropisms, Hall is the willing clown, and the action moves at a fair clip. Unfortunately, after the gang reach Napier’s dusty old mansion, the film simply runs out of plot and resorts to lots of predictable genre clichés. The cast creep around in dark passageways, get hit over the head in cases of mistaken identity, and are constantly confused by Hall’s weird ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ like behaviour. The only real surprise is that no-one pops up in a gorilla costume! Perhaps Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan was busy that weekend.

There are compensations in the supporting cast, however. Napier was a distinguished British stage actor who had worked extensively with Orson Welles and found fame late in life as Adam West’s butler Alfred on the classic ‘Batman’ TV show. Here, he genuinely seems to be having fun as the mad doctor, although it could be that he was just acting, of course. Still, what a surgical team he has! Nurse Jane Adams had previous form passing the forceps for mad doctor Onslow Stevens in Universal’s ‘House of Dracula’ (1945) and Skelton Knaggs brought the chills to dozens of low-budget horror and mystery programmers with his unforgettable face and line delivery.

Master Minds (1949)

The new musical number needed some work…

Also slumming it after his Universal glory days is makeup genius Jack P Pierce, who uses a variation of his work on Lon Chaney Jr’s ‘Wolf Man’ to deliver Strange as the caveman. There’s more of a full-body vibe to his work this time around too; with Strange getting a good amount of hair on his naked torso. No doubt it was done on a small budget, but it’s still far more effective than you would expect in this kind of enterprise.

The billing here is ‘Leo Gorcey & The Bowery Boys’, leaving little doubt as to who was in charge of things. As well as brother David, we also get their father, Bernard Gorcey, who makes an extended appearance and gets plenty of screen time. The series as a whole might have lasted even longer if Bernard hadn’t passed away in a car accident in 1955. Apparently, Leo took it very badly indeed, hit the bottle with a vengeance and left the series shortly afterward. Hall stayed with it for the last half-dozen or so films, but things wrapped up with ‘In The Money’ (1958).

A painless way to spend an hour or so, and classic horror aficionados will get some pleasure out of the supporting cast and seeing another off Pierce’s classic monster makeups.

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 a desperado by night, running around 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.