Monday, May 14, 2012
JUNGLE MANHUNT (1951), VALLEY OF HEADHUNTERS (1953)
PHENOMENALITY: (1) *marvelous,* (2) *naturalistic*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
My impression of Alex Raymond's JUNGLE JIM comic strip is that most of its stories fall into the naturalistic phenomenality. However, its adaptations in films and comic books have gone in all possible directions.
Putting aside the 1937 JUNGLE JIM serial, Sam Katzman's low-budget series of potboilers were the first feature-film adaptations of the character. JUNGLE MANHUNT, the seventh in the series, starts out with the suggestion that it may possess the uncanny phenomenality, as it begins with a peaceful village being raided for slaves by warriors led by "skeleton-men" (men in obvious costumes). Jungle Jim, a hunter who apparently protects the jungle from evil in his spare time, investigates the raiders while simultaneously guiding a snippy girl photographer in search of a white man who became lost in the jungle. At one point Jim and reporter Ann encounter a pair of "dinosaurs" (the usual lizards filmed to look big), but though they have nothing to do with the story, their presence alone would push the flick into "marvelous" territory. However, as Jim and Ann find their way to the raiders' camp, they encounter another science-fictional element, in an evil doctor who's using native slaves to mine radioactive materials. It turns out that the evil doctor is making synthetic diamonds, and his explanation of the process certainly should have won any 1951 award for Best Scientific Goobledygook.
MANHUNT is at least moderately pleasurable to watch, in that it has a fair amount of action (though none of the natives are Black Africans, instead looking like South Sea Islanders). Also, Ann is one of the more sharp-tongued heroines, but Jim gets back some of his own by constantly needling her about her mercenary motives for coming to the jungle. Coming to Africa to look for a lost football player doesn't seem all that blameworthy, but at least their exchanges, and good direction by Lew (THE RAVEN) Landers keep the pot boiling. In the end Ann hooks up with the lost football player, who's been playing "white god" because he has a paternalistic feeling for the villagers who took him in. As with most jungle-adventure films there's a strong emphasis on distinguishing the "good white interlopers" from the bad ones.
VALLEY OF HEADHUNTERS, however, lacks even these relative high-points. Jim is enlisted by the local jungle constable to help him secure mineral rights from one of the local tribes. It seems that these natives used to practice headhunting, but though they gave it up they still don't trust the white men. Jim and the constable can't make a very good case, for a local jungle bandit named "Arco" is constantly raiding local villages to steal women, and he too wants the valuable mineral rights. The only relevant trope in VALLEY is that of "exotic lands and customs," but though headhunting is referenced, no evidence of it is seen, not even so much as a shrunken head. In addition, both the acting and action are pretty dismal. The constable gets a missionary's daughter, but for all the importance she has to the plot she might as well not have been there.