Tuesday, November 22, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*

CALL OF THE SAVAGE is a neglected but perfectly serviceable jungle-serial. I read one of the novels on which it's based, Otis Kline's JAN OF THE JUNGLE, but without re-reading it would guess that very little was borrowed from the book. It's also very nearly an "uncanny" story, except for one minor intrusion of marvelous super-science.

As a young boy at the jungle-sanctuary of his father Doctor Trevor, Jan (Noah Beery Jr,) loses his mother to a lion-attack, while his father is injured and loses his memory. Jan wanders off into the jungle and grows up with the animals, though no particular creature seems to have fostered him. But Trevor was working on a cure for polio, and fifteen years later a scientific expedition returns to Africa to search for Trevor's valuable notes. One scientist is a good guy, another is a bad one. The expedition also includes a young woman, Mona, and a mysterious fellow who believes that Mona is the lost princess of the City of Mu. The latter schemer plans to take her back to her home city-- which she no longer remembers-- at the earliest opportunity. However, most of the serial's chapters deal with Jan's interactions with the expedition-- and with Mona, who gets a G-rated "Jane" treatment, lots of stock animal footage, and various double-crosses, not getting to the Lost City until the tenth chapter. This runs in contrast to the prominence of lost cities in most jungle-serials, notably DARKEST AFRICA. 

SAVAGE, directed by Lew Landers of RAVEN fame, is nicely photographed and lively in terms of action. and it benefits from a cheery performance by Beery as Jan. The jungle-boy, like a road-company version of the Weissmuller Tarzan, never learns more than a few words, but the lack of tedious pidgin dialect is a bonus, forcing Berry to rely on gesture and expression. He also acquits himself well in the fight-scenes.In one chapter Jan and one ally are attacked on a large river-raft by hostile natives, resulting in a big fistfight while the raft careens toward a waterfall.

Given how little time the Mu-natives occupy, it's surprising that they're included at all. Their only super-weapon is an electrical arc that zaps intruders who enter a certain cave-mouth: other than that, their other menaces are standard uncanny-traps from other serials: a room with a descending ceiling of spikes and a room full of flame, for two.

Dorothy Short plays Mona, and looks fetching in her jungle-outfit (see above). Her performance is generally good, except that the script apparently told her to scream piercingly every time danger threatens. It's one thing for Mona to be incapable of jumping into the fights, and another for her to scream gratuitously when she's not immediately in danger. When the guys are busy fighting villains, that sort of feminine indulgence-- even if scripted by male writers-- could prove exceedingly unwise.

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