Friday, July 28, 2017
JUNGLE JIM (1948)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*
I've already reviewed the majority of the JUNGLE JIM films that starred ex-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller, but for assorted reasons never got round to the first one.
On occasion I've found these ultra-cheap jungle jaunts moderately entertaining, when viewed through a lens of low expectations. The first one, oddly enough, is one of the dullest in the series. Jungle Jim, nominally the hero of the story, is introduced with zero attention to giving him any history or consistent characterization. I've read too little of the original comic-strip character to know if its protagonist was anything more than the stock "jungle guide," but clearly the producer of these B-films wanted a stock figure, possibly to match his frequent use of stock footage.
Like many other JIM films, this one hinges on a scientist who needs the hero's help to find some exotic tribe of scientific or historical interest. In this case, a lady scientist named Hilary (Virginia Grey) comes to the jungle, questing after the secret of a special poison used by a clique of witch-doctors, on the theory that it may be a polio cure. Jim, his native buddy Kolu, and other males in the expedition are smugly disrespectful of a "woman scientist," and Hilary only aggravates the situation by being hyper-sensitive. But the expedition starts out with two flies in its ointment. Edwards (George Reeves), the main villain of the story, is an opportunist who wants to make a lot of money off the purported cure. More in the "nuisance" category is sexy young Zia (Lita Baron), sister to Kolu, who clearly tags along in the hope of sparking Jim's interest in her.
The expedition faced by the expedition are all pretty dull, as is the clique of witch-doctors, who are given no characterization beyond trying to protect their secrets from outsiders. There's a little more tension in wondering when the not-too-bright Jim is going to figure out the threat of Edwards, since the villain almost goes out of his way to sign his evil deeds. There's a fight at the end, but it's so ordinary that it makes the Weismuller-Crabbe combat in CAPTIVE GIRL look good.
The script's smarmy contempt for feminine accomplishmentsis further reflected by Zia, who mocks Hilary's upright demeanor, in part because she senses a rival in the older, more settled woman. Given that Jim gives no indication that he wants to romance either of them-- aside from smiling a lot when Zia does a sexy dance-- it's hard to figure out what either of them sees in him. It's probably a little mean to take pot-shots at a B-actress like Baron, but whereas Grey's reactions to this tedious material is always fairly natural, Baron always looks like she's waiting for the next set-up. At one point both women are captured by the witch-doctors. Grey responds as her character ought to, trying to fight off her assailants, but Baron freezes and lifts her arms so that her "captors" can grab onto her. And that was about all the entertainment I got out of JUNGLE JIM.
As a minor trivia-point, while Kolu was a long-running character in the comic strip-- which took place in Southeast Asia, not in Africa-- this is the only film in the series to give Kolu some cinematic attention.