Friday, July 28, 2017


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.


  1. I enjoyed the Jungle Jim movies and TV show when I was a kid, Gene, have only seen the original Jungle Jim the second time around as an adult, mostly to see how Superman would play a villain...

    Kids, especially boys, really went for exotic adventure way back when people didn't travel as much as they do now and there really weren't that many movies actually filmed in Africa, Asia or anyplace in the Third World.

    It was such a different time, for us and even earlier, when these movies were shown in the theater. Those jungle-desert-south seas type movies were somehow thrilling just because of their locales. Same with pirate movies. The ships, the swordplay.

    It all looks so cheap and lame now, but in its day that kind of entertainment gave good value for the dollar. Some of those films do hold up, however. I think of the Korda Sabu pictures of the Thirties and Forties. Even the TV series Captain Gallant Of The Foreign Legion played well when I caught it on a digital channel a few years ago.

    Jungle Jim I guess doesn't play so well these days. I wonder how the Bomba pictures hold up. I loved them as a kid.

  2. I've seen all but three of the Bomba films, and they're always much more professionally made than the Jungle Jims. Of course the latter were made under the aegis of notorious cheapskate Sam Katzman, while I'll bet the producers of the Bombas wanted their product to look a little classier, in imitation of the MGM Tarzans in which Johnny Sheffield had appeared as "Boy."

    It's a shame there's not really a good venue for a lot of the old B-film genres. People still turn out low-budgets flicks for movie channels and streaming services, but the genres are more limited in scope. Part of the reason is that they don't have the studio system behind him, so you couldn't recycle jungle sets and mock-up pirate ships from picture to picture. But the closest we get to exotic adventure these days are the cheapskate "beast on the loose" flicks, most of which show on the SYfy channel-- but there's no sustained exoticism there.

  3. Thanks for responding, Gene. Absence of exotica is a good way to put it. Exotica was big back when people didn't travel as much, and indeed the studios, with their back lots and stock footage, were perfect places to make good, cheap entertainment.

    Indeed, there's a sameness to genre films these days. Part of the problem is a very low suspension of disbelief potential on the part of younger viewers. I run across that all the time on the IMDB and elsewhere. Most younger people today would simply laugh as a Jungle Jim or Bomba pic today.

    There's an unwillingness to accept the near dream state required to fully accept a movie, in the sense that people such as ourselves are willing to do. Younger viewers are ever alert and always critical. The sounds of those jungle noises,--screeching birds, purring big cats, rustling leaves--so enchanting to us when we were kids, mean nothing to them.

  4. Yeah, I had a disconcerting personal experience in that respect, when I showed the 1966 BATMAN movie to my (then young-ish) niece and nephew. I expected them to laugh at the moments that were actually funny, like Batman having a shark latch onto his leg. I didn't think they'd laugh at the final moment when poor Batman learns that the woman he's fallen for is actually a disguised Catwoman. I mean, it's true that the movie plays up the melodrama, but it's not meant to be a laugh-out-loud moment...