Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

JUNGLE GIRL


JUNGLE GIRL 15 chapter Republic serial (1941). Directors: William Witney; John English.

Nyoka (Frances Gifford), who lives in the jungles of Cairobi with her father Dr. Meredith, doesn't realize that he has been replaced by his evil twin brother Bradley (Trevor Bardette). Nyoka not only has to deal with the sinister machinations of the medicine man, Shamba (Frank Lackteen), but with the deadly wiles of Bradley's confederate, Slick Latimer (Gerald Mohr). At least the brave Nyoka has three allies: the pilot Jack Stanton (Tom Neal of Detour fame), his buddy and co-pilot Curly (Eddie Acuff), and the little native boy Kimbu (Tommy Cook).

Jungle Girl, loosely based on a novel by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, is packed with action and deadly situations that occur within each chapter and not just at the end of each. Nyoka is suspended over a fire and tied to logs by straps, shrinking due to the heat, which are about to snap her into the flames; or is nearly drawn and quartered by the sadistic Shamba. Kimbu falls off a rope bridge and is nearly eaten by a crocodile. Jack gets trapped in a pit with a hungry lion in one chapter and dangles overhead in a trap as another tries to claw him from the ground in another. Nyoka herself battles a lion to the death at one point. And these aren't even the cliffhangers!

The actual cliffhangers present a flood of water that nearly washes the good guys out of a cavern and off of a cliff; a thatch of fiery oil on the river that nearly roasts them alive; a slipping log that traverses a high chasm; and a trap that consists of a room with a floor that moves to reveal what appears to be a bottomless pit! One of the best cliffhangers and action scenes has to do with Jack trapped on a conveyor belt that draws him ever nearer to a huge block of stone that repeatedly mashes downward as his head gets closer and closer. The suspense over this sequence continues into the following chapter where Jack continues to be in danger as Nyoka and the others battle all around him. There is a superb fight to the death between Jack and Slick on an airplane for the memorable and highly satisfying climax.

Curly isn't just comedy relief, although he does figure in the funniest scene, when he throws his voice to make little Kimbu think that his adorable monkey can talk! Later on, when Curly is unjustly accused of murdering the native chief, he realizes that they will kill everyone else just to get to him and is willing to sacrifice his life to save the others -- until the truth comes out.

The actors are fine, with Mohr, in one of his best roles, taking top honors as the slimy Slick. Neal makes a more than adequate two-fisted hero, and Gifford is lively and athletic. Bardette is fine as both the sympathetic doctor and his very unsympathetic brother. Tommy Cook is a charmer as Kimbu, as is his little monkey. There's even a very hammy gorilla in chapter eight. Al Kikume, who played Lothar in Mandrake the Magician, is herein cast as Chief Lutembi. Ken Terrell, who played Mrs. Archer's butler Jess in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, is cast as another native. Gifford also appeared in Henry Aldrich Gets Glamor.

The theme music sounds like something you'd hear for a "safari" act in a nightclub.

NOTE: The Perils of Nyoka, made by Republic the following year, was probably not an "official" sequel. In this Nyoka's dead father [killed in the first chapter of Jungle Girl] somehow turns up alive.

Verdict: One of the best serials ever made! ***1/2.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree: One of the best serials ever made. The action is top-notch and Dave Sharpe's acrobatic swinging through the trees doubling for Frances Gifford is a sight to behold!

William said...

Definitely! This one's a winner all the way!