JUNGLE JIM ON SCREEN

jungle jim johnnyNews of the disastrous reaction to screenings of the unwanted and unneeded fifth Indiana Jones movie, starring a 136-year-old Harrison Ford, caused me to reflect on the 1980s flood of Indiana Jones imitators. Studios even revived the old H. Rider Haggard character Allan Quatermain by casting Richard Chamberlin as Quatermain in a few movies.

Conspicuously absent from that 1980s eruption was Jungle Jim, the former comic strip character who had been depicted in a film serial, several movies and a television series from the 1930s to 1950s. Obviously, the same attempts to update Allan Quatermain would have to be made in reviving Jungle Jim, but it certainly could have been pulled off.

After all, decades before Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Jungle Jim” Bradley, mercenary jungle guide and adventurer, was fighting Nazis and other menaces while finding lost cities & ancient artifacts, all while romancing lovely ladies. Throw in the occasional giant spider or huge, man-eating eel and enjoy!

A 1980s Jungle Jim series could have combined the best elements of Indiana Jones, Crocodile Dundee and Allan Quatermain.  

At any rate, all this led me to write this examination of the big and small screen escapades of Jungle Jim in all their fun, outdated, absurd and So Bad They’re Good glory. Johnny Weissmuller, the former Tarzan actor, actually had to speak in complete sentences as Jungle Jim, emphasizing his poor thespian skills.

jungle jim 1937JUNGLE JIM (1937) – This 12 episode serial from Universal starred Grant Withers as the title character in the pith helmet. The story involved Joan Redmond, a wealthy young heiress who disappeared in the African jungle with her parents years earlier.

Sightings of a white woman in command of a pride of lions have inspired media speculation that the now teenaged heiress was still alive. Two rival jungle expeditions set out to find her, one launched by the tale’s heroes and another launched by the tale’s villains. 

The good guys, guided by Jungle Jim, want to bring the young Lion Goddess back to her home country and her inheritance. The bad guys, led by the young lady’s villainous relative Bruce Redmond, want to kill Joan, thus allowing Bruce to claim the inheritance for himself. Further complicating things are two international criminals who have been stranded in the jungle with Joan for years and have been passing themselves off to her as if they are her parents.

The criminals are the brother and sister team of Shanghai Lil (Evelyn Brant) and the Cobra (Henry Brandon), who want to exploit young Joan even more once they learn about her inheritance. Meanwhile, Lion Goddess Joan falls for Jungle Jim. Viewers also get all the typical Tarzan/ Safari action including fistfights, gunfights, booby traps, dangerous geography and battles with deadly jungle animals.

This Jungle Jim serial was fairly boring and embodied the tiresome, repetitive storylines of too many old serials. Plus, it lacked the more outrageous elements of Johnny Weissmuller’s Jungle Jim movies and television series. The 1937 serial is also far longer than Johnny’s movies, which all ran for just 65 to 70-some minutes. 

THE JOHNNY WEISSMULLER ERA

weissmNow you’re talking! Johnny Weissmuller’s Jungle Jim tales take place in a bizarre parallel world in which wild animals from every continent live in Africa for some reason. Throw in all the typical racial and ethnic confusion caused by countless white extras standing in for supposed African natives broken up here and there by genuine actors of color.

Sure, the natives often speak in the outdated, insulting, broken English typical of Hollywood productions of the time, but Jungle Jim, as depicted by Weissmuller, ALSO speaks in dumbed-down language. Hell, Johnny often sounds almost as moronic as Arnold Schwarzenegger does.

For us modern-day viewers, the cringe-inducing racial debacles, ENDLESS stock footage, inane dialogue, atrocious special effects and incoherent stories can all be laughed at mercilessly. Yet, at the same time, the fun, juvenile, pulp adventure antics are as enjoyable to watch as the many Masked Mexican Wrestler movies from south of the border or the Big Bug films of the 1950s. 

jungle jim 1948JUNGLE JIM (1948) – When a vial containing a chemical concoction of the tribal doctors at the Hidden Temple of Zimbalu reaches the coastal cities, Dr. Hilary Parker (Virginia Grey) believes the paralyzing drug may have properties that could be used to cure polio. NOTE: Yes, a polio cure was still years away when this movie was made.

Dr. Parker hires Jungle Jim Bradley to guide her to the Hidden Temple in search of a larger sample of the drugs. Bruce Edwards (George Reeves of Superman fame) is a photographer who tags along, pretending to want to chronicle Dr. Parker’s expedition, but really planning on stealing some of the legendary wealth of the Hidden Temple of Zimbalu.

With deadly treachery from Edwards periodically rearing its head, Jungle Jim and company face jungle cats, an elephant stampede, a gigantic octopus and hostile indigenous tribes. In the end, the expedition reaches the Hidden Temple, Bruce Edwards meets his death while trying to pull off his planned theft and it turns out the jungle drugs will not cure polio after all.

Romance blossoms between Jim and Dr. Parker, but she’ll be gone by the next movie. Jungle Jim’s animal sidekicks, Caw-Caw the crow and Skipper the dog, will return, however. (71 minutes) 

lost tribe 1949THE LOST TRIBE (1949) – A young native teen Chot steals a few jewels from his home town – the Lost City of Dzaam, to try wooing a slinky but avaricious white woman Norina (Myrna Dell). Her partner in crime Calhoun (Joseph Vitale), posing as her “Uncle” so as not to discourage the smitten Chot, hires a mercenary army to accompany him and Chot to the Lost City and take it by force. Dzaam boasts buildings made of gold, filled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and silver.

Jungle Jim is sought out by Li Wanna (Elena Verdugo), daughter of Dzaam’s ruler and religious leader Zoron (Nelson Leigh), to obtain his help against Calhoun and his mercenaries. Amid multiple clashes between Jim and the troops and between Jim and various jungle animals, the slinky Norina tries but fails to seduce our hero over to her side.

After Jungle Jim saves a she-gorilla and its offspring from a lion, the she-gorilla grows fond of Jim, who names her Zimba. NOTE: Zimba is played by THE Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a gorilla costume. This was when Ray ran Corriganville, a stretch of land in California that he rented out for movie shoots and often dressed up as primates or monsters as part of the package.

In the dramatic finale, Calhoun and his mercenaries conquer Dzaam and are loading up on jewels and precious metals. Zimba leads an entire army of gorillas against the villains, wiping them out, while Calhoun himself falls to Jungle Jim. Calhoun had earlier murdered the untrustworthy Norina. Chot gave his life in the final battle in order to redeem himself for causing all this.

Caw-Caw and Skipper were along for the fun. Li Wanna was the latest leading lady for our hero who would not return. (72 minutes) 

mark of the gorillaMARK OF THE GORILLA (January 1950) – Jungle Jim is friendly with Frank Bentley, warden of an African animal reserve in the Ngandi District. Jim discovers that Frank is suffering from a rare illness and is being cared for by a Dr. Brandt (Onslow Stevens).

As the story goes on, we viewers learn that the animal reserve has been established on jungle territory where Nazi war criminals hid stolen gold years earlier. To retrieve the loot, the Nazis, led by Dr. Brandt, are covertly loading up the treasure over the course of several days while Brandt keeps the warden sidelined.

A few of the other Nazis dress in gorilla costumes to drive away any people who draw close to the hidden treasure’s locale. Jungle Jim knows that gorillas don’t frequent this part of the jungle and looks into things along with Warden Bentley’s beautiful niece Barbara (Trudy Marshall).

Skipper the dog fights a lion and drives it away (?) and at one point Jim fights a huge man-eating eel (??).

Jim, Barbara, and a mysterious native beauty named Nyobi (Suzanne Dalbert) kill or capture all the Nazis, and Nyobi turns out to be the princess of the tribe from whom the Nazis had stolen the gold years earlier. She reclaims the treasure and has it taken back to her people. (68 minutes)   

captive girlCAPTIVE GIRL (April 1950) – TWO FORMER TARZANS CLASH! Johnny Weissmuller’s fellow former Tarzan, Buster Crabbe, plays a villain in this flick. Jungle Jim is paid to lead an expedition into the jungles of India this time around, actually justifying the presence of tigers in the storyline for once!

Jim is leading a trek into the jungle to escort Mahala (Rick Vallin), the chief of a tribe in India, back to his people’s hidden village after Mahala has spent years being educated in the outside world. NOTE: To the makers of the Jungle Jim films, natives are natives, so they depict the indigenous people of India as if they are exactly like African tribes of the time. Racism was Hollywood’s largest export!  

Following our hero’s party on its danger-filled journey is Buster Crabbe’s fortune-hunting character Barton. This villain has heard of the way Mahala’s tribe used to execute condemned prisoners by adorning them in gold and jewels to weigh them down, then dumping the prisoners in the Lagoon of Death to drown. The larcenous Barton plans to use his scuba gear to pluck all the gold and gems off of the submerged remains of the victims who have accumulated over the centuries. 

Chief Mahala and Jungle Jim eventually see that, in Mahala’s absence, the evil witch doctor Hakim, played by the very white John Dehner, who voiced Paladin on the radio series Have Gun, Will Travel, has usurped Mahala’s throne. Hakim has revived the practice of executing prisoners in the Lagoon of Death, much to Mahala’s displeasure.

captive girl anitaTwo of Hakim’s victims years ago were the parents of our latest Jungle Woman, in this case Joan Martindale, (Anita Lhoest), called the White Witch by the tribe because she has tamed a tiger who fights at her side against the tribe. Joan wants revenge for Hakim’s execution of her parents.

Naturally, Jungle Jim emerges triumphant over all the bad guys with help from his dog Skipper and some new monkey friends. Mahala takes his chiefdom back from Hakim and Joan Martindale is taken back to “civilization” by our hero. There’s also a segment featuring a type of water buffalo that is native to … the Philippines.

Buster Crabbe’s Barton makes for an interesting villain for Jungle Jim, since he poses a credible threat to Jim’s machismo, fighting ability and knowledge of the jungle. Anita Lhoest once dated Clint Eastwood. (73 minutes)

pygmy islandPYGMY ISLAND (November 1950) – Back to Africa for this Cold War adventure featuring white pygmies, some of them being played by famed Hollywood midgets like Billy Curtis, Angelo Rossitto, Billy Barty and John George. Also along for the ride is THE Tristram Coffin, so Bad Movie Buffs should be smiling already.

The story begins with Jungle Jim coming across the remains of a pygmy who was in possession of a piece of unusual rope and the dog tags of female Army Captain Ann Kingsley (Ann Savage). Jim turns in the rope and dog tags so they can make their way to American authorities. Eventually, additional army personnel arrive in Africa to hire Jim to help them search for the missing Captain Kingsley.

Ann, a scientific expert on plants, was on a mission from the Pentagon to verify the existence of the type of tree fiber used to make the rope that was with Ann’s dog tags amid the pygmy’s remains. The rope is fireproof and nearly impossible to cut or destroy.

pygmy island picCaptain Kingsley wanted to obtain the exotic plant for its obvious military and industrial uses. Jungle Jim is hired to lead the army men on an expedition to find Ann and the vital plant before a Soviet expedition led by spy Leon Marko (Steven Geray) does.

From there, our hero and his colleagues clash with jungle animals and with a marauding tribe called the Bush Devils, who turn out to be the Soviet agents disguised as natives to avoid implicating Mother Russia. Jungle Jim fights a gorilla on a swinging bridge over a steep drop at one point, and, amusingly enough, some of the pygmies swing through the jungle on vines like Weissmuller used to do in his Tarzan days.

Ann Kingsley is found alive, residing with the pygmies, who protect her from the Soviets. All that, plus Jim fighting it out with a commie while they are both sinking in quicksand.

Tamba the chimpanzee is once again at our hero’s side. Oh, and of course, Jungle Jim and company emerge triumphant, obtaining the exotic rope material. (69 minutes)   

fury of the congoFURY OF THE CONGO (February 1951) – This time around, Jim is recruited to find Professor Dunham (Joel Friedkin), a biochemist who went missing in the Congo. The professor was searching for a legendary animal called the Okongo, a half-zebra and half-antelope species whose glands contain a narcotic more powerful than anything currently being used by drug dealers around the world.

A virtual army of drug dealers are also scouring the Congo for the legendary animals because of the fortune they can make off of Okongo glands. Amid Jungle Jim’s usual clashes with the same recycled jungle animals, he also comes across a native village from which the drug dealers have abducted all of the males to use as slave labor in rounding up and transporting the Okongo herds.

The Okongo animals are played by mules and horses with stripes painted on their fronts and rears. For trivia buffs, this movie is the first time Jungle Jim uses a bolo to fight the bad guys.

fury of the congo letaThis is a fun but typically mindless Jungle Jim flick in which we get to see him take on drug dealers as well as the usual menaces that he faces. On top of that, our hero faces a sandstorm in a desert region and battles an enormous spider that is rendered VERY poorly. Think Missile to the Moon.

Just when things seem hopeless for the good guys, Jungle Jim and company are saved by the arrival of the armed wives, sisters and daughters from the village that was robbed of all its men by the drug traffickers. Sherry Moreland plays Leta, the leader of those women and who is Jim’s leading lady.

The ubiquitous Lyle Talbot and one-time Lone Ranger John Hart show up in supporting roles. (69 minutes)

FOR JOHNNY WEISSMULLER’S REMAINING TEN JUNGLE JIM MOVIES CLICK HERE.

FOR MY EXTENSIVE LOOK AT THE COMMANDO CODY SERIALS AND TELEVISION SERIES CLICK HERE

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Filed under Bad and weird movies, Pulp Heroes

9 responses to “JUNGLE JIM ON SCREEN

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