Two from Jungle Jim

Jungle Jim (1948) - 5.0

In 1948 Johnny Weissmuller finally hung up his loin cloth, vine swinging and famous yell after appearing in twelve Tarzan films that had made him famous – and immediately jumped into another series of jungle films. Out of the 27 films that he starred in during his career all but one took place in a jungle – the other Swamp Fire in 1946 takes place in the bayou. That is kind of sad on one level but Weissmuller was never much of an actor really and these films made for a nice living. His series of Jungle Jim films (though for licensing reasons in the last three he could not use the Jungle Jim name) lasted for 16 films from 1948 to 1955 where upon Weissmuller entered into a TV series playing the same character for 26 episodes. These films were produced by Columbia so you might expect higher production values than his last few Tarzan films but at least based on this first one, no such thing. They look really cheap with yards of stock footage of animals and other filler. These I expect were mainly for children as part of a string of films and cartoons on a Saturday afternoon. Not that this was awful by any means, but not all that good either.

The character of Jungle Jim began as a cartoon back in the 1930’s to compete with the Tarzan cartoons. Later it was put on the radio and a serial with Grant Withers was made in 1937. So back in those days Jungle Jim was a well-known brand name. In the comics the action takes place in South-East Asia but these films are moved to Africa. Maybe because Weissmuller was so familiar with the customs and languages of that continent (just joking). Jungle Jim is a hunter and guide and Weissmuller finally gets to speak English in full sentences. That must have been a thrill for him. In some ways though he follows in Tarzan’s footsteps – wrestles a tiger and then a lion, fights off rubber crocodiles and goes swimming with a lovely lady – though that svelte body is long gone due to a lot of heavy drinking and good living. Weissmuller was 44 by now so not too surprising. But the man-boobs are a bit off-putting.

In this one he comes across a native boy who has been killed by a leopard and sees that the boy was carrying an ancient gold container with a strange liquid inside. The commissioner tells him that it must have come from the temple of Zimbalu where it is forbidden to go as it is run by a cult of demon men with arrows that paralyze. A female scientist (Virginia Grey) shows up looking very neat, clean and scholarly behind her wide rimmed glasses and tells Jim that the liquid can cure polio! So off they go on a journey with Masai warriors lending a hand. The Masai must have been eating well as they are all quite white and plump – even the extras for these films looked bargain basement. On the way they are nearly killed by “accidents” a few times and come across a photographer (George Reeves) and the little sister of Jim’s Tonto like friend.

Reeves was having a rough time during this period – since his role in Gone with the Wind, he had basically gotten nothing but bit parts – in some good films but mainly B films. Superman was still three years away. The little sister is a spitfire who clearly wants to sneak into Jim's trousers and who would blame him for allowing that, She is played by Lita Baron who I admit I had never heard of but after seeing her do a dance around the camp fire I wanted to know more. She was a professional dancer and worked for a while with Xavier Cugat. She married Rory Calhoun and appeared in a few films where she was always stuck as an exotic character. One of her roles was in a Bomba film with Johnny Sheffield (Boy – which sort of feels immoral). The group gets captured by the cult and I kept waiting for Jim to call the elephants but not this time but fortunately they escape with the liquid and hand it over to Dr. Salk who came up with a vaccine in 1955.

Jungle Jim - The Lost Tribe (1949) - 5.0

Jungle Jim is back for his second adventure in this remarkably long series. Sixteen films. I don't plan on seeing them all. In my defense these two Jungle Jim films were bonus films from another set of films I bought. And I was curious. I think for now my curiosity has been met and defeated. Again for children back in the 1940s these were probably ok - some action, a ton of stock footage of wild animals (some repeated from the first film) and a bit of cheesecake for the young boys entering puberty. At the rate we are going most of these animals will be extinct some day and this may be all we will have to see them.

I enjoy some of these old B films for the supporting cast of favorites but this one has a group of actors only their mother would recognize. The first one at least had the future Superman. But we do have a bunch of actors in ape suits, a rubber crocodile and a rubber shark. Not to mention a few real lions. For its running time of 70 minutes there is actually a fair amount of action to keep the kiddies glued to their seats. Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) has two fights with sharks - take that Tarzan - one with a lion - 2 times with crocodiles - and with various villains. Worse though is fending off the advances of a man-eating blonde. All in one day. It must be exhausting to be Jungle Jim.

Jim is at home taking it easy in his short shorts - creepy on a middle age man believe me - when his friend the crow comes to tell him that something is amiss out in the jungle. So he follows the bird with his little dog Scout. Some sort of terrier I think. Not exactly an attack dog. Scout was in the first film too and seems to sort of take the place of Cheetah except not nearly as funny. But he goes on all these adventures with Jim and at one point Jim has to save him from a crocodile. Not really a big help.

At any rate it turns out some white men are trying to find out where the Lost City of Zam is, which doesn't look like much but has piles of diamonds. Diamonds on the soles of their shoes. And a lovely native maiden who gets Jim to help. He agrees (and thankfully he has magically switched to long pants) and on the way back saves a giant ape and her apelet from a lion. This proves to be a good thing later. At the speed that people seem to get from the Lost City to the white settlement it can't be much further than walking to you local grocery store - but mysteriously no one can find it. After getting captured and getting away and getting captured and getting away and getting captured and getting away, you begin to wonder just how smart Jungle Jim is. But he does have two babes chasing after him so who am I to judge.