Friday, March 13, 2020
Jungle Girl (1941)
Jungle Girl is supposedly based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now Burroughs did indeed write a novel called Jungle Girl. And a very good novel it is too - you can read my review here. But there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between this novel and the Jungle Girl serial. Obviously Republic bought the rights to the book since the Edgar Rice Burroughs name would be a definite box-office asset and then proceeded to create their own story. Which doesn't matter. Jungle Girl is a fine novel, and the Jungle Girl serial is terrific as well. They’re just not related in any way.
Nyoka (Frances Gifford) does seem a little bit like a lady Tarzan. She travels through the jungle by swinging through the trees on vines, she rides elephants and she knows the jungle like the back of her hand. But Nyoka is not an orphan raised by apes. She lives in the depths of the West African rainforest in the unexplored region of the Simbula Swamps, in the territory of the Masamba tribe. She lives there with her father, Dr John Meredith. Many years earlier Dr Meredith saved the life of the chief of the Masamba and as a result he was made the tribe’s witch doctor or medicine man and he has spent the intervening years bringing the benefits of modern medicine to the Masamba.
There is a reason that Dr Meredith has chosen to remain deep in the jungle and and has chosen to raise his daughter Nyoka there. He has an evil twin brother named Bradley, a notorious criminal now serving a long prison sentence, and his self-imposed exile is his way of avoiding any contact with his brother, and avoiding the scandals associated with his brother. Nyoka is therefore, like Tarzan, caught between two worlds. She has picked up a western education from her father and she has picked up the lore of the jungle as well.
The key is the Lion Amulet, which is not only the badge of office of the current medicine man, it also allows across to the Caves of Nakros. That’s where the tribe keeps its treasure. And that treasure consists of an immense hoard of diamonds.
Slick Latimer and Bradley Meredith have their own plans to get hold of the Lion Amulet, with Bradley Meredith posing as his brother.
We also have a pretty cool villain in Slick Latimer, played by Gerald Mohr who positively drips with evilness.
It’s quite amusing that very few of the Masamba tribesmen look even slightly African. In fact I think the actors playing those parts cover just about every ethnicity except African. The Masamba chief is played by a Hawaiian while the evil witch doctor Shamba is played by a Syrian.
Daredevils of the Red Circle. And one cute touch is that in this serial it’s the heroine, not the hero, who wrassles crocodiles and lions barehanded. She gets captured a lot and has to be rescued, but Jack and his sidekick Curly also get captured a lot and Nyoka does her share of rescuing.
There’s also the obligatory cute kid, with an obligatory cute pet (a remarkably intelligent monkey).
With most serials you have to put up with at least one filler chapter made up of flashbacks from earlier chapters but that’s not the case here. There are also no real pacing problems - the action keeps moving along pretty nicely.
VCI’s DVD release is very pleasing. The transfers are very good. The earlier VHS releases of this serial have a very poor reputation (even by VHS standards) for image quality but there’s nothing to complain of here.
Jungle Girl is certainly a superior serial. It’s better acted than most, the jungle setting is utilised well, the cliffhangers are great and it’s generally very enjoyable viewing. Highly recommended.