Thursday, December 22, 2022

Perils of Nyoka (1942 serial)

Perils of Nyoka (later retitled Nyoka and the Tigermen) is a 15-part 1942 Republic serial. Most of Republic’s serials were very good but this one was directed by William Witney which means it’s very very good indeed. No-one was better at directing serials than Witney.

The character of Nyoka the Jungle Girl had first appeared in another very good Republic serial made a year earlier, Jungle Girl. In that serial Nyoka was played by Frances Gifford but for Perils of Nyoka she was replaced by Kay Aldridge.

The opening episode presents us with everything we could possibly hope for in a serial. There’s an exotic setting, there’s a quest for a lost treasure, there’s a crucial papyrus which tells where the treasure is to be found, there’s a beautiful glamorous evil queen (the Arab Queen Vultura) and there’s a guy in a gorilla suit. And then we meet the heroine and she’s cute and feisty.

The prize in this case is not just treasure, but medical secrets from the ancient world which could rid humanity of some of its most feared diseases. So we have the bad guys motivated by old-fashioned greed while the good guys are motivated by the desire to benefit the whole of humanity.

Finding the location of these secrets naturally involves endless complications. You have to get hold of that ancient papyrus. You have to find an inscription but the inscription is no good without the papyrus.

Only one living soul has the knowledge to translate the papyrus, an eminent scholar who has disappeared.

Or maybe there is one other person who could translate the papyrus - the missing scholar’s daughter. That daughter is of course Nyoka.

There’s plenty of potential for betrayals - some of the good guys might not be good guys after all. And the bad guys might well be prepared to double-cross each other.

As you would expect Nyoka manages to get herself captured a number of times, and threatened with torture and death. She spends quite a bit of time tied up or imprisoned. Nyoka however is by no means a helpless heroine. She can put up a pretty good fight when she needs to. She’s very handy with a gun and if she doesn’t have a gun she’ll still fight like a tigress. She’s the the type of heroine who is likely to faint when faced with danger.

She’s not quite a kickass action heroine in the modern sense. This serial doesn’t pretend that a rather petite female can throw huge guys around or punch out guys who weigh three times what she weighs. Nyoka fights like a girl, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Not at all. Nyoka knows that if there’s a fight she cannot rely on speed and strength so she relies instead on being resourceful and quick-witted. If one of the bad guys has one of the good guys on the ground a girl can always sneak up and bash the bad guy over the head with a vase or anything else that’s handy. When there’s a fight Nyoka doesn’t cower in a corner. She circles about looking for opportunities to help.

And of course she has Fang to help her. Fang is her dog. Fang is brave and loyal and super-intelligent.

Speaking of cute animals there’s also an adorable pet monkey. Everyone likes cute animals so this serial has them.

More than anything else what distinguishes a really good serial from a lesser one is the quality of the cliffhangers. In a lesser serial the cliffhangers can tend to be obvious and repetitive. In the best serials the cliffhangers are clever, imaginative and unpredictable. No-one ever did cliffhangers with more style and ingenuity than William Witney. He’ll never give you the same cliffhanger twice.

Kay Aldridge as Nyoka is the perfect heroine. She’s as cute as a button, she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s sexy (in a wholesome good girl way), she’s likeable, she’s feisty but she’s also totally feminine.

Lorna Gray as Vultura is the perfect villainess. She’s cunning and ruthless and cruel and she’s sexy (in an unwholesome bad girl way).

Charles Middleton (better known as Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials) as Cassib makes a fine henchman for Vultura.

Clayton Moore as Larry Grayson is a solid hero. He’s not just a square-jawed action hero. He’s smart and likeable.

There’s non-stop action and the action scenes are expertly staged.

For those who like that sort of thing there’s the opportunity to see the beautiful heroine tied up. She gets tied up a lot.

With a sexy good girl pitted against a sexy bad girl you might be wondering if you’re going to get to see a decent cat-fight between the two of them. Well have no fears. You will get your cat-fight.

In some serials you will get one or sometimes even two episodes almost entirely made up of clips from earlier episodes. It was a good way to save money but these recap episodes are always boring and irritating. Thankfully there’s none of that nonsense in Perils of Nyoka. There are also no episodes that can be dismissed as mere filler episodes. Every episode advances the plot and has its share of suspense and excitement.

My personal view is that the way to get the most out of a serial is to resist the temptation to binge-watch. If you limit yourself to watching one episode per day you’ll have more fun.

Perils of Nyoka has been released on Blu-Ray by Grapevine Video. When you see the opening credits sequence you get that awful sinking feeling that this is going to be another cruddy unrestored release but don’t panic. It’s only that brief opening credits sequence that has problems. Apart from that the transfer is quite lovely. Image quality is very sharp, contrast is excellent and there’s no print damage. It looks like somebody has actually spent the money for a high quality restoration. Either that or somebody has somehow managed to find the original negative in pristine condition and the odds against that are pretty high.

Perils of Nyoka is a top-grade serial and it’s consistently entertaining. It contains absolutely everything you could want in a serial and all the ingredients are blended perfectly. Very highly recommended.

Other great William Witney-directed Republic serials I’ve reviewed - Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) and Spy Smasher (1942). The latter may be the finest serial ever made.


  1. Well, if it's by the guy who directed the awesome Spy Smasher, that's the only recommendation I need. I'll add this to my 'to buy' list! Just wish Spy Smasher would get to Blu Ray

    1. William Witney really was the master. And nobody ever did cliffhanger endings with so much style and imagination.

      I highly recommend DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE.

  2. SPY SMASHER is a lot of fun but my fave Witney (with John English) is 1940's THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU.