20 September 2012 | lugonian
Jungle Jim and the City of Gold
THE LOST TRIBE (Columbia, 1949), directed by William Berke, returns Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan movie fame (1932-1948) to his newfound role as Jungle Jim. Based on the comic strip character created by Alex Raymond, this second installment, though slightly better than the series opener, JUNGLE JIM (1948), is typically formula stuff. For the Saturday matinée crowd pleaser, there's non-stop action as hero matches wits against villains trespassing on a hidden city of people people somewhere beyond the mountain.
Starting off with African scenery and stock footage of various animals, a voice-over narrative reads off passages such as, "This is the jungle ... the kingdom of the animals where the savage lion rules ... and home of the tribesman ...it is not the leopard's fangs nor the lion's claws that he fears,these are the dangers they can cope with, it is no longer a problem of survival, it is now a question of greed." The greed the narrator is pertaining to is the greed of white men. The next scene finds two native men shot by Sam Weklen (John Melton) and his partner, Avery (George DeNormand), who, by orders of Captain Rawlins (Ralph Dunn), is to follow the trail that leads to a secret city. Witnessed by a crow named Caw-Caw, the bird flies over to the camp of Jungle Jim and warns him (in crow lingo) of the dangers ahead. Sensing something wrong, Jim (Johnny Weissmuller), accompanied by his dog, Skipper, follow the crow to the other side of the jungle where he finds the intruders have already been killed by a lion now after a native girl, Li-Wanna (Elena Verdugo) whom Jim saves. He learns Li-Wanna has been sent by her patriarch father, Chief Zoron (Nelson Leigh) to locate him for help. In fear of possible invasion in their sacred city, Zoron believes that, through the offering of a small pouch of diamonds to the white men, might satisfy them enough to go away. Chot (Paul Marion), son of Zoron, turns out to be the one responsible for the news about the hidden city by earlier leaving the territory, encountering and becoming infatuated with Norina (Myrna Dell), and through the course of time, treasuring her with gifts of diamonds and crystals. Although Chot believes she cares for him, Norina, associated with Calhoun (Joseph Vitale), posing as her uncle, and Captain Rawlins, uses this young naive native for their own purpose. After Jim comes on the vessel to offer the men a pouch of diamonds as a peace offering, Rawlins accepts the gift and "promises" to leave. However, the promise is proved false, no doubt. As Norina's methods of acquiring information needed from Jim fails, Rawlins' men overpower, abduct and hold him prisoner on board the captain's vessel where Jim is subjected to beatings while helplessly strung up.
The basic element of outside intruders stirring up trouble is hardly new but always good basic screen material. Somewhat compared to James Hilton's LOST HORIZON (Columbia, 1937), the city of Dzamm may not be a Shangri-La, but a paradise haven headed by a bearded white haired man looking more like Moses than Chang. Dzamm doesn't offer eternal youth, only eternal richness of gold to turn ordinary people into greedy thieves. Anyone familiar with Weissmuller's early screen offerings of TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE (MGM, 1941) and TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (RKO, 1945), can't help but notice such similarities THE LOST TRIBE has to offer, particularly AMAZONS where the principal players have to journey long distance to enter the hidden city. Though AMAZONS has the presence of Barton MacLane as the ruthless villain, a pity he didn't assumed a similar portrayal here since he's a better known and stronger presence than Ralph Dunn. Myrna Dell provides some uplifting moments as the bad girl trying to gather information from Jim (who prefers drinking coconut milk) by flirting with him, while Elena Verdugo offers whatever possible as an attractive figure in a sarong.
Reportedly produced on a "shoe-string" budget, production values for THE LOST TRIBE is of higher caliber than one would expect. The basic situations are laughable at times indicating it's not to be taken very seriously. One of the basic flaws is the continuity. The initial 15 minutes of has Jungle Jim in short pants and undershirt going through a long journey. After being invited to the city of Dzamm, the next scene finds him in safari clothes, boots and white hat. What a quick change artist he is.
So not to be a disappointment to fans of his Tarzan series, Weissmuller, having put on additional pounds since last seen in loincloth, goes through his traditional moments diving into the water (fully clothed), facing great danger wrestling a (plastic) crocodile and shark (though not at the same time), and saving a giant gorilla protecting its young from the claws of a dangerous lion. Obviously a man in a gorilla suit, the petite King Kong acts more human than humans do. However, this ape called Simba becomes an important part of the film's climax. In closing, amusing moments in this photo-play come from the animals, namely the dog, Skipper. One scene early in the story has Skipper getting cat licked early by a raccoon. In later episodes, the dog would appropriately be substituted by a chimpanzee similar to Cheta's duties of the Tarzan movies.
Shown irregularly on commercial television from the 1960s to early 70s, American Movie Classics picked up its option by airing the Jungle Jim series (1997-2000) before making its Turner Classic Movies premiere August 3, 2012. Weissmuller has seen better days during his years playing Tarzan, but at least the "Jungle Jim" series kept his career going for a few more years. Next installment: MARK OF THE GORILLA (1950)(**)