TARZAN IN PANTS
In the late 1940s Sam Katzman lost the Tarzan movie license. Coincidentally, Johnny Weismuller was getting a little long in the tooth to keep strapping on the loincloth. So, Katzman had a brilliant idea. Why not put pants on him and call him Jungle Jim? Problem solved.
Someone’s hip to the scheme
Which brings me to today’s movie, FURY OF THE CONGO (1951). It’s in Bill Warren’s excellent compendium of ‘50s (and slightly later) sf movies, so, I thought, what the heck, and gave it a shot.
In the first shot of Weismuller, he’s in shorts getting ready to dive into a lake. One check on the Tarzan Meter. He has a chimp companion (named Tamba). Check two. He doesn’t carry a gun. Check three. He talks like Tarzan, though a bit more polysyllabically. Check four. He swings on vines. Check five, and done.
FURY is a fairly straightforward jungle adventure tale (with a pocket-sized desert thrown in). Lots of stock footage and chimp hijinks pad out the 69 minute run time. Lots of hiking through the jungle (and desert), which looks suspiciously like southern California with a few potted plants stuck in the shrubbery to give it that exotic look. One bit of gratuitous animal abuse where JJ kills a panther with his knife (in JJ’s defense, it was trying to eat one of the natives).
Jungle Jim, center, Tamba (taking control of the situation, as usual), right.
But then there’s the weird stuff.
I snatched a cheap VHS copy of this off eBay, and the scene on the front of the box appears nowhere in this movie. The summary on the box’s back states: “The animals are sacred to a primitive Amazon tribe…The smuggler and his brutal henchmen…attempt to force Jim and the men of the Amazon tribe…” Amazon? With chimps, lions, giraffes, and a hippo in the stock footage? Hello. The name of the movie is Fury of the CONGO.
Then there’s the animals that the brutal smuggler are trying to capture. The rare Okongo which eats a narcotic plant, concentrates its essence in a certain “gland,” which the bad guys do horrible things to the Okongo (thankfully off screen) to extract, which they intend to sell to kids in the big cities to shoot up (I guess.). The Okongo, which of course doesn’t actually exist, are portrayed by cute little ponies painted with stripes on their front and hindquarters.
Thrilling Okongo stampede. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clearer picture of their fabulous paint jobs.
Then there’s the propinquity of “desert” and “jungle,” the fact that Tamba disappears with regularity for great swathes of the film only to reappear when necessary for the plot (like to push her pal JJ into quicksand), and, also, the giant spider, possibly the least awesome in cinema-graphic history.
But here’s the really weird thing, which prompted me to write this review.
We’re in Africa, here (despite what the back of the VHS box says), so of course there’s a primitive tribe involved in the goings-on. I was actually impressed by the way the movie treated them. They were courageous, even noble, and when opportunity presented itself, took it to the well-armed bad guys with zest and elan. Let me digress for a moment and mention that apparently there are more Jungle Jim fans out there than I suspected. Forty-six percent who rated this film on IMDB gave it a ten. There were a handful of reviews on IMDB, mostly favorable, and, as I was searching the innertubes for photos, ran across quite a few more which I scanned to see if anyone else noted a fact that was blindingly obvious to me at first glance. The natives were white. White. Okay, a few looked Asian, but most were Caucasian. Some looked maybe Italian, others maybe somewhat Hispanic, but indubitably, utterly, Caucasian AND NO ELSE ONE BUT ME SEEMS TO HAVE NOTICED THIS.
I rest my case.
What the hell?
Not a bad jungle adventure, but it has to lose points over this dubious casting decision. Also, a fair amount of filler with people trudging/and or running through the jungle/desert. I’ll give it 6 and recommend it to jungle adventure fans. It would also serve as a basis for a decent drinking game. Just down a brew every time someone says “Okongo.”