Saturday, February 19, 2011


In this serial set in an unnamed jungle country (probably in South America), the Tiger Woman is a white-goddess figure and benevolent ruler to her tribe, who co-exist peacefully with the "civilized" community of Belleville nearby. The Inter Ocean Oil Company, represented by Allen Saunders, is about to lose its lease on some tribe-controlled land and bad guys from a rival oil company are about to swoop in. They know something that Saunders doesn't: Tiger Woman is actually Rita Arnold, an heiress to millions; she and her father were lost in a plane crash years ago--the father died but the daughter was raised by the tribe, and the proof of her identity is sealed inside a sacred urn kept by the tribe elder. The baddies (led by Morgan and Dagget) want to find the proof, dispose of the Tiger Woman, and have someone pose as Arnold to claim her fortune for them. Over the course of 12 chapters, Saunders, his sidekick Jose, and the Tiger Woman battle numerous efforts by Morgan and Dagget to accomplish their evil schemes.

I concluded a few years ago that, although I love the idea of serial adventure movies, in practice, they just don't hold up today for me. One exception is DRUMS OF FU MANCHU; this is another. The formula here is a bit numbing: each 15-minute chapter involves the heroes getting out of the last cliffhanger, some conversations among the bad guys about what to do next, a sudden shootout or fistfight scene, some more exposition, and another action scene leading to the cliffhanger. They certainly cram lots of action in. Chapter 1 opens with one minute of speedily-delivered exposition followed immediately by an action scene. In Chapter 6 alone (Dungeon of the Doomed), there is an out-of-control mine elevator, an ambush in a bar, the hijacking of a truck, a shootout in a cave, and a roaring oil fire inside said cave. There are lots of other interesting action scenes which play out nicely and help push this serial a notch above most. Early on, we see a tribal ritual in which someone is dangled over a lava pit while a young totsy does a sexy dance before the victim gets dropped to his death. In the Cathedral of the Sky God, some villains are killed by their own weapons: weakened stalactites which fall from a cave ceiling. A speedboat crashes spectacularly into a riverboat. Shacks explode. Many vehicles go barreling over cliffs and waterfalls. One fistfight is set in the back of a speeding truck; yes, the actors are obviously fighting in front of rear-projection footage of the road, but it's still effective. As for acting, the less said the better. Allan Lane, better known as "Rocky" Lane in a series of 40s westerns, makes a good hero and Duncan Renaldo (the Cisco Kid on TV) is the faithful sidekick. The bad guys who parade across the screen are interchangeable and unmemorable (and an unusually large number of them actually get killed in gunfights). Linda Stirling makes for a glamorous Tiger Woman, but she can't really act to save her life. No matter; with all these fights and deaths and cliffhangers (and some fairly good sets and matte painting backgrounds), who needs acting? [DVD]

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