Wednesday, August 21, 2013


As you know if you read this blog regularly, I enjoy B-movies of the 30s and 40s. With their cheap sets, unexceptional acting, flimsy scripts, and short running times, they are an acquired taste; today's younger moviegoers, used to more professionalism in any given cable TV program than they'll find in some of these films, probably never watch them. But for me there is something pleasurable about their unpretentious tone, their largely unknown cast members, and sometimes a style so primitive that I think, "Hell, I could have made this in my backyard!" And, of course, there is the pleasure of picking the film apart for its illogic or its plot loopholes or its boring and/or batshit-crazy performances. This movie is really no better or worse than hundreds of other B-movie adventure films, but it deserves to be enshrined in the "so bad it’s almost good" category.

Jean Preston is in India hunting for her fiancĂ© Greg Jones; he was last seen on safari but has vanished.  She and Greg's father learn from two natives named Tondra and Moya that Greg had mysteriously gone off to Africa on a solo safari with Moya as his guide, but before they can tell more, Moya is shot and killed. Leaving the dead body in her hotel room, Jean and Mr. Jones head off to Africa and into the jungle with an entourage including a young—and possibly sinister—admirer named Wayne, a comic-relief cook named Gabby, a handful of natives, and a hunky guide named Gary. We find out, in part through awkward narration from Mr. Jones, that Greg was actually investigating an ivory smuggling gang so they worry that harm has come to him. Actually, he has fallen in love with Zita, the Queen of the title, one of a group of women who survived a shipwreck years ago and have set up their own little village in the wilderness. When our gang gets to Zita's place, they discover that someone with a tie to Zita may be behind the smuggling ring.

The one strong point here is the plot which is as compelling as any average jungle melodrama—imagine Gary as Tarzan and Jean as Jane—but most of it is laid out as exposition. What little action there is comes mostly at the end, in a nicely done battle sequence between the good guys and the bad guys. The rest of the film is made up of bland dialogue scenes interspersed with obvious stock footage of lions and tigers and natives—lots of stock footage. Scenes tend to either end abruptly or take too long to fade away. The acting is mostly dreadful, but of course that's part of the fun. Patricia Morison is a total zero as Jean, as is Keith Richards (not the Rolling Stone) as Wayne. John Miljan is boring as the elder Jones, and Amira Moustafa, in her one starring role, is both exotic and unexciting as Zita. B-movie stalwart Robert Lowery (pictured with Moustafa) is fine as Gary and old pro J. Edward Bromberg does what he can with the underwritten part of Gabby. The best line is Gary's: “Zita, my dear, you're quite a queen.” Certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but my bad movie self was happy. [DVD]

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