Thursday, August 27, 2015


Rob Maitland (Harry Lewis) is in the jungles of Africa with his daughter Judy, on, what we are told, amounts to an island, hoping to build a plantation from scratch. However, he is having trouble keeping native workers employed to clear the land—they are superstitious and fear that cutting down the trees will rouse evil spirits. They also tell Eli, Rob's native assistant, that they think Rob's native housekeeper Losana is inhabited by the spirit of a panther, and indeed a panther has been prowling around and attacking the workmen. Rob and Judy are living with Mr. Barnes, colonial overseer, who tries to steer Rob on a middle path between native superstition and Western expansionism.

Enter Bomba, the Jungle Boy (Johnny Sheffield), who is, as Barnes tells Rob, "one of those jungle legends," an American boy left orphaned in the jungle at the age of 7, and now ten years later a strapping, self-sufficient teenager who speaks in broken English. We have earlier seen Bomba stalking a panther that killed his chimpanzee buddy, and now, when he helps a worker wounded by the panther get back to Barnes' house, Bomba gets entangled in the affairs of Rob and company. Rob is happy that Bomba might kill the dreaded panther, but the natives are unhappy because they call the panther—who might be Losana—taboo and think killing it will jinx them. Judy, who is tired of the jungle and wants to go back "where life means more than heat and insects and superstition and certain failure," is eventually charmed by Bomba, and he by her. When Losana gets a little flirty with Bomba, a mild triangle threatens to develop (though it never amounts to much dramatically). As far as what does develop dramatically, take note of two casually-dropped references early in the film: 1) Rob is thinking of clearing the trees by setting a fire; 2) Barnes' house is reinforced because occasionally, a "stiff wind from the veldt" blows up.

As I’d noted in an earlier review, I avoided Bomba movies for most of my life, but I'm enjoying discovering them now. Once you accept the limitations of the studio (Monogram, king of Poverty Row), the budgets (low but not bottom of the barrel), and the actors (mid-range but sincere), they are good Saturday-matinee fun. Like the first film, this one does a decent job of integrating stock footage—of monkeys in trees, of crocodiles, of panthers—with studio sets. Whenever the action starts to slow down, they cut to stock footage. Sheffield is growing on me; in the first film, I found him rather monotone and morose, but now I believe that his performance is crafted that way. He smiles more this time around—maybe because he's got two lovely ladies paying attention to him. He’s also hunky, in a stocky college wrestler kind of way, and more so than Weissmuller's Tarzan (for whom Sheffield played "Boy" for a while), his innocence and naivety seem genuine. Harry Lewis is fine as the antagonist, who for a change is not portrayed as broadly evil, just misguided. Irish actor Charles Irwin is OK as Barnes, and Allene Roberts is good as Judy. Lita Baron gets the thankless role of the mostly silent Losana, whose possible supernatural essence is teasingly suggested though nothing really comes of it. I've heard the series declines over the next few years, but until they do, I'll keep watching them—on Saturday afternoons with a big tub of popcorn in my lap. (Pictured are Sheffield, Roberts, and Woods.) [DVD]

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