Monday, May 2, 2016

Bomba, the Jungle Boy (Part 2)

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

There are many that disparage the Bomba films, but who don’t seem to get the fact that the films were made for and aimed at a young audience. Take a close look at the character of Bomba: He’s a definite animal lover; an early example of what we now call a tree-hugger. Today, he’d be an active member of Greenpeace. I would even venture to say that, along with the Warner cartoons, Bomba’s attitude toward hunters has had a strong influence on the generation that viewed his antics as children at the matinee or youngsters watching the movies on Saturday morning television.

Read Part 1 here.

Although Bomba appears physically mature (he seems to be in his early 20s), he’s still retains a boyish innocence about him. (The books also depict him in that manner.) And like the young male audience to who his films were aimed, Bomba has no time what us young boys called “mush.” The attractive young starlets he encounters in each film interest him about as much as a physics lesson. No matter how taken they are with him and how much they seek to attract his interest, the young ladies always seem to hit an unmovable stone wall. Producer Mirish knew his audience.

And Bomba seems contented in his version of “Walden.” Most other adventures stress the notion of community, a concept foreign to Bomba, who never knew his real family. A common theme in the Bomba movies is that of the white people he meets wanting to take him back with them to civilization. Bomba’s answer is invariably the same: “Not alone. With jungle friends. Always home.” In Bomba on Panther Island (1949), Judy (Allene Roberts), yet another gorgeous young woman who can’t rouse his romantic interest, simply remarks, “Well, independent seems to be the word for Bomba!”

And there’s the essence of his connection to his audience. The films make for great fantasy escapes for a young boy. Bomba lives alone in the jungle, far away from bothersome brothers, sisters, grownups and, especially, teachers. Bomba learns at his own pace. He’s not one for sitting still in a classroom. In Elephant Stampede (1951), exotic village girl Lola (Donna Martell) is teaching him his ABC's while attempting to seduce him. But Lola’s skin-tight sarong is no match for the excitement that comes from learning to spell l-i-o-n, which, along with the elephant, is his favorite animal.

Directed and mostly written by Ford Beebe, the Bomba movies are a product of their times. The scripts contain pro-ecology and anti-capitalist themes so obvious and simply stated as to go against the pro-growth and pro-business attitude of the adult world. The bad guys always want to destroy the forest or hunt the animals to extinction, and it’s up to Bomba to stop them.

In something of a turnaround from the usual depiction in these sort of films, the natives are seen as intelligent and, for the most part, helpful. They may be superstitious, but on the whole they are smarter than the white interlopers that seek to destroy or loot their land. For instance, when Robert Maitland (Harry Lewis), the developer in Bomba on Panther Island, is warned that his plan to clear timber with fire is likely to “burn off half of Africa,” he merely answers: “Small loss, if you ask me.” On the other hand, the village chief (Martin Wilkins) in Elephant Stampede welcomes the teacher, Miss Banks (Edith Evanson), telling her that his subjects will never have a better way of life without education.

Bomba’s gentleness extends beyond his treatment of women. Bomba, unlike some other jungle heroes, is a reluctant killer. He doesn’t triumphantly beat his chest or celebrate when winning a battle with a crocodile, leopard, or lion. In Elephant Stampede (1951), he tosses a python from a tree rather than killing it, and we see the snake slithering away unharmed. In the early films, his trusted companion is a capuchin monkey (actually found in South America, not Africa); later after his pet is killed, he adopts a chimp. Unlike Tarzan, Bomba does not yell his lungs out; his way of communication is via squawks, caws and grunts.

In Elephant Stampede, he talks about pachyderms, declaring that, “They’re so big and strong and yet so gentle. They’re my friends. Sometimes at night I sleep between their feet.”

In The Lion Hunters (1951), Bomba invades a safari camp and frees several big cats that have been captured for sale to zoos. Later, when he meets the pretty and well-meaning Jean (Ann Todd), herself the daughter of a lion-trapper, he asks her to consider the plight of the captured beasts. “You think lions like that? Jungle animals need freedom. I’d rather die than be put in a cage. Lions are my friend. They like freedom.” Later in the film, he forces a conniving white hunter (Douglas Kennedy) into one of the bamboo pens: “Maybe animals like look at people in cage.” This remark is followed by a montage of stock-footage animal closeups used as reaction shots, as if the creatures have gathered to gawk and hoot at the captive hunter.

Bomba’s origins are sketchy, and meant to be that way. Seen at first like some sort of jungle legend, his presence always seems like a surprise to the safaris that invade his realm. Commissioner Andy (Charles Irwin) describes Bomba to the safari in Bomba on Panther Island as “one of those African legends you wouldn’t believe.” In The Lion Hunters, no-good hunter Martin (Kennedy) calls him a “jungle brat,” and a “breech-clothed jungle kid.”

The series does its best to make maximum use of its locations and stock footage to pad out its running time, including that time honored shot of macaques leaping through the trees that seems to be a part of every B-level jungle adventure, along with the familiar shot of elephants stampeding. No one will ever confuse them with such classics as Tarzan (1932), but they are much better than many of the B-jungle epics that came later. Just sit back, watch, and enjoy. At an average of about 70 minutes for each film they move and are over quickly, unlike some later adventures that seem as if they go on for hours.

African Treasure (Monogram, 1952) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: Johnny Sheffield, Laurette Luez, Martin Garralaga, Lyle Talbot, Lenard Mudie, Arthur Space, Lane Bradford, Smoki Whitfield, James Adamson, Sugarfoot Anderson,Wesley Bly, Woody Strode, Jack Williams, & Kimbbo the Chimp. B&W, 70 minutes.

A hunting expedition, consisting of Professor Catesby, two Americans and Pedro Sebastian, a native guide, has been missing for days. Also, hunter Pat Gilroy (Talbot) is asking for someone to bring him to the nearest village so he can hire guides.

Meanwhile Bomba is busy saving Lita Sebastian (Luez) and her servant from a lion attack. Lita’s also looking for her father, and Bomba accompanies her while his chimpanzee friend, Kimbbo, sends a message throughout the jungle for more information.

Bomba then hears a message coming via the jungle drum wireless telegraph. It’s from Andy Barnes wanting Bomba to locate Catesby and his party. Bomba replies that he will first take Lita to Nomgola’s village to look for clues about her father. However, when they arrive, they find Catesby and Nomgola, are dead.

Kimoo’s friends inform Bomba that the hunting party has been located, We later learn that two hunters, Greg (Space) and Hardy (Bradford), are the killers and are in cahoots with Gilroy, who is a notorious diamond smuggler. Gilroy forces Andy to take him to his partners.

Bomba and Lita find that Greg and Hardy have enslaved Pedro and Nomgola's tribesmen to mine for diamonds. Bomba and Andy overpower and arrest the baddies, who are arrested and taken to Nairobi. Pedro and Lita are reunited.

African Treasure is padded with more stock footage than usual, perhaps to compensate for the somewhat incredible plot. Sheffield also pads out the running time with quite a bit of vine swinging and swimming. Lyle Talbot, veteran of many a B-movie at this juncture in his career and was about to join the Ed Wood, Jr. stock company, gives an adequate heel performance. Luez, born Loretta Mary Luiz in Honolulu in August 1928, looks good in a sarong, but never rose beyond the B’s. She’s best known to psychotronic film fans for her starring role as Tigri in the incredible cheesy 1950 opus, Prehistoric Women, released through Eagle-Lion.  Her last screen appearance was as “Felina” in the B-Western The Ballad of a Gunfighter (1964).

This was Woody Strode’s second Bomba film. Of African/Cree/Blackfoot descent on his father’s side and African/Cherokee descent on his mother’s, he was a decathlete and All-American football star at UCLA, where he broke the team’s color barrier along with teammates Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson. After college, he helped break the color barrier in the NFL when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams. He claimed that his interracial marriage to Hawaiian princess Launa Kalaeloa (who often doubled for Dorothy Lamour in swimming scenes) drove him out of the NFL, and he wound up signing with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. In 1941, he began a part-time career as a professional wrestler. He made it a full-time occupation in 1951 and worked steadily between films for about 10 years. He also acted in films and formed a strong friendship with director John Ford, who cast Strode to star in Sergeant Rutledge (1960).

Interiors for the movie were shot on the Monogram soundstages with the outdoor footage shot as Bronson Canyon and the Iverson Ranch in nearby Chatsworth.

Bomba and the Jungle Girl (Monogram, 1952) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: Johnny Sheffield, Karen Sharpe, Walter Sande, Suzette Harbin, Martin Wilkins, Morris Buchanan, Leonard Mudie, Don Blackman, Amanda Rudolph, Bruce Carruthers, Roy Glenn, Jack Clisby, Bill Walker, & Kimbbo the Chimp. B&W, 70 minutes.

Bomba is having an existential crisis, wondering why his animal friends have parents and he does not. Embarking on a quest to find his origins, he travels to a village, headed by Chief Gamboso (Wilkins), where his parents were last seen. The chief and his daughter deny all knowledge, but Bomba locates a blind woman named Linasi (Randolph) who tells him the chief and his daughter murdered them. She tells him about a cave where their remains lie, but is killed before she can divulge anything further.

Linda Ward (Sharpe), who Bomba had earlier rescued from a crocodile, tells him her father (Sande) is investigating conditions in the village for the government. Bomba learns that the chief and his daughter, Baru (Harbin), are planning to have the Wards whacked. He rescues them and brings them to a nearby village, which they find is deserted. Baru and her men set fire to the brush around the village, driving Bomba and the Wards to a cave.

Grabbing Baru and her bodyguard as prisoners, Bomba takes them to the cave, where he finds the skeletons of his parents and a diary that details the parents’ last days. Baru and her bodyguard attempt to escape, and while escaping, Baru conveniently falls into a volcano located at the center of the caves. Days later, after the fire is brought under control and Chief Gamboso has been sent to jail, the commissioner names a new leader of the tribe. When the Wards look for Bomba to thank him, however, they find he is gone. Barnes explains that Bomba acts not to receive praise but only to see justice accomplished.

'Jungle Girl' Karen Sharpe in dance and theater, never made it out of the Bs, but struck it rich later in life when she married producer/director Staley Kramer in 1966, after which she retired from acting to become a mother and co-producer with her husband.

Safari Drums (Allied Artists, 1953) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: John Sheffield, Barbara Bestar, Emory Parnell, Paul Marion, Douglas Kennedy, Leonard Mudie, Smoki Whitfield, James Adamson, Russ Conway, Rory Mallinson, Jack Williams, & Carleton Young. B&W, 71 minutes.

A group of filmmakers arrive in Africa to make a film about jungle wildlife. One of their party kills a geologist and Bomba the Jungle Boy must find the guilty party while helping them compete their movie. But when they needlessly kill a lion, Bomba leaves them, later learning they imported a tiger with which to stage a fight with a lion for their film. Bomba finds the killer, who is chased by lions into a hut, where the cats kill him. Though the police tell the filmmakers they violated no law in bringing in the tiger, they get their just desserts when Bomba’s friend Kimbbo exposes the film.

The Golden Idol (Allied Artists, 1954) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: Johnny Sheffield, Anne Kimbell, Paul Guilfoyle, Leonard Mudie, Smoki Whitfield, Rick Vallin, Lane Bradford, Roy Glenn, James Adamson, William Tannen, Don C. Harvey, Bill Walker, Robert Bice, & Kimbbo the Chimp. B&W, 71 minutes.

Evil Arab chieftain Ali Ben Mamoud (Guilfoyle) has stolen the Golden Idol of Watusi from a village chief. Bomba later relieved him of it, but Mamoud wants it back and hires soldier of fortune Joe Hawkins (Bradford) to get it for him.

Archeologist Karen Marsh (Kimbell) from a British museum is seeking to purchase it. Mamoud and Hawkins have taken Marsh captive, along with Andy Barnes (Mudie), telling Bomba they will torture Ms. Marsh unless he gives the idol back to them. Bomba relents, but alerts the local police by jungle drum. Before he can hand over the treasure, the police arrive to arrest the baddies.

Hawkins and Mamoud escape, but Bomba is in hot pursuit. He overturns their boat in the river, and Mamoud drowns after being ensnared in the coils of a huge python. Bomba then overpowers Hawkins after an underwater fight and hands him over to the police. Karen can now purchase the idol, with the proceeds being turned over to the tribe, as Bomba has promised.

Having appeared on Broadway, Anne Kimball began her film career in a uncredited role in the Betty Grable musical, Mother Wore Tights, for Fox in 1947. In the ensuing years, she made several films before earning her first screen credit in Monogram’s Wagons West (1952), starring Rod Cameron. She worked strictly in the B’s, with her most famous films during this time being a starring role in Roger Corman’s Monster From the Ocean Floor (1954) and a supporting role in Allied Artists’ The Bob Mathias Story, also in 1954. She moved to England in 1958, where she co-starred in the comedy Girls at Sea, before leaving films to marry a Foreign Service officer, with whom she toured the world. After her divorce, she settled in Westcliffe, Colorado, where she is the founder and director of the non-profit Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts. She has also authored several thrillers, including To Catch A Spy (2000) and The Ibeji Twins (2004).

Killer Leopard (Allied Artists, 1954) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: Johnny Sheffield, Beverly Garland, Barry Bernard, Donald Murphy, Leonard Mudie, Smoki Whitfield, Russ Conway, Rory Mallinson, Harry Cording, Charles Stevens, Roy Glenn, Bill Walker, Guy Kingsford, & Milton Wood. B&W, 70 minutes.

Movie actress Linda Winters (Garland) has gone into the jungle to find her lost husband Fred (Murphy). Bomba the Jungle Boy helps in the rescue effort. A major obstacle facing them is a killer leopard specializing in tearing people limb from limb.

The police are also looking for Fred on charges of embezzlement. Fred and his cohort Charlie Pulham (Bernard) have traveled to a diamond mine to purchase illegal diamonds from Saunders (Cording), the mine's crooked superintendent. Charlie later tries to extort money from Saunders, who kills him and tells Fred the police are coming. As they try to escape, Bomba captures them, intending to turn them over to the police. The leopard appears and Bomba dispatches it. Fred finds a gun, and as he is about to shoot Bomba, the police intervene and arrest him.

The film benefits from the presence of Garland in the role of Linda. Known to film fans as “The Queen of the B’s,” she began her film career in 1950 as “Miss Foster” in the noir D.O.A. Before her retirement in 2004, she amassed 192 credits in movies and television. Her best-known roles were three films she made for Roger Corman: Gunslinger (1956), Swamp Women (1956), and It Conquered the World (1956), that have been riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and as Fred MacMurray’s wife on the television sitcom My Three Sons.

Lord of the Jungle (Allied Artists, 1955) – Written and directed by Ford Beebe. Cast: Johnny Sheffield, Wayne Morris, Nancy Hale, Paul Picerni, William Phipps, Smoki Whitfield, Leonard Mudie, James Adamson, Joel Fluellen, Harry Lauter, & Juanita Moore. B&W, 69 minutes.

Hunters Jeff Woods (Morris), Paul Gavin (Picerni), and Kenny Balou (Phipps) have been assigned to exterminate a herd of rogue elephants. But Bomba is convinced that there is only one rogue, and prevents the hunters from carrying out their assignment.

Because the animals live on Bomba's land, Commissioner Andy Barnes (Mudie) is reluctant to give the hunters permission to trespass. However, after the elephants stage another stampede, Woods and his associates are given the okay to slaughter the herd.

Complicating matters is a visit by Barnes' niece Mona (Hale), who has arrived after an argument with her fiancé, a doctor who wants to practice in the jungle. Naturally, she hates it in Africa, and being spoiled and used to getting her own way, she adds to Bomba's troubles.

To make sure the hunters will not kill all the elephants, Bomba steals their weapons. Barnes tells Bomba that he’s in trouble with the law, but Bomba asserts that it’s only an elephant named Raju that is the rogue, and if Barnes dispatches him, the others will revert to their former peaceful behavior. Barnes reluctantly accepts the offer.

While Bomba and his elephant friend, Kobu, are looking for Raju, Mona becomes lost in the jungle. They find Raju, but he signals the others to stampede, and in the process they almost trample Mona, who is rescued at the last minute when Bomba swings down on a vine and carries her away. Barnes then shoots Raju and the others immediately revert to peaceful behavior. Bomba has proved his point, and the next morning leads a procession of the now peaceful elephants to the station. Jeff, Paul and Kenny are convinced that there is no reason to kill them. Mona then tells Bomba that she and her fiancé have reconciled and she supports his desire to become a doctor in Africa. Bomba happily states that Lewis is the luckiest man in the world, then waves goodbye to Mona before returning to the jungle.

This marks the end of the series, though there is no formal ending. The storyline in Lord of the Jungle is more complex and introduces explicit ideas concerning animal rights. Bomba's suggestion that because elephants are naturally docile and harmless only the renegade leader bull needs be killed. That is ignored until Bomba proves it at the risk of his life.

That this movie played out more like an episode of a television series seem to have been no accident. Shortly after the series, Johnny Sheffield and his father, Reginald, shot a pilot for a television series titled Bantu, the Zebra Boy. Although on a par with the other jungle series of the period, such as Jungle JimRamar of the Jungle, and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle in terms of plot, cast and production values, a sponsor could not be found and the series never got off the ground. The series was to have featured a gimmick whereby Bantu turns a bracelet over to begin a good deed and turns it back when the good deed is performed. Bantu’s main animal ally is a zebra named Zulu, who supposedly could be ridden, although Sheffield learned that it was not always the case.

No comments:

Post a Comment