Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“I could sure go for a charbroiled hamburger sammich and some french-fried potatoes.”

So, who’s up for a little “white man’s burden”? Well, too bad, because you’re going to get some anyway. Today’s low budget entry from 1948, Jungle Goddess stars future Superman George Reeves and is chock full of racism and offensiveness both intentional AND unintentional.

So we’ve got two ex-army air force pilots chillin’ in Africa after WWII. One is the womanizing, hard-drinking captain (like a good many actual pilots) and the other is a clean-cut, not-drunk, polite co-pilot (and very unlike the pilots I’ve drunk with). They run a small passenger plane but get word that some rich girl got lost somewhere in Africa when her plane went down right before the War. Hoping to cash in on the reward for finding out what happened to her, they go into the jungle, cause an incident when one of them shoots an African tribesman and are taken before their “goddess” who is, not surprisingly in the least, the missing woman. And there’s some bullshit about how she’s worshipped by the tribe and how if they found out she wasn’t actually a real deity they’d be (understandably) royally pissed. Can they make it back to their plane in time??? Yeah, this one’s…not at all deep.

Mike Patton: George Reeves plays our hero, the second banana of the duo. Nice enough guy, just quite patronizing. Finds Uranium near the village and wants to come back with an expedition which I’m sure wouldn’t piss off the natives one bit.

Bob Simpson: Ralph Byrd (who played Dick Tracy a bunch of times) plays the mustachioed pilot. Certainly drinks like a pilot. When they land in the jungle he shoots a native who happens to stumble upon them. Generally a sleazy, paranoid jerk.

Greta Vanderhorn: Wanda McKay plays the missing daughter of a South African rich guy. Called “Mata Greta” by the tribe because she’s blonde and white and bowed down to worship her immediately upon seeing her, which sounds farfetched to say the least.

Wanama: Armida plays Greta’s servant who is learning English from her. A nice enough girl that Bob shamelessly tries to seduce but not too bright. Nor is she African by any stretch of the imagination, with the actress being born in Mexico. (there’s also a villager played by a Filipino actor)

Oolonga the Witch Doctor: Smoki Whitfeld plays the tribe’s witch doctor who, oddly enough doesn’t think the white woman in their midst actually IS a goddess. And he’s somehow the antagonist. He’s the badass of the film out of sheer spite.

Directed by Lewis D. Collins (who had a long directing career), this movie would wear it’s budget on it’s sleeves, if it could afford them. The sets are obviously fake, there’s a lot of stock footage used, and the models for the airplanes don’t synch up with each other from scene to scene. There are animals on set, but a good number of them are not native to jungle areas and the whole thing just looks and feels cheap. This was definitely one of the many, many low budget b films cranked out by the studios in the 40s regardless of quality, only this one feels like it was much lower quality than most.

“Idea” by William Stevens (who was also the producer) and written by Jo Pagano. The story is virtually non-existent. Characters are ill-developed, Bob turns into a backstabbing villain for no reason whatsoever and you can tell that the script was pounded out as soon as possible without any care going into it. The plot itself feels like it might factor in as a subplot to some Adventure Serial, but to carry a whole movie by itself? It doesn’t work.

Original Music by Irving Getz and an original song, “There’s No One In My Heart But You” by Irving Bibo. That song gets used in the very first scene in a cantina/nightclub, which seems like an odd place to put the one and only musical number.

Jungle Goddess is the kind of movie that was cranked out as a means to keep the actors and crew employed until the next film came along through the studio pipeline. This looks like it was cranked out as soon as possible and nearly as quickly forgotten. It’s boring, it’s quite racist, and everyone looks like they’re phoning it in. However, considering it was 1948, it does feature a large cast of black actors, which, considering the general “whiteness” of movies at that time, at least provided them with a paying gig. An offensive, degrading gig, but a gig nonetheless. Not at all recommended.

Shockingly, there are not a lot of clips for this movie online. Suffice it to say that this is little clip is more than enough.

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