Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Overlooked Films: Johnny Weissmuller as Jungle Jim in "Mark of the Gorilla"

Considering how popular Jungle Jim was between 1934 and 1957, he seems mighty dang forgotten today.

The character made his debut on the same day as Flash Gordon, and sprang from the same creative team of Alex Raymond and Don Moore. Jungle Jim was a topper strip for Flash, and his adventures were chronicled by a succession of artists until 1954.

Jim broke into the movies in 1937, with a Universal serial starring Grant Withers. But his screen career really took of in 1948, when Johnny Weissmuller assumed the role. Weissmuller had just completed his twelfth and final Tarzan film, Tarzan and the Mermaids, when he jumped into the Jim suit for Jungle Jim in 1948. Over the next eight years he made a total of 16 films and 26 TV episodes (The last three films require an asterisk, though. By that time the character rights belonged to TV, so the movies called him "Johnny" instead.)

Mark of the Gorilla (1950) was the third entry in the film series, and the Tarzan trappings are still quite evident. We first see Weissmuller with his shirt off, catching fish with a spear. With him - in an unaccredited cameo - is his old pal Cheetah, providing a little pre-plot comic relief. Jim's official sidekicks for this one are his dog Skipper and his bird Caw Caw.

The action takes place on an African game preserve, where a guy in a gorilla suit kills a messenger sent to summon Jim for help. I admit to being fooled here. I assumed the guy in the hair suit was supposed to be a real gorilla, but he’s actually just a guy trying to scare the native game wardens. It’s all part of a plot by bad guys to make off with millions in gold hidden on the preserve by Nazis.

To make up for the lack of Jane, the filmmakers gave Weissmuller two female leads. One is a stock good girl, the daughter of the soon-to-be-dead chief warden, and the other is a suspicious babe with an Ingrid Bergman accent.

This sort of gorilla suit that would scare the pants off Bud Abbott
or The Three Stooges, but get laughs from everyone else.

As you might expect, Weissmuller engages in such Ape-man behavior as wrestling a tiger - and later a lion - armed only with a knife. Neither battle is any more or less convincing than those in the Tarzan films. Later battles fare less well, as he tackles a stuffed bird and a rubber snake.

Overall, Mark of the Gorilla is okay entertainment. It’s interesting to see Weissmuller speaking in full sentences, and there’s just enough humor from the animals (a bird advising a lady on her poker hand and a dog smoking a cigar) to save us from taking anything too seriously.

More Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Was JUNGLE JIM on TV?I have a vague memory of that.

Unknown said...

I saw a bunch of these as a kid.

Anonymous said...

Jungle Jim... what a man... wrestling lions and tigers with a knife... now that's a hunter! El Kabong

Anonymous said...

After the movie series ended, Weissmuller starred in a syndicated Jungle Jim TV series sometime around 1955-56.

Evan Lewis said...

A big Western Howdy to first time commenter . . . El Kabong!

Cap'n Bob said...

I remember watching the TV show, but it always seemed off kilter, Weismuller speaking full sentences and wearing clothes and all. I seem to recall the chimp being Tamba, though.

Cap'n Bob said...

A little research doesn't reveal any Tambas, but there was a gorilla named Zimba that JJ befriended.