I thought I'd take a break from Tarzan movies for a while and explore some other jungle adventures. Jungle Jim is based on a comic strip by Alex Raymond (who also created Flash Gordon). The version I watched stars Grant Withers as "Jungle" Jim Bradley, but there are also some later movies and a TV series that starred Johnny Weissmuller (with a pre-Superman George Reeves as the villain in the initial movie). The Weissmuller versions don't appear to be available on DVD yet, but you bet I'll be keeping my eyes open for them.
The plot of the Withers version is that a young girl named Joan is shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and several years later becomes an heiress when a rich relative dies. Two men go looking for her: one a close friend of her family who wants the inheritance to go to the right place; the other an unscrupulous uncle who wants to make sure she never leaves the jungle alive. When the uncle's party kills the friend and his guide, Jungle Jim, a buddy of the murdered guide, goes after them to bring them to justice.
It turns out that Joan has been raised in the jungle by a couple of white fugitives who call themselves the Cobra and Shanghai Lil. The local natives believe that Joan is a goddess of some kind, a myth perpetuated by the Cobra as a way of controling the natives into protecting him. It's his way of discouraging any representatives of Western justice from coming to bring him in. Naturally he grows a little paranoid when all these white folks start showing up in his part of the jungle, some of them wanting to take Joan away.
It's disturbing to see that pretty much every native tribe in the serial is controlled or employed by a white person, but this was 1936. That doesn't excuse it though. It's wrong and it's sad.
Other than that, it's an enjoyable story. Like Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars it employs a neat comic strip method of recapping previous episodes, but Jungle Jim is even cooler. Each episode opens with a person opening up a newspaper to the comics section. The camera zooms in on the "Jungle Jim" strip and then slowly pans across the page to present the recap.
Joan is a cool character. She's befriended a pride of lions who protect her and handles herself just fine with a little help from her native friend Kolu. I love that Joan and Kolu are presented as an alternate group of heroes. They (and their lions) rescue Jungle Jim and his pal Malay Mike as much as they need rescuing themselves. And Joan has plenty to do throughout the story as she keeps learning new things about her past and shifts her allegiances accordingly.
Jim's a fine hero too and even Mike -- whom I expected to be nothing but comic relief -- is good in a fight. Both end up fighting a lot of jungle animals and the battles are well-executed and fun to watch. Even the animal footage is used well. The more of these old jungle adventures I watch, the more I see directors splicing in stock animal footage just to fill time and its boring. Jungle Jim doesn't do that. (It does, however, have a lot of tigers roaming around Africa, which is silly.)
There are also some nice plot twists that caught me off guard. I won't say more than that, but it was good to be surprised several times in what looked to be a straightforward story. All in all, a fine serial. Jungle Jim isn't replacing Tarzan in my heart anytime soon, but I really enjoyed this one.