The Savage Girl (1932)
THE SAVAGE GIRL
Notes: Commonwealth Pictures, 66 minutes.
“The Girl”: Rochelle Hudson
Jim Franklyn: Walter Byron
Amos P. Stitch: Harry C. Myers
Erich Vernuth: Adolph Milar
Chauffeur: Theodore Adams
Directed: Harry Fraser
Summary: It begins with text, accompanied by some drumming.
“Life,” we are told, “is full of a number of things”. [sic] Some are fact — and some fall into the category of delightful and irresponsible allegory, that Never-Never Land in which all children live — and for which all grown-ups secretly yearn . . . Come with us on the trail of the beautiful white Jungle Goddess. Laugh with us — cheer with us — thrill with us . . . and, with complete mental abandon, accept it for its contribution to pure enjoyment.
Jim Franklyn is sort of pro-animal in his lecture at a social event. He claims to feel at home in the jungle, that city traffic is more dangerous. Amos Stitch, perpetual drunkard millionaire, approaches Jim: he wants a zoo at his Westchester home. Others remark, “He’s been politely plastered for thirty years,” but some vouch for Stitch’s integrity. Stitch will pay all expenses for an expedition, and Jim agrees to it.
Stitch finds out at the dock that the cabby always wanted to visit Africa, so Stitch has him and the car itself transported too. In Africa, Oscar, who fans Stitch, turns out to be from Harlem and wants to go back to the U.S. Jim hires a German, Vernuth, as assistant, but Vernuth is skeptical of Jim’s plan: “That country no good for white man.” There’s rumor of a lost white baby who grew up in the jungle.
Well, these aren’t African trees, and the tuneless intonations of the diapered black actors are not African chants, but we get glimpses of a leopard and a chimp and a lion. Vernuth tries to creep out Jim with claims about the drumming and the practice of human sacrifice to the jungle gods. Stitch has brought a mouse, intrigued by the myth of elephants being afraid of mice.
The “jungle goddess” wakes up, swings on a vine, and cuddles leopard kittens. So she’s wearing the skin of one of her former pets, and it’s badly designed. A chimp warns her of trouble, and she sees a cage being prepared. Still, she also sees Jim removing a splinter from a monkey’s paw. That night, a lion is trapped in the cage, but the jungle girl frees it. Soon, a mirror hanging on a branch lures the jungle girl, naturally (!), into a pit. The men provide a rope but capture her and take her to a hut at their camp. All the while she shrieks. Vernuth smirks about how “wild” and “ferocious” she is. Later he drinks and expresses lust for this “tigress.” He attempts to rape her, but Jim saves the day, firing Vernuth who goes off threatening vengeance. The jungle girl parrots individual syllables of Jim’s until he frees her.
Stitch’s “scientific” experiment with the mouse proves successful, with an elephant running off in terror. The jungle girl visits Jim’s camp. When Stitch goes hunting in the cab, Jim is captured by natives riled up by Vernuth. They prepare to sacrifice him as Vernuth sneers and heads off to the jungle girl. Oscar, initially knocked unconscious by the natives, fetches Stitch, who, riding in the cab, guns ablaze, scares off the natives and unties Jim.
Vernuth is trying to rape the jungle girl again when Jim arrives and punches him again. The chimp fetches a large ape who, during the fight in the hut, grabs Vernuth from a window behind him and, presumably, kills him. Jim and Jungle Girl kiss.
Commentary: The film is a weird mix of integrity and offensiveness. For example, the “jungle girl” is never given a name, nor do they even consistently call her “jungle girl,” much less “savage girl” as the film’s title might indicate would be the case. She is referred to as a goddess a few times. Is this insulting or respectible?
She learns no “white-man” language. During her syllable-parroting a more offensive film would have taken advantage of easy set-ups for sexist cracks about “talking,” but it doesn’t happen here. And although a far cry from achieving PETA approval, the animals really do seem fairly repected here (more so than the “Africans”).