Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Forbidden Jungle (1950)



Notes: Jack Schwarz Productions, 66 minutes.

Tom Burton: Don Harvey
Trader Kirk: Forrest Taylor
Nita: Alyce Lewis
Tawa: Robert Cabal
Tamba the chimp: Tamba

Directed: Robert Tansey
Screenplay & Story: Frances Kavanaugh
Produced: Jack Schwarz

Summary: A noun-heavy narration by our main character Tom Burton begins the film: “At last I was coming to my destination. My mission was strange for me. Most of my life had been spent hunting wild animals. Suddenly I found myself hunting for a human being — a boy — a boy of the jungle…. Money was the only important thing in my life.” Footage, some stock and some from a zoo or circus, shows animals. The music is more eastern than jungle. And we catch a glimpse of our favorite inhabited gorilla suit. We seem to be in Rintan, and a white woman warns a white man about white men.

Tom Burton has his servants hauling around a caged tiger since, he claims, this current mission intruded upon his big game hunting in India. But now he’s got “bigger game — human game.” He tells Trader Kirk, who has long resided in this jungle village, that airplane pilots have spotted a boy running with the chimps. The possible grandfather of the lost boy has hired him. Kirk warns him that he’s headed for the “forbidden jungle.” Burton shrugs it off: “I’ve spent my life penetrating the toughest parts of the world.”

Kirk’s adopted daughter, Nita, runs out to warn the jungle boy, Tawa, that he is being sought by a hunter. Tawa is more Asian or Pacific Islander than may be appropriate to our plot, but in any case, after playing with a panther, he hides and instructs Gigi(or Chichi?) the gorilla to hide in a cave also. Tawa goes to the village to visit Kirk. While a band of chimps destroy a back room, Kirk reminisces about raising and teaching Tawa. He comments on the “crude” construction of the village hut (which is hardly crude).

At nightfall, Burton is alone due to native superstitions having driven away his servants. He senses being “watched by human eyes.” The ape sees a native woman. The woman screams and the ape starts to carry her off. Tawa interrupts the kidnapping but is therefore spotted by Burton, who speaks with the boy. Pseudo-spiritual conversation takes place, punctuated by dismissals of various animals — such as the boy’s pet lion and “Wise One” the boa constrictor — and learning to shake hands. The two eat beans and melon, and Burton acknowledges, “I just don’t feel comfortable without my gun.” Burton begins raving about how FABulous! musical theater is — at least Broadway: “the great white way.” He envisions Tawa wearing shoes! “I’ll take you by the hand and we’ll walk down Broadway.” We could get cages for the animals, and Nita (or Neemba the lion?) could come too. “No no, she belongs here,” protests the boy.

Chimps play. A native drugs Burton’s water while he weighs the notion of going soft-hearted and chucking “civilization” vs. the fee he could collect. After drinking some water, he recognizes “jungle fever”: “I was burning up.”

When he awakens, he sees that Nita and Tawa have been taking care of him. Nevertheless, he starts yammering about Broadway again. Chimps outside playfully release Burton’s vicious tiger from its cage. It eats a native. Burton orders a pit be dug and other natives serve as “beaters.” Some supposed tiger vs. panther (the “dark one”) footage is played repeatedly. Burton says the tiger must be killed but Tawa believes he can make the tiger understand. Burton is panicked over the safety of Tawa: “I had learned to love him dearly.” Tawa climbs a tree as the tiger supposedly mauls a gnu and the gorilla and the boa constrictor (who keeps falling off the tiger’s body). A shout brings the fatal stabbing attack against the tiger.

The graves of Cyrus and Helen Ames, the latter the daughter of Kirk, means that the jungle boy is Kirk’s grandson and that Kirk therefore has as much right to the boy as Burton’s wealthy client. But what will Burton say in his report? “What report?” smirks Burton. He’ll say that the story about the jungle boy was just a rumor.

Was it all a dream, asks Burton to himself as he leaves with his gun, waving to Tawa, Nita, and a chimp. He has decided that money is not the most important thing to him.

Commentary: The gay subtext defines the “forbidden” in the title, I guess.

Ape Films