Law of the Jungle (1942)



Notes: Monogram Pictures Corporation, 62 minutes.

Larry Mason: John King
Nona Brooks: Arline Judge
Jefferson Jones: Mantan Moreland
Grozman: Victor Kendal
Belts: Feodor Chaliapin
Bongo: Martin Wilkins
Chief Mojobo: Lawrence Criner
Also starring Arthur O’Connell, C. Montague Shaw, Guy Kingsford.

Directed: Jean Yarbrough
Produced: Lindsley Parsons
Screenplay: George Bricker

Summary: Brooklyn-born singer Nona Brooks hopes her passport has arrived and she can get out of this jungle backwater of Duakwa and on to Cape Town. Her employer, the listless Simmons, talking to Grozman and Belts, seems a bit nervous that British Intelligence officers will be arriving soon.

Jefferson Jones cheats a bunch of “safari boys” at craps. His boss, archaeologist Larry Mason, is warned by Simmons that Nona is a scam artist and liar. She sings: “Jungle moon casts its spell on my lover” in a minor key. A waiter robs a customer with the help of Simmons’ turning off the lights at the right moment. But the waiter has knifed the man, and the British officers can’t find him or Nona. She has run off into the jungle. We see monkeys, a pelican (?), and drums.

Mason camps with his expedition, but is told by Jeff that the natives are upset about “them bones you been fiddlin’ with,” and guide Bongo says that examining the skulls is “bad medicine.” Mason agrees to rebury them. When Jeff is alone, he hears Nona calling to him but thinks it’s an evil spirit, reporting the presence of a “lady ghost” to Mason. It’s revealed to be Nona, who eats while Mason smokes a pipe. He insists on sending her back: “There’s no place for a woman in my scheme of things.” She’s willing to be a “guinea pig” on the scientific expedition.

Grozman and Belts learn from Simmons that important documents are in Nona’s jacket. Simmons presses for the money he’s been promised. So the men shoot him.

At night the natives drum. These “ignorant Africans” think the presence of “white woman bad juju.” They consider her an evil spirit, but Mason assures that she’s leaving in the morning: “I’ve got a busy day tomorrow sending you back.” She acts the persistent schmoozer, referring meaningfully to the “moon like that.” She tells Mason, “You know, you could be human if you only let yourself go.” But he goes to his tent. Drat, she thinks.

The British Intelligence officers find Simmons dying. He tells them who shot him and that the woman has the records. Meanwhile, Mason decides Nona can go to “Liberia. You’ll be safe there.” They talk briefly about man being descended from anthropoid ape. The bad guys arrive at camp and say they are doctors looking for a girl, the “victim of amnesia.” When Mason asks for their credentials, they get contentious and leave with threats. Nona emerges and kisses Mason.

“Bwana, white men come!” “What, again?” This time it’s the Brits, but Mason assumes they are more of the others and evicts them. Maybe they just need the help of Chief Mojobo. The natives are restless again, and Mason has them told that the white woman is a good spirit. This seems to work! But then there’s a spearing, and a shooting back. Mason, Nona, and Jeff see a cave — “maybe we’ll be safe there,” announces Nona, the nitwit. This is “no cave. This is a subway graveyard,” shudders Jeff, seeing bones. Nona discovers the doucment in her jacket.

At night, an ape emerges and scares Jeff. Mason insists that a flashlight be kept on him, and he grabs his gun and shoots the ape five times before it collapses. They should be safe now. “Oh, no we ain’t,” remarks Jeff, noticing the natives with spears.

The three are put into a large cage, but “even if they are cannibals, they wouldn’t dare” cook white people, insists Mason. A native woman takes a fancy to Jeff and giggles a lot. The other two insist he accept her advances so as to help their escape. She brings witch-doctor clothing and Jeff dresses up. He ends up caught, though, and taken to the chief, who is an Oxford-educated British African with a top hat. When the two bad guys face Mason and Nona, Grozman pulls a gun, but Mason turns and punches him; a fight ensues and resolves happily. We learn from the Chief Mojobo that Jeff essentially proposed to his little sister, the giggling woman who helped him escape. In the end, Mason and Nona kiss.

Commentary: Okay, so obviously it’s not much of an ape film despite the colorized DVD cover photo featuring Jeff and an ape. Nor does this one have much to do with any “law of the jungle” or fetishizing of subtle jungle psychological effects.

Ape Films