Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Nabonga (1944)



Notes: PRC Pictures, 75 minutes.

Ray Gorman: Buster Crabbe (from Tarzan, Flash Gordon)
Doreen Stockwell: Julie London (the singer, later on Emergency)
Marie: Fifi d’Orsay
Carl Hurst: Barton MacLane (from the dinosaur movie Unknown Island)
Tobo: Prince Modupe
T.F. Stockwell: Herbert Rawlinson
Young Doreen: Jackie Newfield (the director’s daughter)
Samson the Gorilla: Nbonga [sic] (Ray Corrigan)

Directed: Sam Newfield
Screenplay & Story: Fred Myton
Produced: Sigmund Neufeld
Music: Willy Stahl

Summary: An NYPD notice to Cairo is too late: T.F. Stockwell has absconded with embezzled treasure and his daughter. Their small plane crashes in the jungle, and after some stock footage of monkeys, the pilot catches a glimpse of the treasure. The wounded Stockwell shoots him while daughter Doreen chases a small monkey and crosses paths with a large ape who has been repeatedly shot. The ape keels over as Stockwell arrives on the scene. “Daddy, don’t shoot! He’s hurt!”

The criminally callous Carl Hurst runs a crude outpost/hotel. Marie, clad for no reason in a combination Mexican señorita/Hollywood gypsy outfit, occupies Raymond Gorman while Carl searches his room. Gorman seems to be searching for Stockwell and the fortune (it’s many years later). While some men on the veranda snort at notions of a “white witch” living in the jungle, Gorman saves native Tobo from an assassin. Tobo tells Gorman of a great bird that fell from the sky, a house with wings. No one has believed him for years, but he has a trinket with the African Airlines logo. Marie overhears all this and reports to Carl.

That night, an intruder is almost caught by Gorman, who fights the dark figure before the would-be thief escapes out the window. Gorman dismisses the incident as a bad dream but tells Tobo the truth.

The grown-up Doreen has the treasure and lives with the ape among the stock footage clips. Her bodyguard ape fights another ape.

Gorman and Tobo set off into the jungle. Behind them are Carl, Marie, and their native servants. Along the way, Gorman wrestles a rubber crocodile and gets a bit bitchy after hearing more about the “white witch”: “White men don’t believe in magic!”

At a certain point, the superstitious natives refuse to go further with Carl and Marie. When Gorman and Tobo discover the wrecked plane, Gorman finally explains that his own father was accused of aiding and abetting Stockwell’s embezzlement. Daddy committed suicide. Doreen’s ape charges and kills Tobo. In a cave, the ape closes in on Gorman before Doreen calls him off. (She has named him Samson, rendering the title of the film meaningless.) Gorman resentfully treats the ape as an unwelcome “chaperone.” Doreen cannot understand much of anything: “Why do two people want to be alone?” Gorman bullyingly insists that he will be taking the treasure back to people who were wronged (15 years ago?).

When Marie arrives ahead of Carl, Doreen expresses some jealous resentment. Marie warns Gorman about Carl and convinces Gorman they should build a trap for the ape. The cage holds, unbelievably, while Gorman searches Doreen’s cave for the treasure. Marie then tells Carl everything. A fight between the two men leaves Gorman with a gunshot wound in his head, so no problem there. Gorman staggers after Carl and the treasure and fights him again. Carl has dismissed Marie and leered over Doreen, so Marie returns and releases the ape, who immediately kills her. Carl shoots at the ape as it charges and kills him. The ape then collapses, dead.

Gorman is a philosophical tyrant, noting that they couldn’t have taken him with them anyway where they’re going. “You’ll be very happy,” he either prognosticates or commands.

Commentary: Julie London, though she is a socially retarded jungle witch, brings a degree of welcome, however inappropriate, class to this movie. Most of the rest seems to validate obnoxious macho oppression. At least more goes on in this film than in the general ilk of ape films from this period. And that same ape outfit is only starting to look a bit ratty.

Ape Films