Archive 385 - October 2017
African Treasure - 1952
African Treasure, released May 6, 1952. Directed by Ford Beebe
Bomba (Johnny Sheffield) is called the "jungle boy" and that's accurate in this case, the villains (Arthur Space, Lyle Talbot and Lane Bradford) are considerably taller than the beefy jungle avenger, and are able to knock him out in a face-to-face fight. The bad men are smuggling diamonds out of Africa using slave labor held captive at an extinct volcano. Laurette Luez (as Lita Sebastian) gets rounded up and put in with the other captives, which includes her father Pedro (Martin Garralaga).
On hand to help Bomba is companion Kimbobo the Chimp who helpfully hurls rocks when needed, and other jungle animals supplied mainly through foreign location shots that don't always exactly mix well with the studio footage (Bomba fights a lion and does a lot of travel by swimming underwater). These process sequences vary from acceptable for 1952 to rather poor, though nothing on the scale of awful process work in sub-budget films (for example, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman).
Though most of African Treasure seems vaguely familiar as a reversion of Tarzan adventures, Beebe's screenplay has an interesting element that as the bad white men perform their evil deeds, the natives smilingly announce that Bomba will soon be coming for them (Bomba is also referred to as the "white devil"), which adds a sense of menace to the otherwise juvenile storyline. The gleeful way this coming doom is mentioned to the gun-toting bad guys by natives adds an inverted dark quality to the interactions of powerful men with guns and the helpless natives. That the bad men repeatedly think they've killed the jungle boy, but he keeps popping back up again and is getting closer to their lair, enlarges the theme of impending doom.
Why Lita (Laurette Luez) has a Spanish accent in Africa and refers to men as "senor" isn't explained, and the scenes of the "jungle telegraph" which features native drummers communicating with one another over distance with beat patterns (which generally sound the same) isn't explored either except through a montage of smiling, drumming men (a sequence features a grinning Bomba pounding out a quasi-jazz beat). It's a little surreal, and though the chief influence is obviously Edgar Rice Burroughs' Lord Greystoke, Bomba seems also patterned after here-and-then-gone Rima the Jungle Queen, another jungle legend of early 20th century literature that seemed an almost supernatural presence ruling the South American jungles.
Sheffield doesn't say much and seems mostly unmoved by what's happening at any given moment, whether he is in jeopardy are just receiving information about whatever mission his mentor (Leonard Mudie as the Scottish-accented Andy Barnes) is sending him on. Sheffield seems determined to get the job done so he can then disappear back into the trees (which he does at the end, pulling a full-on 'Batman' on the grateful Luez).
Laurette Luez is fine, though she doesn't get called on to do very much except look concerned, provide lines for Sheffield to stonily respond to, and to look beautiful, though she does get to deliver one of the imminent notes of doom to the bad guys while coyly smiling about it. Director Beebe takes the trouble to carefully light many of the scenes with Luez and she is obviously one of African Treasure's main special effects.
The film (number 7 in a series of 9 Monogram movies) is held back by the low budget, Tarzan-imitation, some cringingly written scenes with Hollywood Africans (the stoic Woody Strode is on hand), and the under-performing of most of the cast. The 70-minute movie does have a few of its own special qualities, though some patience is required to enjoy it.
African Treasureis currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.
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