Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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"Lost City of the Jungle"; Universal, 1946.

Another Thanksgiving is upon us and that means turkey. When thinking of film turkeys I always come to Ed Wood and "Plan Nine From Outer Space", a film in which footage of Bela Lugosi is mixed with footage of a stand in, which is a long way to get to "Lost City of the Jungle". Star Lionel Atwill died halfway through filming and was replaced by a stand in who look just like him, from behind, then they added a second villain who was supposed to secretly be his boss.

World War II has ended but warmonger Sir Eric Hazarius (Lionel Atwill) is busy searching for Meteorium 245, the only practical defense against the atomic bomb. Once in his hands he will sell it to the highest bidder, making that country the only one safe from a nuclear attack. Hampering him is Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden), an agent of the World Peace Foundation. Sir Eric fakes his own death by killing a look a like in his employ. Taking the guise of Geoffrey London he heads for the country of Pendrang, a jungle country nestled in the Himalayan Mountains. There he has duped Dr. Elmore (John Elredge) into heading up an archeological dig for a fabled lost city to cover up his real search for the Meteorium 245.

What no one knows is that the real power in the organization is not Sir Eric but his secretary Malborn (John Mylong). Pendrang is ruled by Indra (Helen Bennett), who lives in the country's one city, Zalibar. Her word is law. She is also one of the few people who knows the truth about Malborn. She tells the pretending secretary that she will allow him and his group to look for what ever it is they are really searching for as long as she gets one third whenever it is found. Malborn stalls and puts her off for the moment.

Pendrang native, and World Peace Foundation agent, Tal Shan (Keye Luke) notifies Rod of Geoffrey London's arrival accompanied by several of Sir Eric's old employees. Rod flies toward Pendrang even though it is winter and impossible to get through the mountains. He discovers that Elmore's daughter Marjorie (Jane Adams) has stowed aboard.

Just then his engine's fail, sabotaged by Sir Eric's agents. Rod manages to get an SOS to Tal before the plane crashes. He and Marjorie are okay and head for where Tal would send the rescue party from, but they caught in an avalanche.

A nearby cave affords them protection. After the avalanche has passed Tal, flying overhead, spots them and notifies the rescue party. They are escorted safely to Pendrang. Indra has Rod brought before her.

Learning the agent can't be bought she notifies Malborn who plants a clue among a dead agentís clothes that trick Rod and Tal into going to the Pool of Light, sacred to the natives. Seeing some of Sir Eric's men planting dynamite at the Pool they try to stop them but are caught in the explosion.

Luckily they are able to swim to safety. Returning to Zalibar Tal and Rod are shot at and return fire driving the ambushers off. They leave behind their walkie-talkie that Tal and Rod take with them. Once back in town the two agents discover that they are being blamed for the destruction of the Pool of Light.

Indra sends them to the Temple of Pendrang to beg forgiveness at the shrine. Tal takes the walkie-talkie with them to catch any enemy transmissions. It turns out to be a trap as Sir Eric uses their walkie-talkie to be the focal point for a sound vibration that will collapse the temple while Rod and Tal are inside.

The two agents manage to exit the building before it completely collapses on them. Now the tribes believe Rod is responsible for the temple's destruction as well. Tal goes to see Dr. Elmore who has discovered an inscription telling of a glowing statue. Sir Eric believes the statue could be the Meteorium 245.

Rod sneaks into Geoffrey London's house where he find's a fingerprint. Making a copy he sends it to the World Peace Foundation for identification. It will turn out to be Sir Eric's which proves he is still alive and in Pendrang. After escaping a trap set for him in the house Rod goes to the Light of Asia Casino to meet Geoffrey London where he escapes from a second trap.

Rod tries to go through the jungle to talk to Dr. Elmore at his expedition site and tell him who he is really working for but is caught by the angry natives. He is suspended over a pit of man-eating lions. Tal comes to his rescue and tosses him a rope. Rod starts to cross to safety but the rope snaps, dropping him into the pit. The agile agent is able to climb out of the pit unscathed. Now if only they could convince Dr. Elmore that the man he is working for is not Geoffrey London, wealthy philanthropist, but really Sir Eric Hazarius, greedy warmonger.

Even for a late era Universal serial "Lost City of the Jungle" is unnecessarily complicated. This is due mainly to the untimely death of Lionel Atwill. Bringing in John Mylong as the real villain is an interesting solution to the problem (since reshooting over half the serial would have been out of the question for a cost conscious studio like Universal was in the forties). The down side is that it makes the storyline confusing at times because you essentially have two villains who never share any scenes, except in the scene with Stanton in the casino where a double was used from behind who nodded yes to every question.

Another problem with the serial is that the plot is about a hidden jungle city yet most of the action takes place in what looks like a modern city. More confusing is that the Pendrang natives seem to be oriental but the most of the city dwellers appear to be arabic. Plus the dock area is populated by cockney speaking sailors. So much stock footage needed to make this a cohesive whole.

Though most of the cliffhangers are made up of stock footage a few are composed of new footage and are quite inventive. Chapter Eight had the hero trapped in a burning room while Atwill taunts him over a speaker. Chapter nine saw the heroine tied before a gun that would go off when tow mechanical elephant statues made contact. This last one is best remembered as originating in Republic's "G-Men vs. the Black Dragon" (1943). It is still effective.

Star Russell Hayden, one of the many sidekicks of Hopalong Cassidy, doesn't make much of an impression. He is a likeable actor but doesn't have enough personality to go up against an acting dynamo like Atwill. That would take a Buster Crabbe, a Ralph Byrd, or a Clayton Moore. Luckily he has the able assistance of Keye Luke, one of the best character actors of all time. He really helps carry many scenes.

Heroine Jane Adams is playing a frustratingly naive character. She blunders into places, gets into trouble, and endangers the rest of the good guys. The only reason you don't get mad at her is she is just so darn sweet. Helen Bennett has the complex character but can't quite pull off going from siding with the bad guys, then going neutral before finally hooking up with the good guys with any amount of believability.

John Mylong, best known as the father of the last family on Earth in the cult classic "Robot Monster" (1953), is poorly cast as the head villain. He just can't project any menace. You just don't buy that he is really the power behind Atwill.

Atwill, on the other hand, may have been ill but that doesn't stop him from being able to blow everyone else off the screen. No one who goes up against him comes away unscathed. So powerful is his performance that he dominates the serial even in the scenes filmed after his death. His best scene is with Russell Hayden on a side street where after being accused of being really Sir Eric Hazarius he leans close and says conspiratorially, "Just between you and me, I really am...Geoffrey London". He is an actor that is sorely missed.

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