BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND/1949/JOHNNY SHEFFIELD
BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND
By the time the next to last Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film, Tarzan and the Huntress, came out in 1947 Sheffield just was not boyish enough to be boy any longer and he left the movie series to complete high school. Actually I am not sure if he left or was asked to leave by producer Sol Lessor, but in any case the then RKO produced Weissmuller Tarzan films were about over and Weissmuller would go on to do the Jungle Jim films for Columbia Pictures. A young and buff Sheffield was soon snatched up in 1949 by Monogram producer Walter Mirisch to play Bomba the Jungle which was to be loosely based on the paperback series by Roy Rockwood – a pen name used by Stratemeyer Syndicate and used by several writers I assume- but seemed to be more an extension of the Tarzan series and of Sheffield’s boy role. Like any good jungle movie the hero was white, had been lost in the jungle as a baby and raised by animals, learns English somehow but speaks haltingly with few prepositions or articles and has become a legend among the superstitious natives in the African jungle. Bomba is young and full of innocent curiosity, not as cynical as Tarzan yet. Sheffield is in great shape and his Bomba prefers a spear to a knife. Like Tarzan he is curious about white men (‘other’ white men of course. Even in the Jungle Jim series Jim is always referring to ‘white men’ as something other than himself, as though he were closer to local natives he routinely beats the shit out of) and more trusting but uncompromising in his respect for the laws and ways of the jungle he grew up in. And like any good jungle movie the film is loaded with bad bwanas who want to exploit the jungle and its inhabitants in pursuit of lost treasures or untapped resources.
And so is the case in Bomba on Panther Island where our loin cloth clad young hero must not only track down a murderous black panther that kills his pet monkey at the beginning of the show but must deal with unscrupulous bwanas who want to exploit the jungle to build a plantation. Actually the bwanas in this is not really too evil. Robert Maitland (Harry Lewis) just wants to set up the plantation as a way for him and his sister Judy (Allene Roberts) to have a sort of future. Judy pines for the big city lights of America and spends her time grumbling about how boring Africa is. The other white guy is some old geezer named Andy (Charles Irwin) who has all sorts of wisdom since he is old and is always slamming Harry with some of that old guy insight. Also hanging out at the plantation is the sultry and flirtatious French house girl Losana (played by Lita Baron who was in the first Jungle Jim and that was reviewed here and I made some comments about her dance sequence rivaling Tandra Quinn’s dance as Tarantella in Mesa of Lost Women as one of the worst ever in b-movie history) who starts making moves on shy Bomba from the get go. A sort of romance triangle develops between Bomba and the two girls who compete for his attention but Bomba ain’t having none of it as he would rather watch wrestling matches between water buffalos and crocodiles in his free time. And I am serious, there is some stock footage of a fight between a water buffalo and a crocodile in this one. All the while poor Robert Maitland is having a heck of time getting the superstitious natives to finish any of their work and they blame the recent spat of panther attacks on his desecration of sacred forest land for his blasted plantation. If it wasn’t for ol’ Andy sounding like Will Rodgers every other scene Robert would probably chuck the whole thing and head back the big city with July.
And it should come as no surprise that in the end Bomba gets revenge upon the panther for killing his monkey –and a few natives- and no one has sex though the two gals are pretty much primed for a ménage à trios with Bomba. In the end Robert about has had it with it all but suddenly July changes her mind abut the jungle life and Andy waxes philosophically and he decides to stay and deal with the army ants and man eating panthers and find a suitable life for himself and his sister in the middle of a sweltering living hell. Bomba strolls off with his spear to ore adventures. Fans of jungle films who have never seen a Bomba movie will be in for a real treat with this one and people who hate the genre will not be converted. If you are going spend the whole 70 or minutes looking for ‘racist’ stereotypes’ and deriding the film as something beneath you then probably this is not for you. But if you like white guys (and sometimes gals) raised by chimps and speaking in monosyllables and not fearing to tread to places that send natives scurrying the opposite direction then Bomba on Panther Island is for you.