Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jungle Queen – Chapter 13: The Secret of the Sword

OUR STORY SO FAR: Yes, after a short hiatus (one week) and a brief postponement (from Saturday to Sunday), we present the final chapter of the 1945 Universal serial Jungle Queen.  It seems only fitting that this write-up be on Sunday, because it will allow us to get thee hence to our nearest house of worship and give thanks that this turkey is finally coming to an end.

I’m going to warn you right now…if you’re thinking, “Well, okay…there were weak spots here and there through the preceding chapters, but surely all our questions will be answered in this final installment”… then you’re probably part of the same contingent who was satisfied with that whole “Lost is purgatory” malarkey.  But seeing as this is the final chapter, it’s only fitting that we begin our goodbyes with our last visit from the most notorious (and unseen) Nazi of the entire conflict, Obergruppenführer Heinrich von Doodler.  As always, he is listening to a report from his loyal adjutant, Emil Heel Clicker.

VON DOODLER: Our progress in Africa has been less than I expected…I hope Dr. Bork is not failing us in such a glorious moment in Germany’s history…
HEEL CLICKER: Dr. Bork reports complete success…
HEEL CLICKER: She is able to guarantee control over the judge who rules the middle jungle tribes…and she has captured all those who might expose her…
VON CLICKER: Congratulate Dr. Bork!

“Der Vitman’s company haff chust the zampler for zuch an occazion, Emil…and do not forget a nize note, schweinhundt…”  Alas, the war would not go well for Von Doodler, and after the defeat of the Nazis he…well, I’m getting ahead of the story.  You’ll be able to see the tragic tale of his downfall in an upcoming Military Channel special, Scratch Pads of the Third Reich.  (But my father won’t…heh heh heh.)

Unanswered Questions #1 & 2: I’ve discussed the gi-normous ashtray belonging to Von Doodler in a previous segment of Serial Saturdays.  Did the Germans actually have a man capable of lifting it and emptying its contents? Could this have been a factor in Germany’s ultimate defeat?

The scene then shifts to the African “middle jungle”…where inside a cave located in Mt. Balgan, loyal Nazi radio operator Weber (Louis Adlon) takes down a message from “the High Command” as the ruthlessly inefficient Lang (Douglas Dumbrille) and Nazi temp Muller (George Eldredge) listen in.  Weber then rips the message off his pad and hands it to Lang, indicating it is to be given to Dr. Elise Bork (Tala Birell), a faux Swedish botanist who is in actuality a cunning Nazi agent.  She, in another scene shift, is lecturing four prisoners—native chieftain Kyba (Clarence Muse), annoying adventuress Pamela Courtney (Lois Collier), bossy American agent Bob Elliot (Edward Norris) and useless safari guide Jungle Jack (Budd Buster)—on her favorite topic: German superiority.

BORK: Godac—the judge of all judges—is dead…Miss Courtney…Mr. Elliot…Jungle Jack…Kyba…

“Darlene!  Annette!  Kar…”—oh, botheration.  I did that joke two weeks ago in Chapter 12.  (I wish you could see her address these people, though…she nods her head at everyone upon reciting their names.)

BORK: …you will be accused of murdering him… (Lang appears at the cell door and hands her the message) Thank you, Lang…aren’t you supposed to meet Maati?
LANG: I’m leaving now… (He exits)
BORK (after giving the message a quick once-over): The High Command feels that my work is a contribution to our war…Mr. Elliot, you did me a favor by allowing yourself to be captured…

Um…I don’t remember him actually throwing his hands up and announcing “Okay, fellas…you got me!”  I think it was more a matter of his being too stupid to realize he was surrounded by angry natives.

BORK: …and you failed to divert attention from Mr. Kelly…he’s either dead by now…or a prisoner…

Please…please…I swear I will never ask for another thing…let Mr. Kelly be dead by now.  Mr. Kelly answers to “Chuck,” and as played by third banana Eddie Quillan he is definitely in the running for Most Annoying Sidekick in a Serial at the next Cliffie Awards (so named because it’s short for “cliffhanger” and because I made it up).  When we last saw Chuck, we were standing by as a group of natives—led by treacherous chieftain Maati (Napoleon Simpson) and his loyal lieutenant Noma (Emmett Smith)—watched a swarm of hungry crocodiles (“karka”) about to polish him off and then split a Locos’ Mount Chocsuvius for dessert.  But, alas…we are robbed of the sight of Chuck’s limbs being torn apart and scarfed up like Buffalo wings because from out of nowhere, Lothel (Ruth Roman)—the mystery queen of the jungle—appears, throwing a roast into the river. (I am not making this up…and here’s the picture below to prove it.)

Unanswered Questions #3 & 4: Where in the hell did she find raw meat in the jungle?  Is there a Tong-Gara Kroger’s I don’t know about?

MAATI: Lothel saved him!  But he’s tired—we’ll ford the river further down!

Yes, Chuck is exhausted from doing his Johnny Weissmuller impression…and a nameless native manages to take him down with very little effort.  “I thought we would catch you if we come around this way,” taunts Maati.  “Now I’ll take you to Bwana Lang.”  Chuck is dragged off by the natives, leaving Lothel behind (and in the bottom screen cap, looking as if she’s trying to hail a cab).

The natives meet up in the jungle with Lang and Bork, who are transporting their prisoners to move the narrative along.

LANG (to Noma): Have your men keep the prisoners here… (Noma speaks some native gibberish to the warriors) Bring Kyba with you and come with us!

Noma separates Kyba from his white friends as he, Lang and Bork wander off.  Surmising the situation they’re in, Chuck starts to sit down on the ground, cracking: “Why wait standing?”

“I think you got something there,” responds J-Jack, as he, Pam and Bob join Chuck.

CHUCK: I guess we don’t have a chance…
PAMELA: I can’t understand why Lothel saved you and then let the natives capture you…

Pammy…if this is the point in the serial when things are starting to not make sense…that ship sailed a long time ago.

BOB: I can’t either…she’s our only hope now…
JACK: Well, if that mystery queen of the jungle don’t want these Nazis controlling these tribes…she better be gettin’ herself busy…

Yes, I did laugh out loud at that line.  In a nearby section of the jungle, Maati is proudly showing off “the sword of Tongu” to Lang and Bork.

MAATI: Godac told me where the Sword of Tongu is hidden…this is his sword, and I have taken Godac’s place…I’m now the judge of the middle jungle people…
LANG: Take Kyba…when you want the other prisoners, you know where they are…
KYBA: Kyba may die…but I am not a traitor…

A very touching sentiment, Kybe.  I’m sure future generations of Tongghili will remember you as the guy who “agreed to face death rather than do the smart thing and run like a freaking jungle rabbit.”  Well, when the next scene is the familiar footage with the oven mitt guy, you know we’re back in Tong-Gara…and in the Hall of Justice, new tribal judge Maati is resplendent in his robes, which were apparently designed by Omar of Café Press.  He addresses the other chieftains, in particular Orbon (Jim Basquette):

MAATI: Orbon…you who I have asked to assume the duties of the lower throne…just for today…why are the chiefs of our tribes standing before me?
ORBON: Maati…judge of all Tongghili…guardian of the sacred Sword of Tongu… (Turning toward Kyba) Kyba killed Godac!  Who made you his successor before he died…by telling you where the sacred Sword of Tongu was hidden!  (He gives Kyba a nasty look) The chiefs await your decision…

I don’t want to say anything before the verdict is pronounced…but I have a sneaking suspicion ol’ Kybe isn’t going to be doing community service.  (By the way—I did not make up that “just for today” bit in the dialogue.  It is actually there, and I laughed out loud again when I heard it. “Don’t get too comfortable in that lower throne, son…”)

MAATI: Tongu first spoke the law of the tribes…and forged it with this sword! (He holds out the sword)
ORBON (now seated on the lower throne): Tongu gave his sword to his successor…the first judge…told him the secret place to hide it…and he who holds it must be obeyed…
MAATI: The Sword of Tongu must be obeyed…take the test!

Oh. Kyba…I hope you crammed for this one, dude, because this can only mean that they’re gonna throw your ass in the Fire Room.  Two guards escort him in that direction and the door swings ominously open.  “Even the innocent hesitate,” intones Maati smugly, “Yet they and they alone pass safely through the flame…the guilty perish!”

Kyba starts to walk toward the flaming room, but we then hear a series of gongs and cymbals from out of nowhere, and then witness the sight of Lothel—mystery queen of the jungle—sashaying through the Room of Fire, brandishing a sword.

LOTHEL: You speak of guilt, Maati…and you are guilty!  You helped our enemies kill Godac!  The sword that you hold is not the real sword…before Godac died, he told me the hiding place…so that the secret would not be lost…so that I might for him choose his successor!
MAATI: You come with lies as you always do!  This is the true sword of Khandu!

No, that is not a typo.  Actor Simpson actually calls it “the sword of Khandu” instead of “Tongu”…and they decided not to do a retake.  (I know you’re shocked by this.)

LOTHEL: You do not know the secrets of the sword, Maati…either where it is hidden, or that there be one here who can prove the real from the imitation…
ORBON: I am he who is able to prove which is the real sword!

If it does not must acquit.
And here I thought all this time “Orbon” was just an inconsequential bit player lucky enough to score a mention in the opening credits of each chapter.  For you see…inside the real sword of Tongu is “a hidden cavity,” and Orbon just happens to have the piece that snaps onto that…something he cannot do with that phony “sword of Khandu” that Maati is brandishing.

"I am so screwed..."
I almost feel sorry for the poor lug.  (Almost.)

ORBON: Mystery queen of the jungle…your story is true…you have brought Tongu’s sword to us…
LOTHEL: Maati is the traitor!  And Noma is his aide!

The angry chieftains scoop up Maati and rush him to sitio del fuego, where he perishes because he’s guilty as all get out.  Noma, on the other hand, is banking on running for the hills…

"...and now for my next impression: Jesse Owens!"
…and he quickly meets up with Lang and Bork in the jungle.  (Like, in a manner of nanoseconds.)

NOMA: Lothel brought the real sword Tongu…Maati is dead now…I’ll go…

Apparently this experience has shaken Noma and affected his ability to converse in proper sentences.

LANG: Wait a minute…
BORK: I’ll get the records in Balgan and meet you in Tambosa…
LANG: Where am I going?
BORK: To kill the prisoners…they’re the only ones who can identify us as Nazis…

Yeah!  Because that strategy worked so well in the past for Maati…or should I say, the late Mr. Maati.  So here comes the funniest bit in this chapter—Lang arrives with Noma to the area where our heroes are being kept prisoner, and in typical villain style, he starts in with the speech:

LANG: It is my hope that all enemies of Germany will ga…

A shot rings out, and Lang is killed…prompting the audience to go wild because now they don’t have to listen to the rest of that Nazi bullsh*t.  It turns out that the person who dropped Lang like a bad habit…is none other than Kyba himself!

CHUCK: I didn’t think you had it in ya, Kyba!  You’re okay!
KYBA (as he unties the others): Lothel saved me!  Sent me to you!
CHUCK (picking up something off the ground): Hey…look here…
PAMELA: I say!  It’s a Mauser!

Pam…stop it.  You didn’t convince anybody with that unbelievable British accent several chapters ago, so just put a sock in it.

BOB: A Nazi destroyed by his own weapon…

Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.  “I hope that’s the forecast for Germany’s future,” Bob further editorializes.  He then realizes that the illustrious Dr. Bork isn’t with Lang.

BOB: She’s probably on her way to Balgan…
CHUCK: That’s for us, then!
BOB: Pam…you stay with Jungle Jack… (To Kyba) We’ll take your rifle… (He bends over and picks up another weapon laying untidily on the floor of the jungle) …and Lang’s revolver!

“Oh, and Pam…how about making some coffee for when we come back?”  Bork, back at Mt. Balgan, walks in just as radio operator Weber is excitedly following the war at his console.  “Our armies are invincible!  Poland will be defeated within a month!”

BORK: We’re not so fortunate…here…set the mechanism to blow up these caves…I’ll take the master records…
(Weber rises from his seat to comply with Bork’s request)
MULLER: What happened?
BORK: Lothel

Unanswered Question #5: Why would anyone equip a hideout with the means to blow it to smithereens without proper orientation for its employees?

Opening a nearby safe, Weber sets a series of knobs on a console inside to “Blow up real good.”  But it would appear than in doing so, he’s gotten it into his head to take over this serial, elevating himself from bit player to the star of The Adventures of Weber—Nazi Radio Guy!  (I swear, this is starting to take on the attributes of a Firesign Theatre routine.  “…and no Jewish writers!”)

WEBER (drawing his gun): I’ll take those records, Dr. Bork…you have failed!
BORK: I answer to the High Command for my failure…not to subordinates!

And to illustrate the point that it’s too late for Weber to start considering a sequel to this clambake, Muller dispatches the foolish upstart with his pistol.  As Weber slumps to the cave floor, Bork tells Muller: “I shall report your loyalty to Berlin.”  Knowing that his takeover attempt will end up in his employee file, Weber manages to shoot Muller with his dying breath (he’ll be damned if some lousy temp is promoted before him!)…and now we have two dead subordinates in aisle two.  Bork picks up Muller’s gun and heads for the exits.

Ha ha!  Not so fast, evil faux botanist Bork!  Lothel—the mystery queen of the jungle—is going to put an end to your foul Nazi scheme!  Bork starts firing at Lothel, but the bullets mysteriously bounce off the jungle monarch, as if she was wearing a bulletproof bra.  “German weapons kill Germans…Nazis kill Nazis…” assures Lothel.  Bork empties the gun…but since it has no effect on her target, she simply must wait for the cave to blow up…and she doesn’t have long to do so.  Mt. Balgan is reduced to rubble just as Bob and Chuck come racing up.  “Dr. Bork is leaving no evidence behind her,” is Bob’s only comment.

With less than two minutes to go in the chapter, the scene switches to London…where Bob, Chuck and Pamela can be found inside the office of British super spy Mr. “X” (Lumsden Hare):

MR. X: You had quite an adventure…well, I’m sure there’s no need to call me Mr. “X” any longer…I’m Lord…

He was about to say “Bell”—Pamela gave that away in Chapter 4.  But he’s interrupted by a knock at the door, and a courier arrives with a package for a “Mr. Robert Elliot”:

CHUCK: How did anyone know we were here?
MR. X: It came through official channels…
BOB (having opened the package): Well, look at this…it contains a list of all the Nazi agents in Germany!  (He hands the book to X)
MR. X (reading the inside): Dr. Elise Bork!
PAMELA: Dr. Bork’s records…but how did they get here?

“The three lazy morons responsible for the screenplay decided: ‘Hell, it’s too nice a day to write an ending—let’s put this quickly to bed, then hit the links and get in eighteen holes…’”

CHUCK: Well, the case is really wrapped up in cellophane now!  (Sudden realization) Lothel sent it!
PAMELA: Lothel?
MR. X: The mystery queen of the jungle?

No, it’s probably another Lothel who lives in the area.  Everybody’s always confusing the two.  (Schmuck.)

BOB: Yes, sir!  (To Chuck) How do you figure that, son?
PAMELA: But you and Chuck found out that Lothel was with Dr. Bork in the Balgan caves when the explosion occurred!
BOB: That’s right…
CHUCK: She worked it the same way she saved me from the crocodiles…where did she get the hunk of raw meat she threw?  I don’t know—do you?

Bob gives out with a hearty guffaw at this, making me want to slap the stuffing out of him.  I cannot believe I sat through the entirety of this odious fromage for this crappy ending.  Well, let’s let Lothel have the last word as she addresses the Tongghilis before disappearing into pièce du feu:

LOTHEL: Peace has come again to the middle jungle…and the secrets of the sword are safe…the upper and lower thrones are no longer vacant…I came to help you—and now…my task is done…I am…Lothel!

Yeah, yeah, yeah…mystery queen of the jungle…big freaking deal.  When Jungle Queen was re-released to theaters in 1951 after Ruth Roman had started landing substantial parts in films like The Window, Champion and Strangers on a Train she was “aghast”…and well she should have been.

(A Facebook friend of mine, after learning that I was dissecting this weekly, told me he had the privilege of meeting Edward Norris at a film festival many years back and mentioned that the actor talked briefly about being in this serial.  He didn’t elaborate on what Norris said, but I’d like to think it was something along the order of “Boy, did that thing suck!”)

Unanswered Question #6: Now that the miserable experience known as Jungle Queen is over, what’s on tap for next week’s edition of Serial Saturdays?

This one I can actually answer.  Next week, I’ll start a weekly look at the 1940 chapter play The Green Hornet (or as my pal Laughing Gravy calls it, “The Green Hairnet”).  I had originally planned to do this one about the time I started Jungle Queen (three years ago) but set it aside due to a request from Phil Schweier: he wanted to get a DVD copy of the thing and I believe he’s made arrangements to do so since that time.  Its old-time radio origins are also an attraction; plus, with the release of the Seth Rogen version last year I thought it would be even more timely…not to mention that The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ will start running it (the 1940 serial, not the Rogen flick) Saturday afternoons beginning July 7, so that will give the TDOY faithful the opportunity to watch it as well.  And yes, Serial Saturdays will return to its regular Saturday timeslot next week.


Stacia said...

middle jungle


Hilarious recap, and you made it all the way through! Also, my most favorite screencap ever:

Speaking of not doing retakes, I heard that someone calls Bonita Granville by her real name in These Three. How do these things get past directors, other actors, AND editors?

How you sat through this is beyond me.

Clarence Muse really got boned in Hollywood. The man deserves like 50 honorary posthumous Oscars for the crap he put up with.

rnigma said...

And the credits are in Hobo font! Clas-sy...