Archive for March 12, 2012

The Loin King

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by dcairns

I’ve never seen Buster Crabbe’s turn as TARZAN THE FEARLESS, but the same year he played a Tarzan knock-off for Paramount in KING OF THE JUNGLE, a film about a different kind of lion-man from those Buster rubbed manly shoulders with in FLASH GORDON. Kaspa was raised by lions (and did screenwriter Fred Niblo Jnr read up on feral kids and uncover the tale of Kaspar Hauser?)

Right up front we get an audacious scene change — as Kaspa’s parents acquire a pass to go exploring in lion country, they’re asked if they think it’s safe taking their pre-school kid with them. They shrug off the potential perils — dissolve to the tattered permit lying athwart their scattered bones, bleaching in the desert sun. Tiny Child Buster is mysteriously unharmed and undistressed, though we do rather fear for him as he clambers a rocky escarpment with a glinting blade in one pudgy fist. The scenes with him and the lions are carefully staged — he has rough-and-tumble antics with the cubs, but a variety of effective tricks prevent him from getting too close to Mrs Lion’s jaws.

You can see Paramount are determined to work that zoom lens until the zoom bar drops off.

Another blithe dissolve gives us full-grown Buster in leopard-skin loin-cloth, hanging out with his lion pals. This is pre-code cinema’s most revealing loin-cloth, so aficionados of that garment are urged to beat a hasty path to KOTJ to enjoy the taut, tensing buttocks of Mr Crabbe in all their gluteus glory.

Captured by Douglas Dumbrille and Sidney Toler for a traveling circus, Buster is shipped to San Francisco, escapes, and is tamed by schoolmarm Frances Dee, who plays him chopsticks and otherwise imparts the benefits of civilization. But Kaspa is discontented with circus life, and longs to free his feline pals. A spectacular circus fire allows him to save the day and effect a return to Africa, with Dee in tow. Randall William Cook points out that the story follows the same arc as MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, and probably served as a sewing pattern for the later gorilla thrilla. KOTJ likewise features scarifying live animal action even more alarming that MJY’s — a hissing, snarling, biting and scratching lion-vs-tiger catfight — the movie should carry a credit saying that the Humane Association couldn’t bear to look.

The furry flurry is impossible to frame-grab effectively, but just imagine the sound of a sackful of disgruntled tomcats rolling down a hill in slow motion…