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Darkest Africa
Bat Men of Africa / King of Jungleland

USA 1936
produced by
Nat Levine, Barney A. Sarecky (supervising) for Republic
directed by B. Reeves Eason, Joseph Kane
starring Clyde Beatty, Manuel Kng, Elaine Shepard, Lucien Prival, Wheeler Oackman, Edmund Cobb, Edward McWade, Ray Turner, as both gorilla and Bat Man Ray Corrigan (= Ray 'Crash' Corrigan), Donald Reed, Joseph Byrd, Joe De La Cruz, Harrison Greene, Prince Modupe, Eddie Parker, Henry Sylvester
story by Tracy Knight, John Rathmell, screenplay by John Rathmell, Barney A. Sarecky, Ted Parsons, special effects by Roy Granville, John T. Coyle, Howard Lydecker, Theodore Lydecker

serial

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Somewhere, deep in darkest Africa, lies the hidden city of Joba, an ancient realm guarded by Bat Men and watched over by goddess Valerie (Elaine Shepard) ... but actually, Valerie is just a puppet of high priest Dagna (Lucien Prival), a white girl whose parents have died in the jungle, held in Joba against her will. Valerie's brother Baru (Manuel King) has escaped the clutches of Dagna, and now he's looking for assistance in freeing his sister, assistance he finds in animal trainer Clyde Beatty (Clyde Beatty), who has come to Africa to capture lions and the odd tiger (!) to tame and sell to circuses. Good guy that he is, Clyde accompanies Baru - who is watched oer by his gorilla Bonga (Ray 'Crash' Corrigan) - to Joba on the spot, even though he knows that Dagna is likely to have all intruders into his realm killed.

But if Clyde and Baru think, danger only lies ahead, they don't know about traders Durkin (Wheeler Oakman) and Craddock (Edmund Cobb), who follow them to Joba because they want to have their share of the cities emeralds, and once there, they team up with Dagna and try everything to have Clyde and Baru captured - with little success though, because Dagna's weapon of choice are his hunter lions, but lions prove to be pretty ineffective against Clyde Beatty, the world's greatest animal trainer (as the ads say) and Baru, himself quite competent when it comes to dealing with savage beasts (and thus billed as world's greatest animal trainer).

Anyways, Clyde, Baru, Bonga and Clyde's coloured sidekick Hambone (Ray Turner) have to face all kinds of threats - from the Bat Men to collapsing caves to hunter lions and tigers to explosives to a slave revolt (interestingly enough incited by Durkin and Braddock) and whatnot - in their efforts to save Valerie, and in the end looks that instead it's her who saves them, committing the ultimate sacrifice so Dagna has to fulfill her last wish (this being that Clyde and Baru be released). In the end though, Gorn (Edward McWade), Joba's benign reader of the law, sacrifices himself for his goddess, all the good guys are saved, and Joba with all its baddies and Bat Men is eradicated in an eruption of the local volcano.

 

True, the plot of Darkest Africa is simplistic as can be, there are leaps of reason aplenty, the whole thing is more than a little bit campy, plus neither Clyde Beatty nor Manuel King nor Elaine Shepard shine in the lead good guy roles acting wise, while lead villain Lucien Prival, usually a dependable actor, was visibly caught on a bad day (he was suffering from a chronic cold during the shoot of the film), failing to properly bring to life a role he could have made his own.

That all said though, Darkest Africa, the first serial of newly merged Republic Pictures, is nothing short of wonderful, a piece of escapism at its best where far-fetched things like Bat Men, highly developed lost civilisations and massive opportunities to tame lions make a sense all of their own - and while neither Beatty (back then one of the most famous lion tamers there was) nor King (a chubby kid wearing a horrible wig who was a hell of a liontamer though having grown up at his father's wildlife park where Darkest Africa was filmed) are even adequate actors, they are authentic taming lions, and the film's script sees to it that they have to do plenty of that - besides quite an amount of non-lion-related action scenes. Add to this a nice direction by B.Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane that keeps things going at a steady pace, and you've got a great serial

 

 

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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