Movie Critique: Bomba, the Jungle Boy (#1); Bomba on Panther Island(#2); Elephant Stampede(#6)

Stars: 2 / 5

Recommendation: Poor imitation to the likes of Tarzan or Mowgli, the movies were rather slow with subtle racial discrimination, that took the charm out of the films. 

Bomba the Jungle Boy is a series of 12 American boy's adventure movies released between 1949 starting with "Bomba, the Jungle Boy" and ending with "Lord of the Jungle" in 1955. The movies were based on the book series created by Roy Rockwood, that were published between 1926 and 1938.

Just as Mowgli was Rudyard Kipling's jungle kid and Tarzan was Edgar Rice Burroughs' so was Bomba created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate under the pseudonym of Roy Rockwood. One cannot help compare Bomba with Mowgli or Tarzan. 

Johnny Sheffield starred in the titular role. Sheffield was a natural choice for producer Walter Mirisch since Sheffield had already acted as the "Boy", the teenaged adopted son of Tarzan, in several Tarzan films by then. Sadly when the last of Bomba's films were finished, it ended Sheffield's career too.

Walter Mirisch was a young producer when the first movie in this series was made, but by the time the last movie was finished, he settled himself as a successful producer in Hollywood walking towards an Academy Award winning movie in 1967 for In the Heat of the Night.

The first film, "Bomba, the Jungle Boy", introduces Bomba to the viewers. Photographer George Harland (portrayed by Onslow Stevens) and his daughter Patricia "Pat" Harland (portrayed by Peggy Ann Garner) come to Africa to capture wildlife on film. Instead they face a killer leopard, a swarm of locusts and Bomba. Smoky Whitfield portrays the role of Eli, native-African assistant. The story is based on the first book of the same name in the series which was published in 1926.

Heroine Peggy Ann Garner doesn’t look more than 15 - 16 years old herself, perhaps to match the teenage look of Sheffield. Very little wardrobe has been spent on Sheffield considering he was for most part sporting a leopard skin loin cloth and nothing else.

The second film, Bomba on Panther Island, was released in 1949, is also the second in the series. In this a developer, Robert "Rob" Maitland (portrayed by Harry Lewis) and his sister, Judy Maitland (portrayed by Allene Roberts) come to Africa to build a plantation. Andy Barnes & his trusted assistant, Eli, help them. But a man-eating panther is on the loose. And Bomba comes to their aid again.

The plot was written by Ford Beebe who was also the director of the film. Unclear if this was based on the fourth book, "Bomba, the Jungle Boy on Jaguar Island" which was published in 1927. In this film, the writers create sort of a love triangle for Bomba with Judy and Losana (portrayed by Lita Baron), their maid. The plot also is left in a cliff-hanger as though there could be more for Judy, Bomba, Rob and Losana. May be the writers carried it in another one of the remaining 10 movies in the series. 

The third film, Elephant Stampede, was released in 1951, is the sixth in the series. In this while Bomba is learning to read by a beautiful teacher's assistant, Lola (portrayed by Donna Martell), he has to ward off two ivory poachers, Joe Collins (portrayed by Myron Healey) and Bob Warren (portrayed by John Kellogg). With no choice, he calls on his elephant friends to fight the poachers.

Directed and written by Ford Beebe, couldn't figure out which Bomba book did Beebe adapt the story from. I did feel that he portrayed the heroine as stupid enough to get tangled with bad boys just because she wanted to make Bomba jealous. How stupid can that be! In real life I don’t think women do that nonsense and get their lives in danger. 

Charles Irwin and Smoki Whitfield portray the roles of Andy Barnes and Eli respectively in the first two movies I mentioned above. However, in the third one Commissioner Andy Barnes is portrayed by Leonard Mudie and goes on to play this role in seven more Bomba movies.

All through the films, one of the African tribe - Masai - makes it's presence with it's people and ceremonies they follow. But the filmmakers show them weak and dependent on the "white man" for everything, even learning to lead a better way of life. I wonder how these tribes survived before the "white man" came; and how did they manage to live centuries before the "white man" materialized. This was really bad portrayal of any species or country or people. 

A moral is left at the end of the second film for people to ponder and consider when they work with Mother Nature. That is the only good thing that came out of these films for me. Although in the third film I saw it did show how poachers poach into the jungles for exotic animals and birds. 

To cut costs, Poverty Row studios of Monogram Pictures reused several scenes of Sheffield swinging from jungle vines or walking through the jungle, monkeys chattering, native tribes running in the jungle, & other scenes, in all of the 12 movies. In some movies obvious projection of jungle scenes; painted backdrops; stock footage of jungles can be clearly seen.

Although the films were a huge success, they show distinct racial discrimination that we don’t see with Tarzan or Mowgli. Just because Bomba is white his soul is awake and the jungle people are black so their soul is sleeping or dead, doesn’t make sense at all to me. Even some of the dialogues portray Africa and the natives in a condescending tone. The African language in the second film is plain gibberish, another insult to those tribes. 

Originally the films were supposed to be made in color with three movies per year. Later Monogram's president Steve Broidy made two per year instead and all were shot in black and white. Perhaps that is why in the first film, there is a conversation between Pat, her father and Andy Barnes, their guide (portrayed by Charles Irwin) where Pat comments that wish they had film in color to film the flamingos against setting sun.

Pat Harland: Pink of their plumage to get the setting sun. If we only had color.
George Harland: We'll come back another time with color.

The movies felt very slow for me considering how much of a plot normally film makers would pack in 70 minutes. It has more of a National Geography style filming than a story book converted to film. Could have been made better.

Watching just three films has been enough for me. They might have been successful movies, but I couldn't look past the subtle racial discrimination showed as well as the very slow pace of the films that did not appeal to me. They seem to be a poor imitation of the likes of Tarzan or Mowgli.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Trivia:

a. Bomba, the Jungle Boy:

i. Note the camera Pat uses to film. Boy that must have been heavy for her to lift. 

b. Bomba on Panther Island:

i. Bomba was raised by an aged naturalist, Cody Casson. A glimpse of his journal with his signature is shown in this film.

ii. Losana seems to have a spirit of a Cat in her; and also has some secrets. She seems to be very much interested in Rob as well.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Bomba, the Jungle Boy:

i. How did Pat convert a piece of leopard loose skin into a fashionable and completely sewn dress by just walking behind their makeshift hut? Was there a seamstress behind hiding? :P

b. Bomba on Panther Island:

i. The filmmakers show Indian elephants, peacocks and black panther that are not native of Africa. Indian Elephants and Peacocks of course are from India. Perhaps the filmmakers were confused between India and Africa. 

ii. In one scene as Bomba and Judy pass the firelit forest, at one point the fire dies down as they pass and then it comes back up again.

iii. In the first film, Bomba, the Jungle Boy, Bomba uses fire to keep the natives out so Pat and her father can escape. But in this film, Andy strictly warns Rob not use to fire instead cut the trees as needed, since once started, fires cannot be controlled in the forest. How was it not true in the first film then?

c. Elephant Stampede:

i. Although Barnes becomes Commissioner in this film, he had been addressed as Commissioner in the 1949 film, Bomba on Panther Island itself. How come?

ii. Since the filmmakers used Asian elephants for the film, they attached huge artificial ears to them to look like African elephants. It is so obvious.


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