Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) sees a native (Neyle Morrow) running for his life. Before he can get to him the native is killed by a leopard. In his hand the native clutches a small vial with some unusual hieroglyphics on it. The vial was made of gold and contains some kind of ointment. Jim takes the vial to Geoffrey Marsden (Holmes Herbert), the district commissioner of the Nagandi territory. Marsden sends the vial to the archeological department. They decipher the name as being Zimbalu, an ancient temple of legend. Marsden tells Bruce Edwards (George Reeves) about the find and the possibility of treasure being in the temple. Edwards likes treasure.
The finding of the vial and the inscription prompts an archeological expedition to find the temple. A scientist, Dr. Hilary Parker (Virginia Grey) is the head of the expedition. Jim arranges the expedition and hires bearers from the Masai tribe. Hilary wants to find the temple for three reasons, its archeological significance, the possibility of treasure and because what is in the vial, a paralyzing poison that, once refined, can be used to cure polio. Jim tells her that he took a sample to the Masai medicine man and he said that that poison is used by a witchdoctor cult who uses it to make their poison arrows. They paralyze their victims and use them as human sacrifices.
The expedition heads out with Jim and his friend and chief of the Masai, Kolu (Rick Vallin). After trekking miles into the jungle they find that Kolu’s sister Zia (Lita Baron) has been following them. No one is happy to see her but there is nothing they can do. They are too far into the jungle to send her back.
Strange things begin to happen, an elephant stampede, rocks falling on the members of the expedition. Jim sets up some warning traps around their camp. When one of them goes off they find Bruce Edwards. Hilary hires him as photographer for the expedition. Jim and Kolu are suspicious that Edwards may be behind all the accidents that have been happening lately, but Edwards is the least of their problems once they get into the territory belonging to the devil witchdoctors.
“Jungle Jim” was released in 1948 and was directed by William Berke. It is an American jungle adventure film. It is also the first of sixteen Jungle Jim films that starred Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer who won five gold medals and one bronze team medal in the 1934 and 1928 Olympic Games.
Janos Peter Weissmuller had appeared as Tarzan in twelve movies from 1932 to 1948. Part of the reason Weissmuller stopped playing Tarzan was because he had been putting on too much weight. A penalty clause in his contract called for him to weigh no more than 190 pounds or he would be penalized $5,000 per pound up to 10 pounds, a total of a possible $50,000. That’s a lot considering he only made $75,000 per film. Lex Barker was signed to take over the Tarzan role so Weissmuller took on Jungle Jim. In 1948 Weissmuller signed a five year contract with Sam Katzman to make Jungle films starting with two films a year for two years. Weissmuller also played Jungle Jim in a twenty-six episode television series in 1956 to 1958.
George Reeves would go on to play the superhero Superman in the television series “The Adventures of Superman” in 1952. Five years after the move was made Dr. Jonas Salk would announce the discovery of a real polio vaccine.
Like all jungle movies there is stock footage of animals in the film, orangutans, crocodiles, elephants etc. As far as African jungle esthetics are concerned there are no orangutans in Africa, the crocodiles are really alligators, both real and rubber, and Asian elephants are used instead of the wilder African elephants, sometimes with, and sometimes without fake ear extensions attached to disguise them. Stuffed to the rafters with stock footage and animal attacks “Jungle Jim” is still a lot of fun and a lot of action.