During a storm at sea young Joan Redmond (Marianne Edwards) survives while her parents perish. Joan grows up in the jungle and is christened the “Lion Goddess” by the Basumbo tribe. A note sent in a bottle, during the storm, by Joan’s father Tom (Frank Mayo) washes up on shore. The Redmond family lawyer Tyler (Selmer Jackson) manages the estate. He hopes that he can locate Joan alive but he needs a guide to take him into the jungle. The territorial consultant (Claude King) suggests he talk to Jim “Jungle Jim” Bradley (Grant Withers). Jim already has a commitment but he recommends Red Hallihan (Frank McGlynn Jr.).
At the same time Bruce Redmond (Bryant Washburn), Joan’s uncle, is also in the jungle looking for a guide to locate Joan. His interests are not as altruistic as Tyler’s. He wants Joan dead so he can inherit the estate. The Redmond estate is worth millions. Bruce hires Slade (Al Bridge) and LaBat (Paul Sutton), two unscrupulous men as his guides. Slade and LaBat kill Red and Tyler by letting wild animals loose on them.
When Jim finds out that his friend Red has been murdered he vows revenge. Jim and his sidekick Malay Mike (Raymond Hatton) are aware that Joan’s uncle is also looking for her but for different reasons. Jim and Mike head out after Bruce’s safari looking for the one who killed Red.
Jim and Mike find Joan (Betty Jane Rhodes) first but also end up a target for a fugitive that calls himself the White Cobra (Henry Brandon). He and his sister Shanghai Lil (Evelyn Brent) are hiding out in the jungle. The White Cobra is posing as Joan’s father. Since the tribe worships Joan his position as second in command gives him power, although tenuous, over the tribe.
Jim finds himself having to protect Joan from Bruce Redmond while keeping himself from being killed by the White Cobra and his warriors on one side and Slade and LaBat on the other.
“Jungle Jim” was released in 1937 and was directed by Ford Beebe, and Clifford Smith. It is a twelve chapter serial produced by Universal. It is based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond. At one time it was believed to be a lost serial. Although Weissmuller is known as "Jungle Jim", having done sixteen films between 1948 and 1955, Grant Withers was the first Jungle Jim.
The serial is actually pretty good. The cliffhangers are varied and the plot of the story has various aspects and changes to it. There’s also some interesting stock footage. For example there is a fight between a tiger and a crocodile, a lion hunt, hyenas attacking a zebra and a lion fight. They’re not extensive clips but they are long enough to add some additional action to the serial.
As far as comic relief is concerned Raymond Hatton as Maylay Mike is not too overbearing and is actually amusing. Evelyn Brent as Shanghai Lil does little more than get under the Cobra’s skin. Henry Brandon as the Cobra is quite menacingly sure of himself. Betty Jane Rhodes as Joan is actually pretty good, especially considering she was only about sixteen at the time and fairly new to acting. Grant Withers is also good as Jungle Jim. I’ve always been a fan of his acting style.
The adult lion that hangs out with Joan in some of the scenes is “Jackie” a rather tame lion that was owned and trained by animal trainer Melvin Koontz. Koontz also owned and trained the tiger “Satan” that was used in some of the attack scenes. Koontz doubled for any of the actors that were attacked by either Satan or Jackie. What you’re seeing is Koontz play wrestling. The leopards were owned by Olga Celeste and Albert Allcorn. They weren’t quite as tame. Reportedly Jackie is also the MGM lion.*
Tigers are only native to Asia not Africa. The tigers in the serial are supposed to be the descendants of the tigers Redmond had on the ship that were shipwrecked during the storm that resulted in Joan also being in Africa. Both being top of the food chain the tigers and the lions would naturally compete for food and territory. Jane’s hatred for the tigers is most likely the result of the tiger getting loose aboard ship and attacking her and her mother.
Reportedly the tribal songs and drums in the serial are actually those of Native Americans added into the soundtrack in post production. The Cobra’s castle that for some reason is in the middle of the jungle is the same set that was used for Universal’s “Frankenstein” movies.
Chapter titles: 1 Into the Lion's Den 2 The Cobra Strikes 3 The Menacing Hand 4 The Killer's Trail 5 The Bridge of Terror 6 Drums of Doom 7 The Earth Trembles 8 The Killer Lion 9 The Devil Bird 10 Descending Doom 11 In the Cobra's Castle 12The Last Safari
*Animal information courtesy “The Files of Jerry Blake” website.