Having thoroughly enjoyed the desert-based adventures that made up Imprint’s Tales of Adventure: Collection 1, I was very keen to get my hands on Collection 2. I was unsure how I felt at the news that this would be made up of jungle films, which has never been my favourite subgenre, but given the delightful diversity of Collection 1 I hoped I would find the same in Collection 2. The set certainly delivers in that respect. These jungle adventures vary considerably in tone and style, hopefully ensuring that most people can find a film amongst these five that might be to their liking. While the overall hit rate is not as high as Collection 1, I was still pleased to discover two small gems amongst the films included, as well as the usual collection of interesting commentaries and beautiful cover art.

ANGEL ON THE AMAZON

Director: John H. Auer
Screenplay: Lawrence Kimble
Producers: John H. Auer
Starring: George Brent, Vera Ralston, Brian Aherne, Constance Bennett
Year: 1948
Country: USA
Duration: 86 mins

As the first film on a boxset of Jungle Adventures, it’s surprising when Angel on the Amazon leaves the jungle after only about half an hour, returning just once for a fleeting but pivotal flashback. And yet, there’s a continued sense of adventure even when the film has retired to hotel rooms and society events because Lawrence Kimble’s peculiar screenplay weaves such an oddly disquieting mystery that the characters seem to be in a constant state of imminent threat, even when the sound of distant war drums has long faded. This story of a man’s obsession with the mysterious young woman who saves him and his crew after their plane crashes in an Amazonian jungle hides its secrets so well (as long as you don’t read the spoiler-iffic tagline on the poster) that its tone remains elusive throughout. There are moments when you’re not sure if you’re watching an Adventure, a Romance, a Tragedy, a Mystery or a Supernatural Thriller, and Angel on the Amazon’s major achievement is that it manages to be all of these things without having to commit to one above the others. It emerges not as schizophrenic but as ambitious, a B-movie with its sights on something grander, that sticks the landing so satisfyingly as to immediately demand a rewatch. All concerns about moments that initially seem creepy or unpleasant dissolve as the film’s poetic final stretch reveals the surprising complexity of this little film with big ideas.

While the tonal balancing act that director John H. Auer achieves with this challenging material may be the film’s most impressive achievement, there is plenty more working in its favour. The charming effects by Howard and Theodore Lydecker are a beautiful combination of B-movie pluck and efficient sleight of hand, making the opening stretch involving the plane crash play much more effectively than you might expect from a low budget production. There are a couple of other good moments, including a panther attack which probably owes its avoidance of ludicrousness as much to the editing of Richard L. Van Enger. The cast are also very solid, with Vera Ralston’s jungle siren tapping into just the right level of haunted detachment to be enigmatic but not alienating and Constance Bennett, formerly the highest paid actress in Hollywood, bringing an anchoring sense of wit and charm to the role of the overlooked doctor. There was a time when Bennett would’ve had the lead role here, a fact that ultimately chimes with the film’s themes, but she gamely elevates what could’ve been an ill-served part in the hands of a lesser talent. I initially found George Brent too oleaginous as the hypnotised-by-beauty hero Jim Warburton but as his role revealed itself as more than just the persistent romantic lead I’d taken him for, I realised he was doing a better job than I thought and the discomfort he was inspiring in me was as intentional as that felt in the third act of Vertigo.

I don’t want to get too carried away with comparisons to Vertigo but Angel on the Amazon surprised me so much with just how unusual and effective it was that I’m still buzzing from the experience. Of course, you need to adjust expectations into that B-movie mindset in order to appreciate it, and the absence of this consideration is that to which I attribute the film’s comparatively poor reputation. But for those who love a good B-picture, this is a really, really good one.

DAUGHTER OF THE JUNGLE

Director: George Blair
Screenplay: William Lively
Producers: Franklin Adreon
Starring: Lois Hall, James Cardwell, William Wright, Sheldon Leonard
Year: 1949
Country: USA
Duration: 80 mins

The second film from Republic Pictures on this set isn’t quite the small gem that Angel on the Amazon was. Even described in the official promotional material as a “guilty pleasure”, Daughter of the Jungle obtained mild cult interest when it became one of the films included in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’s infamous 70s tome The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. For perspective, Medved and Dreyfuss’s book, though popular with the public, was itself deemed severely lacking by critics and contains several films that many deem as classics such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Zabriskie Point. Opinion is key in film criticism, of course, and sacred cows can make for tiresome uniformity, but it’s certainly true to say that Daughter of the Jungle is much more the sort of film you’d expect to find amongst a listing of the worst cinema has to offer. Clearly thrown together in a hurry, most of its better moments are clearly edited in from earlier productions, a move that necessitated Lois Hall’s titular heroine being bunged in an raggedy old costume pulled out of mothballs in order that her appearance match the reused footage.

In many ways, it’s easier to justify the inclusion of a recognised classic that a critic has deemed unworthy on a list of worst films than it is to single out a film like Daughter of the Jungle for the same list. That’s because awkward rush jobs like Daughter of the Jungle are ten a penny and therefore it’s hard to convincingly choose one as representative awful when so many other films share the exact same flaws. I do wonder, given that Hall’s character is very pointedly a female equivalent of Tarzan right down to a version of his trademark bellow, whether the reaction to Daughter of the Jungle was to some extent driven by territorial gender issues, a proto-equivalent of “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.” But then the character of Ticoora, a woman who has supposedly grown up in the wild but seems to have retained the airs and graces of a debutante, give or take a swing through the trees here and there, is hardly the shining example of a feminist hero for which you might hope.

It’s easier to talk about Daughter of the Jungle’s place in the anti-canon than it is to discuss its actual content, because the film is such a dreary non-event that Imprint’s generous offering of a thus-far unreleased extended cut could almost be misconstrued as an act of hostility. Given that Medved and Dreyfuss’s book was written in an age before the availability of home media would’ve made research so much easier, I can only imagine that Daughter of the Jungle was just one of the more regularly televised examples of the many films of its kind. It isn’t one of the worst films ever made but as I plodded through its spliced together, interminably ho-hum story, I did begin to think that a notably bad film would’ve been preferable to this predictably dull one.

FAIR WIND TO JAVA

Director: Joseph Kane
Screenplay: Richard Tregaskis
Based on the novel by: Garland Roark
Producers: Joseph Kane
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Vera Ralston
Year: 1953
Country: USA
Duration: 92 mins

When you see the cover art of an Adventure films set like this one, Fair Wind to Java is exactly the sort of film you hope to find inside. Bright and colourful, loaded with action, fast moving, sometimes ludicrous, acted with gusto above authenticity. The plot is about a search for sunken diamonds and involves masked pirates, sea battles, punch-ups, romance and a great big climactic volcanic eruption. Although the film has some star power in Fred MacMurray and Victor McLaglen, the real stars once again are the Lydecker brothers. While their effects work on Angel on the Amazon has been notable, here it is absolutely pivotal and makes Fair Wind to Java by far the most beautiful Republic Pictures film I’ve seen yet. Also contributing to this lush aesthetic is the cinematography of Jack Marta, with scenes shot in Trucolor looking every bit as ravishing as their more famous Technicolor contemporaries.

If Fair Wind to Java is fantastic to look at and enormous fun in its lively set pieces, this enjoyment is tempered slightly by the hokey performances. Of course, in a film such as this that generally matters less but the oft-underrated Fred MacMurray is almost unspeakably bad here. Reportedly, MacMurray would occasionally shake his head and wonder aloud why he was in this film, so his lack of enthusiasm for the material probably affected his performance, although the result seems to have been an embarrassingly overcompensatory verve rather than a visible disinterest. Vera Ralston, who gave a measured performance in Angel on the Amazon, is back here but she is lumbered with an ill-defined accent and a thankless love interest role that sees her largely moved around, and occasionally slapped around, by men. If this brutality is comparatively shrugged off, Fair Wind to Java also feature a surprisingly brutal scene of whipping, with the vibrant Trucolor horribly accentuating a lash-stripped, bleeding back. Again, it is the visuals that impress above writing and performance.

With a better screenplay and even marginally less awful acting, Fair Wind to Java could’ve been a rollicking classic. As it is, it remains a lively, consistently enjoyable Saturday matinee type entertainment, the epitome of “old fashioned adventure”, a term I’ve seen used as both a pejorative and a compliment. For me, it will always read more as a recommendation and Fair Wind to Java delivered on my hopes for an exciting Swashbuckler, even if there was little beneath its flashy surface. The one really odd thing about it, given its appearance on this Jungle Adventures set, is how little of it takes place in a jungle. It would be much more suited to a seafaring Swashbucklers set, the like of which I hope we might see in the future.

ELEPHANT WALK

Director: William Dieterle
Screenplay: John Lee Mahin
Based on the novel by: Robert Standish
Producers: Irving Asher
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Finch, Dana Andrews
Year: 1954
Country: USA
Duration: 103 mins

If Fair Wind to Java felt out of place on a Jungle Adventures boxset due to its comparative lack of jungle, Elephant Walk is hard pushed to justify its classification as an adventure. This Soapy Melodrama about a British woman who marries a colonial tea planter and moves to his opulent Sri Lankan plantation, though based on a novel by Robert Standish, feels very heavily influenced by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. This comparison would’ve been emphasised even more had the original plan to cast Laurence Olivier as the male lead gone ahead. As it was, Peter Finch got the role, with the female leaf transferred from Vivian Leigh to Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor in particular does well with her role, selling the loneliness of a woman trapped thousands of miles from home in a marriage that is not as she envisaged, but the script plods along drably with none of the Gothic dread that hangs over Rebecca. The beats are all there, from a dead figure who still has great influence over the household (in this case, a father known as “the Governor”) to a mysterious locked room, a malevolent servant and a fiery conclusion. But it just doesn’t come together like du Maurier’s classic tale and the inevitable comparison hurts Elephant Walk’s credibility.

One thing Elephant Walk does have going for it is its opulent production values, with beautiful colour and impressive sets and location work enhancing the mood. But the slow pace and dull story mean that it never comes fully to life until the climactic elephant stampede, in which the adventure portion of the film takes hold about five minutes from the conclusion. When placed next to the cheaper Republic Pictures films on this set, you can see how much more expensive this Paramount production was, but this merely illustrates how sometimes the fleet-footed Adventure genre can be better served by less money and more enthusiasm.

SAFARI

Director: Terence Young
Screenplay: Robert Buckner
Producers: Irving Allen, Albert. R. Broccoli
Starring: Victor Mature, Janet Leigh
Year: 1956
Country: UK
Duration: 91 mins

Safari is one of those films that puts me in the slightly embarrassing position of having to recuse myself from giving a star rating. That’s because the film is about a big game hunter and very early on we see an elephant shot in the head, falling to the ground with an enormous crash. It’s either real or an incredible effect, and, given Safari is hardly a big budget film, I suspect it is the former. This immediately put me off the film when it had barely got started and I would have turned it off at this point had I not been watching for the purposes of review. But that one moment set me on edge for the rest of the film, expecting to see more of the same real life animal slaughter, which was indeed intermittently served up. There are those who would see this as a reason to give the film the lowest possible star rating but given that I am a fan of numerous films, Westerns in particular, during the production of which I can’t vouch for the humane treatment of animals, I think it best to leave Safari unrated rather than dig deeper into the tedious details of my own personal hypocrisies.

Having been relieved of the pressure of applying a definitive star rating, I feel safe to add that if I were to find out that the animal deaths were faked, Safari would remain a bore anyway. Even before the elephant was shot, the film subjected me to some of the worst dubbing of a child’s voice I’ve ever seen. The child themself appeared to be giving a perfectly fine physical performance and I can only assume, no matter how bad their line delivery was, it was preferable to the squeaky adult imitation we have plastered atop the soundtrack. Perhaps the most interesting thing that happens in Safari is the brutal death of that same child just a few scenes later, a surprisingly grim opening to a film that sinks into tedious revenge cliches after that. Safari was directed by Terence Young, most famous for his work on Bond films, and I detected the same stuffy, smarmy British superiority here that is just one of the factors that makes me find Bond a dreary, repetitive bore. Young also had a film, Zarak, on the first Tales of Adventure set, which I enjoyed more and which you can read about here.

All in all, Safari was a flat ending to a mixed bag of a boxset, which contains one little gem, one ripping yarn, two dreary misfires and a film that I deemed myself unable to rate on moral grounds.

Tales of Adventure: Collection 2 was released on limited edition Blu-ray by Imprint on 29 November 2023.

Special features are as follows:

– Audio Commentary by film historian Phillipa Berry on Angel on the Amazon
– Audio Commentary by film historian/screenwriter, Gary Gerani on Daughter of the Jungle
– Audio Commentary by film historian Samm Deighan on Fair Wind to Java
– Audio Commentary by film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani on Elephant Walk
Elephant Walk Theatrical Trailer

Where to watch Angel on the Amazon
Tales of Adventure: Collection 2
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