Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I've been recording jungle movies, looking for ideas to add to Thunder Island, and I came across this 1932, pre-code movie, staring Walter Huston (father of John and grandfather of Angelica) and a remake of a silent film called 'West of Zanzibar'. If it weren't for the tacked on happy ending, this would have qualified as one of the bleakest movie I've ever seen.
'Deadlegs' Flint is a petty tyrant in the mold of Col. Kurtz  or Doctor Moreau. Through trickery and manipulation of the local tribes, he controls a territory hundreds of kilometer wide deep in the Congolese Jungle called the JuJu Circle. On his orders, the only white people allowed in the circle are Flint and his small band consisting of a thug, a cook and a woman.

Crippled, scarred and twisted, not much is known about Flint beyond the fact that he is obsessed with a man called Gregg, an equally vile human being who controls the adjacent territory.  Gregg crippled Flint in a fight many years before, and though it is never specifically said, the fight seems to have been over the fact that Flint's wife ran away with Gregg.

Seeking revenge, Flint somehow stashed Gregg's young daughter Ann in a convent school where she grew up surrounded by safety, cleanliness and kindness. When she turned seventeen, pulls her out of the school and dumps her in a 'Night House' in Zanzibar, where she is kept captive for about two years. When she is utterly broken, abused, sick and drunk, he brings her into the JuJu Circle to use her in his final confrontation with Gregg. Complicating matters is a drug addled Doctor who shows up in the Circle and develops feelings for the wretched Ann. Flint wants to treat his paining back and legs, so Flint cures the Doctor's of his cravings by burying him neck deep in the swamp overnight to be sucked dry by giant leeches.

The funeral custom of the local tribe (and encouraged by Flint) is that when a man dies, his closest female relative is thrown, alive, onto the funeral pyre. Flint's plan is to reveal Ann to Gregg, and then have him killed, condemning Ann to the gruesome fate. To cement his plan, Flint has a sniper hidden somewhere in the nearby jungle with orders to kill Gregg if he steps out of the cabin. 
The final twist is that Ann is not Gregg's daughter, she is Flint's. The movie (almost) ends with Flint fighting off the entire tribe while Ann, the Doctor and the remains of Flint's small crew flee into the swamps with "a one in a thousand chance". Had it ended there, the movie would be a near masterpiece on the futility and cancerous nature of revenge. The tacked on happy ending of (the now clean and smiling) Ann and the Doctor joking about getting married feels like it fell out of  another movie and just goes to show that studios have been screwing with that sort of thing since the dawn of the medium.

A jungle tyrant obsessed with a Machiavellian plot that may or may not have anything with the party, is DEFINITELY going into Thunder Island. He will also have a loyal, but vicious chimp.  

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