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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a sad film to watch as it's star, the great Lionel Atwill died halfway through filming. Due to the disjointed way serials are filmed, Atwill is seen intermittently throughout the proceedings with another character filling in for the scenes Atwill was supposed to appear in, while a body double stands in the background or is only shown from behind. The plot concerns a search for a rare element that can be used as defense against the atomic bomb. War monger Sit Eric Hazarias (Lionel Atwill) has traced the element, dubbed Meteorium 245, to the Himilian province of Pendrang, ruled over by casino owner Indra (Helen Bennett). Hazarias fakes his own death and shows up in Pendrang as philanthropist Geoffrey London along with his secretary Malborn (John Mylong), who is secretly the real war monger, Hazarias being his beard, and they start an archaeological dig for the legendary Lost City of Pendrang as a cover for their search for Meteorium. United Peace Foundation operative Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden) arrives in Pendrang soon after having trailed Hazarias there with a two fold mission, prove London is really Hazarias and find out what he is looking for in Pendrang. Made during the final year of serial production for Universal, the plot is a rehash of the previous year's Secret Agent X-9, where two groups are in an area cut off from the rest of the world, fighting over a simple maguffin while a third party plays them off each other, while waiting to grab the prize for themselves, and a mystery man hangs around in the background occasionally giving the heroes and villains information he shouldn't really have. Most of the action is lively, though it is obviously taken from bigger budgeted feature films with new footage of the serial actors inter cut with it. The acting is pretty decent, though Hayden's side kick Keye Luke continually blows him off the screen without even trying. John Mylong is also horribly miscast as the true villain of the piece, being unable to produce a single moment of true menace in the entire serial. Atwill of course shines in every moment he is on screen, even though he is noticeably ill. He has several great moments. Chapter Four has a cat and mouse confrontation between Atwill and Hayden where Atwill plays the other man expertly and smugly lets him in on secrets without revealing anything. Chapter Eight has another of those great moments where the archaeologist Atwill has been conning reveals he knows Atwill's true identity. Atwill starts out giving an impassioned speech about trying to change his evil ways but a man's reputation always follows him, when that doesn't work he immediately drops the facade and shows his true nature by having the man tortured right there in front of him with out the barest glimmer of feeling showing on his face or in his voice. It's just business as usual for Atwill and he's the biggest selling point for viewing the film.
I will no doubt get slammed for writing this because there is still a
dedicated group of fans who just love these old movie serials. I'm
aghast that these things back in the day passed for entertainment. Lost
City In The Jungle is a perfect example.
This serial was made at a moment in time when at the end of World War II and before the Cold War really went into deep freeze it was thought that the United Nations could develop into a world government with a chance for world peace. The good guys in this film are the United Peace Foundation and while they have no troops they do have agent/operatives like Russell Hayden dedicated to tracking down those who would bring about war for their own profit.
One of those is Lionel Atwill who faked his own death and is now in the remote country of Pendrang somewhere in the Himalayas. Under an alias he's financing archaeologist John Eldredge's expedition to uncover a lost city. What Atwill looking for is something called Meteorium, a radioactive substance from which he can construct a defense against the atomic bomb. He gets and develops his counter weapon any country he does business with will rule the world. I've got to say the man dreams big.
But not if Hayden and the United Peace Foundation have anything to say about it. The Foundation has a man on the ground in Keye Luke in Pendrang's capital of Zalabar. The capital has an unofficial ruler in Helen Bennett who runs a the gambling action and even controls the local law enforcement. Imagine if the folks in Shangri-La had brought in casino gambling and this is what you have. What I couldn't figure out is that if Pendrang is as remote as the serial makes it out to be, just where does the fresh money come in which is necessary for casinos to survive?
That was one of many things that had me puzzled throughout all 13 chapters of Lost City Of The Jungle. Of course the good guys win they always do.
I felt sorry for Lionel Atwill though. Dying of cancer and having problems getting roles after the sex party scandal in his home came to light, it's a shame that this was what he had to go out on. Not as bad as his colleague Errol Flynn whom he supported in Captain Blood with Cuban Rebel Girl, but not worthy of his talents.
Serials themselves are thank God, a lost art form, Lost City Of The Jungle is no better or worse than others that I've seen.
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