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One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. Many television stations refused to show this in the 1950's and 1960's because of the brevity of the loincloth worn by Buster Crabbe. See more »
I saw this film only once, at the age of seven, in 1933. Even allowing for the fact that we saw fewer films then and that seven is an impressionable age,"King of the Jungle" was exceptional. Many of its powerful cinematic images have remained as active and vivid memories throughout my life, now into my 80's.
Overall the film posits a romantic, if unrealistic, idea of an intelligent, informed and physically able man who lives at ease within a natural environment and amongst its wild inhabitants. This idealised image, modified and matured over a lifetime has influenced my values and those of my family for many years. None of us can escape the thought that our environment may call us to account at any time and require us to meet similar demands.
Early in the film we see the father of a small family arranging for them to fly over a nearby jungle in a light aircraft. While he is preoccupied at the desk his small son behind him, apparently moved by curiosity, gently takes his father's knife from its sheath at the back of his belt. The knife remains with the boy long after he is the sole survivor of the subsequent plane crash in the jungle. As he grows up this tool remains his one concession to modern technology.
We see the orphaned boy playing with some young lion cubs in a clearing and when the mother lioness returns he crawls on all fours with his companions into a cave like lair, calmly followed by the lioness. We next see him fully grown, with the convincing physique of Buster Crabbe, at ease not only with lions but with all creatures. Later action-scenes illustrate and reinforce the idea of a well developed, athletic man in harmony with a respectful animal kingdom.
This happy natural order of things is shattered when Kaspa is captured by a group of hunters, commissioned by a circus to "bring back alive" a variety of wild animals. This they intend to do but his captors do not know what to make of the unique and frightening specimen, Kaspa. Stout wooden cages are erected for the different breeds on the deck of their ship and the "savage" is locked in one by himself. As the laden ship approaches its destination a customs official comes aboard to examine the cargo. He declares that Kaspa is undeniably human and must be released from his animal cage. On the instant of his release, Kaspa takes one step onto the gunwale and entirely without hesitation, dives into the sea, which of course, holds no fear for him. The shocking and explosive speed of his action remain an indelible memory.
Having thus escaped he makes for the shore and enters a comfortable dwelling which is full of strange and intriguing objects, but he is familiar enough with the contents of a goldfish bowl to take a modest drink from it. When interrupted, he hides behind a convenient screen but the lady of the house sees his bare feet under it and he is revealed. Hilarious for a seven year old! He continues to show his doubts about civilisation and his preference for things natural, but he is disarmed by the female of his species and he is persuaded to appear in a circus act with his lions. He astounds everyone when he refuses to take a pistol into the caged ring. He emerges from the action as morally superior. The film ends with Kaspa and his lady, both fully dressed in sun hats and whites, returning to the Jungle and we are left to speculate whether they can make it as its King and Queen.
Although not nominally a Tarzan film, as an evocation of the ideal of the noble savage, this memorable film is closer to the spirit of Burroughs's writing than many of the later films which bear the Tarzan title.
You will understand that I am delighted to learn that it is now possible to purchase a copy of "King of the Jungle 1933" from TVideo.com
John Fulton 2007
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