Phyllis Coates stars in the title role as the "Panther Girl," also known as Jean Evans; Jean is a jungle wildlife photographer who also happens to swing from vines and be handy with a rifle. She obtained her nickname thanks to shooting a panther which had been terrorizing the locals.
Jean has seen some huge crab-like creatures crawling through the jungle (shades of the previous year's THEM!) so she sends word to big game hunter Larry Sanders (Myron Healey) that she could use help.
The overly large critters are the work of a mad, mad scientist (character actor fave Arthur Space) out there in the jungle, and he and his henchmen (John Day and Mike Ragan) are none too happy that Jean and Larry are on to their work.
Over the course of 12 chapters there's a lot of running around the jungle in circles, fighting back and forth, with Jean and Larry battling the mad scientist's flunkies along with some local tribesmen.
Although I enjoy Coates, Healey, and Space, it must be admitted this serial is pretty flat; you'd think something with lots of cliffhangers involving gun battles, wild animals, dynamite, giant creatures, and quicksand would be more interesting than it is. I was also a bit surprised that mixing '50s sci-fi with a jungle adventure didn't turn out to be more engrossing, as on the surface it seems like a fun idea.
It was also curious that Jean and Larry have a friendly and respectful relationship, but there's an absence of romance; I couldn't quite decide if the lack of romantic tension in their relationship was refreshing or disappointing. I suspect a romance probably could have added a needed spark to the series, but Coates and Healey play their roles as though the possibility never enters their minds.
Other than occasional exotic behavior like riding an elephant or the aforementioned vine-swinging, Jean doesn't have a particularly strong identity as "Panther Girl." Coates comes off as intelligent and capable, but at the same time she's frequently put in damsel in distress situations as the serial chapters end, clawed by a giant sci-fi critter or about to be killed by a gorilla. There's so much high-pitched screaming I had to turn down the TV!
That said, Jean does also bail Larry out from time to time, including pulling him out of the aforementioned quicksand, so it was nice that the life-saving scenes weren't entirely one-sided.
Speaking of quicksand, there's an interesting article with some background at Western Clippings, written by Bruce Dettman. Among other things, Coates recalled in an interview that after filming in the nasty, stagnant Republic swamp, Healey insisted the two of them go get penicillin shots!
PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO was directed by Franklin Adreon. The 12 chapters combine to run 167 minutes.
The crisp picture looks great on Olive's Blu-ray, although the photography by Bud Thackery isn't anything of particular note, and the film also relies heavily on stock footage and process shots.
This was the first serial I've watched, and though I didn't find this one particularly scintillating, I enjoyed the serial format and am curious to try more. And I'm always glad to see lesser-known titles such as this one be made available to the public in such excellent condition. Kudos to Olive Films for preserving this slice of Republic film history from the waning days of movie serials.
Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.