Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Panther Girl of the Kongo (1955) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

The Republic Pictures serial PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (1955) is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films.

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.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I think your comment that this serial was made at a time when the popularity of serials was waning hits the nail on the head, Laura. The glory days for the serial were the 30s principally and the 40s still.
I have never really got into serials myself and have only seen a handful but friends have long tried to convince me I should. I have seen "DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE" & "THE CRIMSON GHOST" from the 40s, both from Republic, and they were really rather good. Those same friends tell me I MUST get "DAREDEVILS OF THE WEST" starring Allan Lane. Well...maybe. Certainly Republic made the best of them it seems.
I will watch out for your reviews with interest if you do find more of them.

12:45 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Ha! Laura-your blog has come down to my level at last.
I love these cheesy later serials,and although I totally agree with your fine
review I still cannot resist them.
Olive have done an equally stellar job on THE INVISIBLE MONSTER and FLYING DISC MAN FROM
MARS. The latter title is a blast.
I love the "cliff hanger" where the baddies leave Panther Girl tied to a tree,knowing
some wild animal will kill her...que man in a gorilla suit!
Kino Lorber are soon to release THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL considered by many buffs
to be the greatest serial of them all.
Nice to see Myron get to be the hero for a change.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Interesting! Like Jerry I haven't gotten much into serials, but always curious-- I have seen DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE and all the DICK TRACY ones. Hope you get to see some more and looking forward to your thoughts when you do.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Lee R said...

I have been a fan of Phyllis Coates since as a kid when I used to watch her as Lois Lane, I always thought she was a better Lois than her later replacement. I just recently watched the Panther Girl.. serial myself, from the Republic VHS tapes that were released years ago. I thought this serial was very enjoyable, if not just for the cast alone. Also I think this is about the only time I've ever seen Myron as the good guy.

Also did you know that many of the scenes in Panther Girl were lifted, taken if you will, from the earlier very similar serial "Jungle Girl" starring the beautiful, but troubled, Frances Gifford. In particular all the vine swinging scenes with Jungle Girl were used in Panther Girl. Tom Neal was the co-star with Frances, him taking the later Myron Healy role. Jungle Girl is also a lot of fun, and if you see it first, as I did, you can see what scenes are stolen for Panther Girl. But I did enjoy Panther Girl more, simply because I liked the stars of that one more.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Loved all your comments on PANTHER GIRL!

Jerry and Kristina, I just saw the news today that Kino is bringing out DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE, with stars including Bruce Bennett and Carole Landis. It has a commentary track by Michael Schlesinger -- who I was just introduced to for the first time Monday night at UCLA, he sat with us to watch the movies. He also did the commentary tracks for the recent Kino Buster Keaton sets reviewed here.

John, glad I could write about something you like so well! :) THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL sounds interesting as well, given my interest in Marvel these days.

Kristina, I got some Dick Tracy from VCI because of Anne Jeffreys but haven't watched yet.

Lee, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Phyllis Coates and JUNGLE GIRL. It just so happens I got JUNGLE GIRL in a VCI sale not long ago, because I enjoy Frances Gifford in her MGM films, so I hope to check it out and compare it to PANTHER GIRL, once film festivals are past and life settles back to a more normal pace. Thanks for the interesting info on PANTHER GIRL recycling JUNGLE GIRL shots!

It was definitely fun to see Healey as a good guy, I'm so used to seeing him as a Western bad guy!

Best wishes,

5:16 PM  

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