Of course, I rate this one five stars specifically for rabid fans of older black-and-white theater serials. This 1945 film runs for thirteen chapters, 240 minutes in length and the quality of the DVD (VCI Entertainment) is good, excepting that the background footage to the opening credits of each chapter (but not the credits themselves) are only slightly fuzzy. The aspect ratio is 1.37:1 (full-screen.)
THE STORY: The film is set in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Nazi officers decide, (as Hitler employs his well-known artistic skill doodling a skull and crossbones on a notepad), that parts of Africa must fall under their total domination in order for them to control military activity in the Mediterranean region; however, they are concerned about widespread rumors of a Jungle Queen, a sort of goddess to the various indigenous tribes of "British Middle Africa," who might impede their aggression. Covert Nazi agents are sent into the district to thwart both the Jungle Queen and any British or American agents who might arrive to contradict their plans.
The Jungle Queen, Lothel (played by Ruth Roman), is known to the tribal groups as "the lady who walks through fire" because she periodically appears from the entrance of a sacrificial fire cave at a shrine-like stone temple in the jungle. She thus issues a warning to the ruling "judge" of the tribal populace about the Nazi intrusion.
Two American Secret Service men are sent unofficially to the jungle city to assist their British allies in subverting Nazi activities but their airplane crashes in the jungle. The two men, Bob Elliot (Edward Norris) and Chuck Kelly (Eddie Quillan), along with the daughter of a prominent British professor, Pamela Courtney (Lois Collier), are the three lone survivors of the crash -- the Jungle Queen helps them all to eventually return to the British headquarters subsequent to a few run-ins with some Nazi-motivated native tribesmen.
From this point forward, it's tit-for-tat in the battles between the Nazis and the allied agents, the tribesmen intermittently switching their loyalties as they are artfully manipulated by the respective factions. Specifically, subsequent to the murder (by a Nazi native operative) of the ruling judge, the issue of who will be the subsequent leader of the tribesmen (the man who is responsible for holding "The Secret of the Sword"!), becomes the concern and focus of Lothel the Jungle Queen, the British and American operatives, and the Nazis.
There are specific actors who make outstanding contributions in various chapters of this serial and I'd like to point them out here:
Douglas Dumbrille plays "Lang," a Nazi of The First Water -- he conveys a stellar performance here as he did in yet another outstanding period film, Charlie Chan: Castle in the Desert [VHS]. (This remarkable film is also available on DVD, but only by acquiring the Charlie Chan set: Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 5 (Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum/Murder Over New York/Dead Men Tell/Charlie Chan In Rio/Charlie Chan In Panama/Murder Cruise/Castle in the Desert).)
"Kyba," one of the three candidates for the native ruling judge, is portrayed by Clarence Muse who brings a particular dignity to all his film roles, even in the comic relief ones as he did in Sherlock Holmes in Washington where he was cast as George, the shrewdly observant porter in a train club car. He also made his indelible mark in a lengthy role in the complex Bela Lugosi vehicle, Invisible Ghost where his character was that of the clever butler, Evans.
"Captain Drake" is played by Oliver Blake, (sadly, uncredited for his rather lengthy speaking role here), who also played the ostentatious hotel-keeper in Charlie Chan: Castle in the Desert [VHS] -- astoundingly, he wasn't credited for that remarkable performance either! He appeared well over 100 times in various film and television performances, including his integral contribution as the bartender in Raintree County (DVD) Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift - BY GOLDEN CLASSIC COLLECTIBLES.
And finally, Tala Birell (born in Romania in 1907 as Natalie Bierl) playing Nazi subversive "Dr. Elise Bork," epitomizes everything we have come to expect from the stereotypical female Nazi [film] spy: tall, blond, attractive, large-busted, cold-hearted, (she ruthlessly stabs Captain Drake in the back with a big dagger because she believes he's "not dependable"!), and so on. She is also known to us as "Antonya Raskolnikov" in the landmark 1935 Russian epic Crime and Punishment (1935) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Spain ]. (Douglass Dumbrille additionally stars in this terrific film.)
The various chapters are directed by Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins for Universal Pictures, presented by Commonwealth Pictures Corporation. The screenplay was written by George Plympton (who wrote for MANY of these sorts of serials and films), Ande Lamb, and Morgan B. Cox.
The thirteen chapters are as follows:
-- Invitation to Danger
-- Jungle Sacrifice
-- The Flying Mountain
-- Wildcat Stampede
-- The Burning Jungle
-- Danger Ship
-- Trip-Wire Murder
-- The Mortar Bomb
-- Death Watch
-- Execution Chamber
-- The Trail to Doom
-- Dragged Under
-- The Secret of the Sword
This serial represents a bulwark of great settings, locations, and cliffhanger ambiance including all manner of Nazi uniform regalia, a secret radio headquarters, hidden telephones, pit-type lion traps, tusk necklaces, thatch and bamboo jungle villages, campfires with giant coffee pots, big daggers, canoes, memorable "woodie" station wagons, elephant gun bullets, a cool old tavern, a ship ("The Silver Star"), a machine gun booby trap, interesting period rifles (including German Mausers and .303 British Enfields), handguns, and much more. We also get to view a savory amount of the inevitable wild animal filler-footage featuring chimpanzees, hyenas, apes, lions, deer (it looked like a white-tailed fawn to me), and crocodiles (which appear to actually be Florida alligators.)
In summary, this is an outstanding jungle thriller which has it all for devotees of the genre and I highly recommend it. If you'd like to see a jungle serial of similar excellence, be sure to watch Nyoka and the Tigermen (Digitally Remastered). For some cool episodic television versions of this genre, I also recommend the various entries of Ramar of the Jungle - Volume One.