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The Lost Tribe

The Lost Tribe(1949)

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teaser The Lost Tribe (1949)

By the late 1940s, Johnny Weissmuller was past 40 and no longer quite the athletic Adonis who catapulted to fame in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics and in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s. Recognizing it was no longer so appealing to display his half-naked torso swinging from the trees, he concluded his twelve-picture run in the role with Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). Weissmuller knew he was no Spencer Tracy in the acting department either, so he didn't stray far from his comfort zone, trading in his loin cloth for a safari suit to battle all sorts of villains in a new series of adventures set in the tropical wilderness, based on another popular pulp character, Jungle Jim, whose life began as a comic strip in 1934. Although the original Jungle Jim stories were set in Southeast Asia, producers must have felt Weissmuller was already too well established in the African jungle and set the new series there for its debut in 1948.

The Lost Tribe (1949), filmed under the less-than-inspired working title "Jungle Jim's Adventure," was the second of 13 movies Weissmuller made in the series. (He also played the character in a 26-episode TV show that ran in 1955-56.) In this one, Jim fights to save the lost jungle city of Dzamm from greedy, pillaging white men who are out to loot the residents of their diamonds. The plot was barely indistinguishable from the previous entry and little more than an excuse for the hero to battle rubber alligators, men in gorilla suits, and a shark.

The movie was filmed (in less than two weeks) at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, owned by actor-stuntman Ray "Crash" Corrigan, no stranger to gorilla suits himself, having played major ape characters at least nine times in his career. He purchased the property in the foothills of the Santa Susanna Mountains in California's Simi Valley area in 1937 and quickly turned it into a money-making venture providing location filming for Westerns, sci-fi pictures, jungle adventures, even the occasional biblical epic. It was also a popular tourist attraction, open to the public on weekends and holidays from 1949 to 1965, when he sold the property to Bob Hope. The ranch continued to be used for film production through the mid-1970s while also housing some of Hope's development projects, including a subdivision called Hopetown. The ranch is now a public park and wildlife corridor owned and operated by the Rancho Simi Park and Recreation District.

Producer Sam Katzman entrusted this second installment to William Berke, who also directed the first Jungle Jim movie and five others later in the series run. Berke's busy career in B pictures included a number of projects as producer, writer, or actor (under the name William Lester).

The cast includes several performers doing double duty as actors and stunt doubles. Also on hand once again was Paul Stader, who doubled for Weissmuller, often performing the star's high dives, in 26 films, including nine in the Tarzan series and all of the Jungle Jim movies, as well as some of the television series.

Stuntman-actor Gil Perkins, a champion athlete in his native Australia whose career stretched from 1929 to Raging Bull (1980), late in his life related the story of an on-location accident during the production of The Lost Tribe. Stuntman Billy Jones, dressed in an absurd and heavy gorilla suit, was set to leap on a group of stunt doubles from the top of a ten-foot archway. The doubles were supposed to break his fall but, according to Perkins, had imbibed too much alcohol during lunch and failed in their duties. Jones sustained injuries that kept him out of work for several weeks, and he vowed never to work with any of those men again.

Director: William Berke
Producer: Sam Katzman
Screenplay: Arthur Hoerl, Don Martin
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Editing: Aaron Stell
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim), Myrna Dell (Norina), Elena Verdugo (Li Wanna), Joseph Vitale (Calhoun), Ralph Dunn (Capt. Rawlins).

by Rob Nixon

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