Thursday, August 8, 2013

BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY: VOL. 1

When he was just eight years old, the ebullient Johnny Sheffield was chosen to portray the adopted son "Boy," of the legendary Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in MGM's jungle adventure TARZAN FINDS A SON (1939). Seven years and eight Tarzan films later, the character of Boy was written out of the series, but Sheffield wasn't done with the jungle quite yet. In order to pay for college, the strapping young actor quickly signed on with Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures to headline a dozen of his own vine-swinging capers as the heroic BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY, loosely based on a children's book series by "Roy Rockwood."

The first six of these - BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (1949), BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND (1949), THE LOST VOLCANO (1950), THE HIDDEN CITY (1950), THE LION HUNTERS (1951) and ELEPHANT STAMPEDE (1951) - all directed by Ford Beebe, have recently been released on manufactured-to-order DVD by the fine folks at Warner Archive.

The plots of these low budget, backlot epics are all pretty similar: orphan jungle boy Bomba, who was raised by a misanthropic old naturalist (now deceased) beyond "The Great Rift," deep in the heart of the African jungle, encounters various groups of explorers or hunters hoping to exploit some native resource, be it diamonds, gold, or wild animals. These groups usually include one young, unattached female about Bomba's age as a romantic interest. The "civilized" intruders get greedy, and Bomba fights to maintain peace in his wilderness home.

Although made quickly and on a shoestring, these short (average running time of 70 minutes) B-movie adventures move briskly and are reasonably entertaining, if formulaic and predictable. Monogram's production values were admittedly low, with lots of stock animal footage of varying quality and plenty of fake foliage, but not much worse than some of the RKO Tarzan films produced around the same time.The earnest Sheffield is appealing and athletic, even if the writers tend to make him a little dim, and the supporting casts are filled out with an array of talented character actors of the time.

The Warner Archive set is quite decent, with the six movies spread out across three discs. All are presented in their original, 4x3, 1.33:7 aspect ratio, and are sourced from very decent prints. There are some specks and scratches, and a little age-related wear/damage, but overall, they're quite watchable. Audio is a satisfactory 2.0 Dolby Mono. There are no bonus features in this set.

Though not as slick as the Tarzan films he appeared in for MGM (and RKO), Johnny Sheffield's tenure as jungle boy Bomba is still a lot of undemanding fun, perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon or insomniac late show. If you enjoy old B-movie jungle capers, this set comes highly recommended.

BUYBomba The Jungle Boy Volume 1