BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (Monogram, 1949), directed by Ford Beebe, introduces a new jungle hero to the silver screen, and his name is Bomba. Bomba, as initially introduced in a series of books authored by Roy Rockwood in the 1920s, is often classified as a teenage counterpart to Edgar Rice Burrough's most famous character, "Tarzan." With Tarzan enacted by numerous actors on screen since 1918, the most famous being Johnny Weissmuller (1932-1948), it was natural in casting Johnny Sheffield, who enacted the role of Boy, son of Tarzan in eight motion picture installments (1939-1947) to assume the title role. No longer a youngster of 12, this boy has grown to muscular build and deeper voice in the sound of a baritone singer, but none-the-less, Sheffield has now acquired a new series of his own that fits the formula for which he's best known. Playing an adolescent boy in leopard skin loincloth carrying a sphere, he lives alone in a cave with animals as his only friends. In this opener, the orphan of the jungle gets to meet some outsiders, and a female counterpart who attracts his attention.
In this initial entry, much of the time is spent on George Harland (Onslow Stevens), and his daughter, Pat (Peggy Ann Garner), commercial photographers, on an assignment in Africa to get some movie pictures for the Bronx Zoo. They come to the post of Andy Barnes (Charles Irwin), a British game warden, with Eli (Smoki Whitfield), his native servant, who act as their guides. During the course of the story, Pat, out to get photos of her own, loses her gun bearing guide, Mufti (Milton Wilkins) when attacked and killed by a leopard, while her father and Barnes venture over towards the Great Riff. Finding herself in unfamiliar territory, Pat, approached by Bomba, the Jungle Boy (Johnny Sheffield), tries to scare him away with her revolver, but after subduing her, he walks away. With no where else to go, Pat talks Bomba into helping her find her father's camp. At first Bomba resists her because she tried to hurt him, but in time, they form a friendship, keeping Pat from wanting to leave Bomba and his all jungle paradise. As Harland and Barnes go searching for Pat, situations arise as they find themselves lost in lion territory.
Following the pattern of TARZAN THE APE MAN (MGM, 1932), viewers don't have such a long wait for the central character (12 minutes) to appear as they did for Tarzan (30 minutes). The opening pattern to both films is basically the same. Regardless of the central character having the title role, one would have expected this opener to be all about Bomba and how he became a jungle boy. Instead, much of it balances itself between two teenagers after their initial meeting 25 minutes from the start of the film, and two other central characters (Harland and Barnes) on the other side of the jungle. Aside from Bomba being an orphan, living alone in the jungle, there's some mention of he being raised by a wise old man named Cody Corson, now deceased, who taught Bomba to speak English. Much of his spoken dialog is similar to the Weissmuller Tarzans. Bomba's broken English would be abandoned in later installments. Learning more about Bomba's origin and family heritage would not be brought up until the eighth installment, BOMBA AND THE JUNGLE GIRL (1952), but for now, Bomba is just a mystery.
Aside from limited plot development and character background, animal stock footage take up much of its 71 minutes, often looking like a documentary. Scenes involving assortment of monkeys are the ones that would be repeated in future installments. A somewhat lifeless jungle story is redeemed by the attractive presence of Peggy Ann Garner, best known for her excellent performance as Francie Nolan in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (20th-Fox, 1945). Of the Bomba female co-stars, Garner was one of the stronger names to appear, and unlike Tarzan's companion of Jane, would not retain her role as Bomba's female companion. At one point, Garner wears leopard skin attire given to her by Bomba. (How convenient, and the right size, too. Does this mean that Pat is not Bomba's first female encounter?). Acquiring the feel of jungle life, Pat comes up with a drastic decision, "The only time to do something you don't want to, is now." For Johnny Sheffield, Bomba may not be a role of a lifetime, but sure kept him employed until the series expired in 1955. While BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY is rather weak, latter editions including THE LOST VOLCANO (1950) and ELEPHANT STAMPEDE (1952) stand out as two of its finer entries.
Once part of the Saturday morning lineup of "Jungle Adventure" that aired on WOR, Channel 9, in New York City (1977-1979), the "Bomba" series was a welcome change of pace considering how the "Tarzan" and sometimes "Jungle Jim" series starring Johnny Weissmuller often filled the airwaves most Saturday or Sunday afternoons during that time. In later years, this and other "Bomba" adventures turned up on cable TV as Turner Network Television (1991-92) before making its Turner Classic Movies premiere June 22, 2011, and becoming part of its Saturday afternoon jungle matinée line-up hosted by Ben Mankiewicz that began in 2012. Next installment: BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND (1949). (** spheres)
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