Sabu Double Feature (Savage Drums / Jungle Hell)


Yes it's a SABU double feature! First up, Savage Drums (1951, dir. William Berke): Sabu is a professional boxer with a crack at the title, but after several minutes of that somebody decided that story wasn't going anywhere, so instead he's the younger brother of the king of a small South Pacific island country; the king is about to sign a treaty with the U.S. that would allow the Army to move in, build a nuclear homeport, pave over the trees and shrubs and build roads for military transport, and this is all supposed to be a GOOD thing, because that will deter the Commies who also want the island. So Sabu's OTHER brother kills the king and seizes the throne and Sabu, his girlfriend Lita Baron, and his two stooges sidekicks, Sid Melton and Bob 'Tex' Easton, return to the island to fight the Commies with Old Mr. Gower from It's a Wonderful Life and a pet monkey. Robert L. Lippert films should rarely be 70 minutes long, and this is exhibit A of that argument. The padding (from The Steel Helmet, probably, and from The Jungle, certainly) doesn't help all that much, surprisingly. Million-dollar Dialog: Council member giving an anti-Commie pep talk: 'Has FEAR so chilled your BLOOD that the COURAGE of our ANCESTORS will not FLOW in it???' The Critics Rave: On the clumsy side' - Boxoffice Inasmuch as Sabu plays, um, Sabu in every movie (no matter what he's called), one sort of wonders why he's so rotten in this movie. I'm attributing it to the bad commissary food at Robert L. Lippert International Studios & Storm Door Company, or whatever it was called. In any case, it's not without its fun, I guess, but in the Lippert hierarchy, it's nearer the lower-middle-bottomy-section than the top. Jungle Hell (1964) has opening credits that thank the 'Maharajah of Mysore' for his assistance with the film, and that's going to explain a lot as we go forward, believe you me. To say that this film includes stock footage of elephants would be like warning you to that you might see some tall guys at an NBA game. David Bruce, whom you might remember from older, better movies, is a U.N. doctor in the Asian jungles who discovers that strange rocks littered around the village are causing 'x-ray burns' on the skin of whomever touches them. ('It's probably just something he ate,' the doctor's colleague says, while another complains that the 'constant interruptions' of children in agony are interrupting their chess game.) At one point, the sick Indian child leans up and says 'I wanna get up' in perfect English, and Sabu - the punk's uncle - has to hold him down. Yes, really. Sabu, by the way, plays Sabu, a 'Jungle Boy' in his 30s who wears a diaper and rides elephants. Eventually, Dr. Bruce meets up with a beautiful lady scientist but they have nothing to do and their scenes all appear to have been filmed in the same day. In the same 15-minute break from some other picture on the lot, maybe. Y'see, folks, approximately 60 minutes of the film's 83 minute-running time consists of stock footage of elephants, with an occasional break from the tedium with scratchy film of a snake, a mongoose, a wolf, what appears to be a monkey playing with himself, an ostrich, a coyote, a jackal, and maybe a penguin and a koala, too, I seem to recall. I've seen still photographs of elephants that didn't have as much elephant as this movie has. I began to wonder if maybe Sabu didn't die a few minutes into the film and, like Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space or Shemp Howard in Commotion on the Ocean, get replaced by the kind of 'actor' who's only instructions from the director are 'keep your face covered and your back to the camera.' A little research indicates that the film was produced in 1956 by stitching together episodes of an unsold Sabu TV series, but the film's official plot synopsis includes descriptions of Sabu narrating the adventure and the mysterious rocks being part of an invading flying saucer from space. Sabu barely opens his mouth in this film (and when he does, he says stupid stuff like, 'When YOU get to be the Jungle Boy, then they shall obey YOU' to another native). Anyway, there's no flying saucer, either, and the film carries the title Jungle Boy and a copyright date of 1964, a year after Sabu's death at age 39. It seems that this was a reissued, recut, restupid film - five minutes longer than the '56 version, but no less comprehensible. So I asked Kit Parker, who told me, 'I examined the original 82 minute 9 reel negative, and it does not have the flying saucer footage. A friend just found a murky DVD that runs 78 minutes, is 8 reels, and has the saucer footage. Somewhere along the line, and for an inexplicable reason, the flying saucer footage was excised and replaced (and then some) with stock footage of elephants.' In any case, I can tell you something right now: forget the 'unsold episodes' claim, there can't have been more than one half-hour pilot filmed, because there's so little footage of Sabu in this feature - he disappears completely from the final reel, in fact, diaper and all. Maybe he went in search of the flying saucer, or just got sick of the stock footage?