Friday, September 21, 2007


A 1955 Republic Pictures cliffhanger serial

Directed by Franklin Adreon

Starring Phyllis Coates in the title role, vs. an all-star cast of GIANT KILLER CRAWDADS!

PLOT SUMMARY: A nature photographer named Jean Evans is out lensing one day, in the company of her trusty African guides, when what strolls out in front of the camera! It’s an IMMENSE CRAWDAD, twice the length of a tall man, acting quite as if he OWNED THE JUNGLE. Jean keeps filming, only realizing when the CLAWED SPECTER OF TERROR is ALMOST UPON HER that her trusty guides have already CUT AND RUN. She takes off after them, whereupon the IMMENSE CRAWDAD proves itself to be a RUTHLESS KILLER by, slowly and tentatively, turning over the camera tripod, then slowly walking away.

The chase is on. Jean is hot on the trail of the GIANT KILLER CRUSTACEANS with the help of a local bwana, Larry Sanders, trying to figure out how this can be happening while investigating the strange behavior of two good-for-nothing lowlifes from the next village over. All these people, except the native guides, are white Americans, by the way. It turns out that the two suspicious guys are working for the local Mad Scientist, and we learn almost immediately that the scientist is the one who’s been enlarging the local wildlife by feeding them special hormones. Why? To chase away the ignorant, superstitious locals from their SPECIAL FIND: a played-out goldmine that proves to be full of diamonds. The idea is for the three evildoers to dig out all the diamonds they can carry and go back to civilization to be rich guys.

Because this is a cliffhanger serial, the story is chopped into twelve pieces, most of them less than 15 minutes long. And we get to ask, with each installment: WILL ANYONE SURVIVE?


>> "Jean" Evans? I think they meant to call her "Dale." This story may be set in Africa, but this serial is, unmistakably, a Western. Dale Jean goes out to work each day in a flirty little buckskin mini-dress, with a tiny little skort at the bottom and snappy lapels at the top, edged with giant blanket-stitching that appears to have been done with leather thongs. Cuffed go-go boots and a leopardskin gunbelt, cunningly disposed to show off her corseted waist, complete the outfit. Man, I hope that corset isn’t made of leather like the rest of the ensemble. It could become really painful after she gets it wet.

>> Doesn’t sound very Western to you? Then consider the two thugs: they wear low-slung gunbelts, workshirts, dungarees, and sturdy boots. They have the requisite matchsticks protruding from the corners of their mouths, scatterguns slung casually over their elbows, six-guns on each flank, and they didn’t forget the cowboy hats. The male lead, Larry Sanders, tries to look more bwana than buckaroo, with a safari shirt open at the neck and a white Panama hat, but it doesn’t quite work. He looks merely out of place in this utterly Western picture. So do the elephants and lions.

>> So, for that matter, does the Mad Scientist, a very elegant Forties noir villain with the slicked-back hair and the tweed sack suit. Yes, he has the sort of spectacles worn by all intellectuals of that era, in accordance with international law. And, yes, he has the ritzy pseudo-English accent. Life is strange, isn’t it? One day you’re doing pure research in a chemistry lab in Boston; the next you’re enlarging Crawdads in darkest Africa.

>> Dale Jean gamely does all the good Tarzanish tricks she can to try to make this back into a jungle picture. She swings from vines, rides an elephant, braves quicksand, and swan-dives into a river from an immense height, with a knife in her teeth, to kill a giant rubber crocodile and save Larry’s life. But the cowboys show up and start shooting, and there’s no fighting it: we’re back in a Western again. Before we know it she’s in a mineshaft, ducking the lit sticks of dynamite the cowboys are throwing at her, firing a pistol 18 times before the bullets run out and never hitting anything.

>> Even the friendly natives look more like refugees from a picture about the old South, in their tattered slave outfits. One of them found a skipper’s hat somewhere and looks for all the world like the forgotten Black cast member of Gilligan’s Island. Only the tribal chief, a James Earl Jones prototype with a booming voice, wears African regalia. They manage to make even this guy look like some kind of weird renegade Plains Indian, by giving him a great big headband stuck full of great big feathers, and having him stride around with his arms folded across his chest.

>> The evil natives are a different story. They look very African indeed, with warpaint, leopardskin miniskirts with daring "car wash" hemlines, and extraordinary marabou headgear that strongly resembles Sam Jackson’s "Mr. Glass" hair from Unbreakable. These are typical evil natives – chicken-hearted toadies who speak pidgin English and do anything they’re asked in exchange for the Mad Scientist’s habit-forming "jungle juice."

>> All this talk of trails, canyons and the like is very un-jungle-picturish, too. Someone even said the word "posse." Come on, people, THINK.

>> The story is full of surprising elements: a barking Lion; a tame Elephant named after the host of This Old House (Jean calls her out of the jungle by hollering "VIIIIIIIIIILA!"), who on closer examination proves to be an Indian Elephant, not an African one; a girl nature photographer who is tougher than her big, brawny male protector; a bad guy raising the shade so that his partners can easily hear the drum signal he’s sending out; and most importantly, those GIANT KILLER CRAWDADS.

>> Let’s take a closer look at the stars of this serial. The evil chemist explains dismissively that the Crayfish only live a few days after being embiggened, and that may well be true in their puny scientific lab, but little can they suspect the natural rebellious streak in GIANT KILLER CRUSTACEANS that will make them survive JUST TO SPITE YOU. At one point, the cowboys tell the scientist that the latest Killer Crayfish must be dead, because they found pieces of shell on the trail. It occurs to NOBODY that, like the Crabs in Island Claws, the Crawdads may simply have MOLTED and GOTTEN BIGGER in order to DESTROY YOU ALL. Sorry, was I yelling?

>> You have to like the nonchalant way the Crawdads stroll through each installment, totally unconcerned by the frenzied antics of the Shaved Monkeys. Said monkeys try to herd them around the jungle with sticks, then pepper them with bullets, run away screaming, throw rocks, whatever. THE CRAWDADS DON'T BAT AN EYESTALK. That's 100% right and proper, ladies. I like the careless display of RAW POWER when one of the stars crashes through the log crate she’s being kept in. I like the casual way another picks Jean up off the ground like the PUNY HUMAN she is. As someone who dines at least monthly with Giant Killer Crawdads, I know they got THIS part right, at least.

There are so many things to like about this story.

One more thing...See that whiskery, tentacled monster on the poster above? Upper left?
It doesn't appear anywhere in the story.

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